Good service and inventive culinary fare invigorate Soquel’s Main Street Garden & Café
Arriving at Main Street Garden & Café on a busy Friday night with my husband, I looked over a bottle of local featured wine displayed on the counter. The hostess asked me if we would like to try some. This simple gesture of hospitality was a good start to a very enjoyable dining experience.
Restaurant owner Mauro Zanella then appeared and suggested we try one of his favorite wines, an Italian blend called Rosso Fuoco 2011 ($11 a glass), a smooth and irresistible nectar which we ended up ordering in advance to have with dinner, no matter what our entrees. Although the wine list is very small, Zanella assured me that each wine was carefully chosen to go with Main Street’s very Italian countryside cuisine.
Finally seated at our table for two, house-made focaccia bread was brought and some delicious olive oil and vinegar. The incredibly good house-made bread, with its sea-salt crunchiness, was easy to demolish in no time and we quickly requested more.
The restaurant still has the same lovely ambiance and cozy interior it had when it was called Theo’s, and now a variety of art available for purchase hangs on every wall. I was glad to see that the new chef, Chris Carloni, reaps the benefits of all the produce grown in Main Street’s amazingly bountiful garden, ratcheting up the restaurant’s cuisine with tasty stuff such as borage, spinach, wild arugula, escarole, radishes, parsley, nettles, turnips, chard, kale, chicory, and much more—all harvested from their property out the back.
My soup-loving husband immediately ordered the Butternut Squash ($6) served with apple chutney. Arriving piping hot, this truly delicious soup was made even more so with the sour/sweet bite of chutney. More focaccia bread was needed …
Roasted Broccoli ($7), with garlic confit, anchovy, chile and saba (syrup made from grape must) was my choice—simply splendid. Biting on salty anchovy, garlic cloves and hot chile with each forkful of broccoli added a terrific burst of flavor. When Zanella came over to see how I liked the dish, and I told him I had just started it, he said, “Take your time, I’m here for 20 years.” In his “retirement,” he chose to open a restaurant with his “life partner” Tara Pesta, and it shows that he relishes what he does.
Hubby requests Beef & Lamb Meatballs ($19) for his main course, served with white cheddar polenta, broccoli and tasty Italian pecorino cheese made from sheep’s milk. “The meatballs are excellent and the polenta’s to die for,” he enthuses, offering me a bite of this wonderful creamy concoction.
My Baked Whole Trout ($22) came with cauliflower, capers, garlic butter, garden arugula and breadcrumbs—all of the latter adding a distinctive to the tender trout, especially from the pungent zing of the large capers. We eat more of that good bread …
And what would an Italian restaurant be without pasta? We shared a perfectly prepared Tagliatelle ($16) with porcini, garden nettles, leek confit and pecorino, even though in Italy pasta is usually eaten before one’s entree. Wood-fired pizza is offered, too – one with asparagus, fennel and fava leaves, which sounds delicious and I have to try another time.
Never able to resist dessert, we order Spent Grain Bread Pudding with almonds and whipped cream ($7), which turns out to be deliciously unusual with its wholesome grainy texture and crunchy almonds.
When Zanella, a native of Venice, comes over again to check if all is well as I sip on my excellent cappuccino, he explains that he wants his restaurant’s cuisine to be like that found in the Italian countryside – fresh, seasonal, local and tasty. His goal is to showcase this kind of food in his restaurant and for his customers to enjoy an unrushed experience. I would say that he’s hit the nail on the head.
Main Street Garden & Café, 3101 N. Main St., Soquel, 477-9265. Mainstreetgardencafe.com.