Vida
Dining Reviews

Primal Santa Cruz Reopens as Vida

Westside restaurant gets an all-gluten-free makeover

Vida Executive Chef Sebastian Manjon Cubero (left) and Founder Jason Morgan. PHOTO: JULES HOLDSWORTH

Spun slightly, Primal Santa Cruz has re-awakened as Vida, with a new brunch menu that expands its appeal.

This menu is all gluten-free, and now comes with table service—what a treat for diners trained to ask whether a dish is GF or not. They can now order at will from a short but creative listing of brunch items loaded with intriguing spices, fresh veggies and intelligent design. Vida looks good—plants, pale wood banquettes and tables, polished concrete floors, bold artwork—but it’s not overdone. 

The evolving brainchild of Jason Morgan, who opened Primal late last year, this restaurant is closing in on its true identity—one that reflects how we live and eat right now on the Central Coast. Bread-free breakfasts filled with flavor and visual appeal are no longer just a fantasy. 

A breakfast “salad” involved colorful arugula, avocado, red and golden beets, all tossed in a delicious seed-and-macadamia-nut dressing with a perfect fried egg for $12 (though it might be nice to stack all those items instead of forming a ring of veggies around the egg). My companion’s very large plate with a grass-fed burger on a GF sesame seed bun—nice brioche-like texture, topped with local cheddar and wonderful caramelized onions—arrived alongside seriously addictive plantain chips, green salad and an acreage of delicious fresh pickles ($18). A pot of fukamushi green tea ($4) and a bracing Americano ($3) made it our major meal of the day. 

The Vida menu offers tons of creative plates—breakfast tacos, fried chicken and waffles, cast iron hash, sweet potato pancakes—priced from $10-18. It would help build a larger fanbase to include a few simple morning favorites like eggs and bacon; or even, yes, an avocado toast. I love watching this place evolve to match the time and the place. Kudos to Morgan and team.

Vida, 1203 Mission St., Santa Cruz. Open daily 8 a.m.-2 p.m.

Vintage Harmony

Food by India Jozseph Schultz filled the long, long picnic table at the recent New Music Works Avant Garden Party. And to join it—on one of the hottest afternoons of the month—were two wines that pleased the partiers. One was the chilled, dry, crisp La Playita Estate Gruner Veltliner 2015 from Alfaro Family Vineyards. The other was a lovely pink Vin Gris Rosé 2016 from Birichino. Like pale strawberries, lime and chalk, it’s quite refreshing. You can taste the compelling GV from Alfaro at the upcoming July Winemaker Dinner at Persephone in Aptos, with the winemaker in residence fresh from a recent trip to Italy.

Field Flavors

The atmospheric al fresco dinner to support the Homeless Garden Project was gorgeous as always with the fields, the folks, the food. But my taste buds told me that I was experiencing something rather special at the recent Sustain Supper with appetizers by Peter Henry from the Cremer House, especially the BBQ smoked brisket on corn johnny cakes with collard greens. Big flavors and sensuous textures made this my top app, paired with a well-balanced Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir from Hallcrest Vineyards.

I also loved a tangy salad of farm greens with strawberries, snap peas, radishes, and feta in a tart lemon vinaigrette by Monique Plossl from The Glass Jar empire. The sweet, the crunch and the salty feta all made for true bites of summer. Desserts from chef Laci Sandoval of Wind & Rye were beautiful; nothing topped her densely creamy chocolate espresso tart inflected with candied orange zest and sea salt. Easily one of the most sophisticated desserts this side of the macaron from Alderwood.

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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