Alderwood
Dining Reviews

Alderwood Elevates New American

A steakhouse that doesn’t skimp on dessert—or vegetables

The strawberry and white chocolate macaron at Alderwood. PHOTO: LIZ BIRNBAUM

So urban-hip, yet very Santa Cruz, the new Alderwood is already more than the sum of its parts. I can’t remember the last time I went to a New American steakhouse and came away impressed by the bravura treatment of seasonal vegetables. And the dessert!

Outfitted in Beto-O’Rourke-style Western gear, the kinetic waitstaff are everywhere at once, joining a large team of mixologists and chefs who keep the high-energy operation moving. Surrounded by a gleaming bar, exhibition kitchen and booths that line the restaurant’s perimeter, the central seating area offers the attractive and comfortable appointments that distinguish this dinner house. Good-looking table settings—from tasteful glassware to sophisticated serving pieces—reinforce the guiding concept: food, drink and people are the main attractions.

The Alderwood cheeseburger, especially when joined by the signature onion rings, has already achieved epic status. The comprehensive oyster offerings deserve an article unto themselves.

But we were here for dinner, and we were rewarded by bold flavors and presentation. From our cozy booth (the term “cozy” requires some latitude, given the noise level) we could watch a long table of extended family members celebrating a birthday, real housewives of Aptos celebrating their cocktails, and a cross-section of entrepreneurs occupying the bar. Alderwood looks to be a great place for people-watching and business deals. Romantic trysts? Not so much.

Generous pours of Cantos de Valpiedra Tempranillo ($12) and an excellent Thomas Fogarty Pinot Noir ($15)—both served at exactly the right, slightly cool temperature—started us off. Our food arrived in stages, which began, rather abruptly, with a plate of sliced, 8-ounce Heart of Ribeye ($38). Joined by a bowl of thick, green peppercorn sauce Bordelaise ($7), the aged midwestern beef proved delicious and juicy, if not life-changing.

Soon arrived the sides (these were my main dishes) of grilled asparagus ($15), beet tartare ($15) and remarkable potatoes glazed with parsley pesto, bits of bacon and mustard ($15). In a moment of culinary drama, I was next presented with a single grilled scallop ($15), nestled in the central thumbprint niche of a large rectangular plate. The scallop sat on a cushion of cauliflower puree, topped with balsamic and a ribbon of smoked hog jowl. Pretty damn spectacular and yes, worth its price tag. Only the dice of smoked beets, onions and pickled mustard seeds proved underwhelming. The rest of these lavish sides were addictive, especially the enormous bowl of potatoes, from which four people might have feasted with abandon. Plump spears of asparagus arrived dotted with micro-squares of Asian pear (great crunch!), and garlanded by ribbons of fried shallot. With the spring asparagus came a large bowl of green curry—excellent and very spicy green curry. Great, but unnecessary.

Along with fresh drip preparation of decaf coffee ($7) served in sleek porcelain cups, we shared one of the house desserts, a strawberry and white chocolate macaron ($10). This spectacular dish turned out to be the highlight of our meal, and I say this as an avowed fan of cheese at the end of a meal. Truly gorgeous, the substantial macaron—a pillow of white chocolate diplomat pastry cream studded with strawberries inside the tender almond meringue sandwich—was joined on the plate by an oval of salted strawberry ice cream, crumbles of white chocolate and fresh strawberries. Our two forks worked swiftly until nothing remained of this creation. Simply a knockout! A destination dessert.

Noise level be damned, writing this makes me want to go back to Alderwood right now! The service continues to fine-tune, which is a good thing. But the food already justifies the hype.

Open Sunday-Thursday 4-10 p.m. Friday-Saturday until 11 p.m. Closed Monday. Alderwood, 155 Walnut Ave., Santa Cruz. 588-3238, alderwoodsantacruz.com.

Christina Waters was born in Santa Cruz and raised all over the world (thanks to an Air Force dad), with real-world training in painting, music, winetasting, trail running, organic gardening, and teaching. She has a PhD in Philosophy, teaches in the Arts at UCSC and sings with the UCSC Concert Choir. Look for her recent memoir “Inside the Flame” at bookstores everywhere.

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