Pleasure Point is busting out of its laid-back surfing identity and rapidly becoming an appealing destination for ethnic cuisine wrapped around a hipster sensibility. Verve might have been the anchor of all this action, with its impeccable espresso drinks and the fetishistic perfection of its Manresa Bread pastries. Then the Penny Ice Creamery joined the party. Kaito, house of Ramen and Sushi Tapas holds the fort in the former Pink Godzilla headquarters. And across the street, Zameen has opened another dining spot filled with zesty Mediterranean specialties, happily called Zameen at the Point.
I met my longtime singing buddy Meri for lunch at Kaito last week. It was my first visit, but Meri is a regular and helped walk me through the noodle-intensive menu. A raised tatami seating area hugs one wall of Kaito’s interior, and a sushi bar flanks the other, with banquettes in the middle of this friendly, no-frills house of ramen, soba, udon and freshly conceived sushi specialties.
The menu offered me a galaxy of noodles, with variations on toppings and a few standard sides. The dinner menu adds grilled items plus small-dish salads. I had to dive in somewhere, so I did! My Ja-ja Ramen ($11.95) arrived in a bowl the size of a hot tub, filled with fragrant miso broth and succulent, chewy ramen noodles. Here was ramen worthy of the name, definitely not the noodles I used to inhale mindlessly at college while struggling to analyze Kant’s transcendental deduction. On top of the quivering mass of steaming goodness perched a mound of steamed cabbage and bean sprouts, green onions and a generous helping of minced, spiced pork. The freshly chopped toppings sparkled like green jewels and I ate steadily for 25 minutes without putting a dent in this astonishing portion of ramen.
Meri’s order of Tonkatsu ramen ($10.95) was almost as generous. Filled with ramen suspended in a pork-rich broth, her noodles were topped with beautifully arranged groupings of red pickled onions, black mushrooms, corn, barbecued pork, and chopped seaweed. We had ordered tiny sides of gyoza (fried pot stickers) stuffed with minced chicken ($2), and another of vegetable tempura ($3). I was captivated by a thin slab of carrot, cocooned in the lightest, most transparent of tempura batters. So crisp it shattered upon impact (with my teeth), the tempura was classic, although given the Himalayan proportions of the noodle entrees, the tempura was frankly superfluous. I found myself eyeing an intriguing order at the next table. “That’s the Japanese curry,” Meri informed me, her son’s favorite. It was one of those earthy plates of chicken and vegetables in a curry gravy, with a plump cake of white rice on the side, that makes you smile just to look at. I’ve got to try that, I nodded, still slurping the addictive ramen. Carrying two huge containers of remaining ramen, we headed out into the sunny afternoon.
Kaito is open for lunch and dinner Tuesday-Sunday. 830 41st Ave., Santa Cruz. 464-2586.
New Leaf Works It
The month of March is loaded with tempting and unexpected cooking workshops at New Leaf Westside to fill in those hard-to-handle food niches in your life. I like the looks of the March 8 class in Gluten-Free Baking and Tea Pairing. 6-8:30 p.m. $40 each and $35 for two. Learn about how to use a variety of GF flours and turn them into better-than-decent baked goodies. On Thursday, March 23 get creative with Protein-Rich Vegan Meals with vegetarian chef Jenny Brewer. Get familiar with tempeh and sea vegetables while honing your knife skills. 6-8:30 p.m., $45/$40. More at newleaf.com/events.