Dining Reviews

Downtown Turnaround

dining1Assembly hits Santa Cruz with a promising menu and a delicious event tie-in to boot

A much-anticipated restaurant on the Santa Cruz dining scene is soon to appear on Pacific Avenue in the space that was formerly Aqua Bleu. Named Assembly by co-owners Kendra Baker and Zach Davis, who rose to fame after opening The Penny Ice Creamery and then The Picnic Basket in Santa Cruz, it promises to be the new go-to hot-spot.

Slated to open by the end of February, Davis says there is no firm date as of yet.

“It’s progressing very well with no major hiccups,” notes Davis, who, along with business partner Baker, is thrilled about their new project.  “For me, it’s one of those situations where I kind of have to strike a balance between just getting giddy and staying focused on the task at hand.”

Davis says the food at Assembly will be very much in keeping with the philosophy that the couple has established at The Picnic Basket. “We have a tremendous respect for the ingredients that are available each season, and we want to create the best food at any given time of year,” he says.

Assembly’s new executive chef, Carlo Espinas, has impressive credentials of working at well-known restaurants in San Francisco, including the historic Comstock Saloon. He and Baker met when they were both working at the bistro Bar Tartine in San Francisco, where Baker was pastry chef. Baker had already realized back then that Espinas was “one to watch” says Davis, so he was contacted about working at Assembly and gladly accepted.

Espinas is excited about direct access to local fresh ingredients and will plan a menu on what is grown in the area, says Davis, with a rustic take on California cuisine and with a “very approachable menu,” including the price point.

dining assemblyThe community will get the chance to taste Assembly’s food—before the opening of the restaurant itself—at a very fun event. In collaboration with Ike Jablon, director of marketing and special events at Nickelodeon Theatres, The Glass Jar, the company that incorporates The Penny Ice Creamery, The Picnic Basket and Assembly, will be preparing samples of food before the showing of Spinning Plates (GT’s Greg Archer gives it HHH out of four) “an award-winning film documentary that follows three extraordinary restaurants from around the country and the incredible people who make them what they are.” Steve Principe, co-owner of Vinocruz wine bar in Santa Cruz, is pouring all the wine.

Davis says Espinas loves to get involved with the community, and he embraced the upcoming Spinning Plates event. “It says a lot about who he is, and his passion for the craft and his desire to be involved,” says Davis, adding that Assembly will be about community, too, and people coming together. He adds that Santa Cruz loves to participate in special occasions, pointing out that people embrace all of the sausage fests, brewing events and art and wine happenings that now dot the local scene.

With Assembly’s focus on family dining, children will be offered good choices of food. “The kids menu will be the kind of things I want my kids to eat, but don’t have time to prepare,” says Davis. “Personally, that’s exciting for me.”

As parents themselves, Baker, with a son, Nolan, aged 3, and Davis with two sons, Jack, 3, and Calvin, 2, it’s important that kids eat the right kind of food. Davis laughs when he says the kids menu in its planning stage will be tested by his sons.

“Personally, my piece of it,” says Davis, “is that I’m trying to make Assembly the kind of place where I want to spend time with my family and friends. And part of the appeal of starting a business is to be a good citizen and donate to the community. We want to help Santa Cruz be a better place, and that’s really cool.” 

‘Spinning Plates’ will begin screening at 8 p.m. on Feb. 6 at the Del Mar Theatre, and food will be served from 6:30-8 p.m. Tickets without wine are $18 and with wine $24. For more information visit thenick.com.

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