From a gleam in the eyes of an entrepreneurial family to the handsome neo-Craftsman dining room that has emerged, Persephone is a good-looking newcomer to the Aptos scene.
Completely transformed from its past as a pizza parlor, Persephone offers deep banquette nooks, white tablecloths, and polished wood floors to pamper its guests. The remodel is the handiwork of architect Dennis Britton, who created a light, high-ceilinged space for the cooking of chef Cori Goudge-Ayer and her pastry chef/mother Karen Potter. Such a beautiful dining room deserves an ambitious menu. And Persephone certainly has one. The wine list is as long as the dinner menu is short, and from a handful of wines by the glass, we chose a finely-structured berry-bright Broccardo Dolcetto d’Alba ($14) and an Italian Vino Rosso made from a dozen varietals ($15). The house sourdough focaccia arrived in a linen-lined basket, along with olive oil and a complex garlic spread. Soft and toothsome, it made a low-key accompaniment to our meal. Melody and I took our time scoping out possibilities on the menu, which offers several prix fixe variations starting at $54, so that new patrons can source out a wide range of flavors.
First courses arrived swiftly, mine a half order of Truffled Tortiglioni ($11/half) sauced with a very mild artisanal cheese sauce and dotted with a slice of truffle. Melody’s was a gorgeous bowl of butternut squash soup ($12), ringed with a green herb cream and topped with crispy fried spaghetti squash. The soup was a lovely creation, both richly flavored and elegantly creamy. The pasta delivered little flavor and cried out for more aggressive seasoning. Of our two entrees, we both preferred the generous portion of strip loin steak ($32), sliced across an aromatic cushion of cipollini onions, crisp potatoes, mushrooms, and squashes in an appealing red wine sauce. A more flavor-intensive cut of meat, however, might have justified the hefty price. From the menu’s four entrees I had chosen the only fish option—seared ling cod ($28). The fish was moist and mild inside an expert crisp crust accompanied by a host of flavor ideas. Braised fennel, mysteriously cold confit of tomatoes, a sensuous puree of parsnip, tasty buds of romanesco, and a caper-dill yogurt sauce. There was more—crispy bits on top which were identified as shallot, and a slick of watercress oil. Any two of the above adornments might have been sufficient to flatter the mild-flavored fish. This is not a kitchen, thus far, devoted to minimalism.
The dessert menu here is equally ambitious and wide-ranging. A flourless chocolate bundt cake with many sauces and a persimmon and grape pannacotta were on offer, but we went with a shared order of apple tart ($12) and a glass of excellent Birichino Muscat Canelli ($8). The deconstructed tart was organized into a tower of flavors. From a small pastry base arose a little “cake” of baked apples with a scoop of caramel ice cream on top. The ice cream was dotted with black sea salt that made all the flavors pop. A tuile perched on top. This modestly proportioned dessert we finished up quickly, except for the uncrisp pastry. Our check arrived as we were still consuming dessert, which, frankly, made us feel rushed—and at $117 for dinner, before tax and gratuity, we wanted to enjoy the surroundings.
I anticipate another visit to the evolving Persephone in the near future, hoping for an expanded menu of choices in this very attractive dinner house.
Persephone is at 7945 Soquel Drive, Aptos. Open 4:30-9 p.m.Wednesday-Sunday.