Primal Santa Cruz
Dining Reviews

Primal Santa Cruz Serves Up Hearty, Healthy Food

Is this new Westside spot the future of dining?

Jason Morgan, owner of Primal Santa Cruz, with a steak-enhanced Bonita Bowl. PHOTO: JULES HOLDSWORTH

Want to know what the future tastes like? Head over to the impressive new Primal Santa Cruz, at the corner of Laurel and Mission, and find out.

This is smart dining that bursts with intelligent design. Whether or not you care about “ancestrally inspired” foods, you probably do care about organic, nutrient-dense, gluten-free dishes made with locally sourced ingredients.

At a Primal lunch last week, we were blown away by the sleek, industrial-chic interior loaded with botanicals and polished wood. Cloth napkins and gorgeous dishes help soothe patrons who might at first pause over the 21st-century trend of placing orders at the counter and paying up front. But think about it—there’s no waiting for staff to come around and take your order, and when you’re finished, you can leave anytime. Streamlined to the max, Primal has its template down.

And it’s delicious. We loved our huge mugs of green pomegranate tea sweetened with coconut sugar, not processed sugar. Entree orders were inventive, created with an eye for beauty and generously portioned. My sweetie loved his blackened fish tacos, two GF tortillas (very tasty) topped with albacore, shaved mango-lime slaw, cilantro and watermelon radish tossed into a pretty mound ($17). Super delicious and sparkling fresh, this is a destination dish, no question about it.

My order of one of the house signature salad bowls, the Cali ($15), was a lavish affair of chopped Russian kale, arugula and fennel tossed in an outstanding sweet tangy dressing. Lots of citrus, avocado and pistachios adorned the entire dish, which is large enough to share. Only the requested “Primal Protein” addition of grilled skirt steak ($8) disappointed. Very chewy and surprisingly unseasonedodd, considering how deliciously our other items had been spicedthe beef needs some re-working. Perhaps a flavor-intensive marinade, then quick searing and chopping against the grain before adding to the salad bowl?

Ah, but that can easily be tweaked. The energy here at Primal is bold, with a bit of masculine spin. Large portions of the highest-quality ingredients. Add chicken breast or spicy turkey chorizo or braised pork to your salad. Or not. This menu is very flexible, and vegetarian friendly. Breakfast dishes look inventive, rather than cliché. The Primal entrepreneurs have thought things through.

We all know that top ingredients don’t come cheap—$50 is the new $30 (just ask Apple.)  If you only want to get full, you know your options. Primal is seriously committed to great ingredients, what you would gladly pay for and use in your own home cooking. Can’t wait to try dinner here, along with something from the beer and wine list. Kudos to the Primal Santa Cruz team. So far, so good!

Primal Santa Cruz, 1203 Mission St, Santa Cruz. 7 a.m.-9 p.m. daily. primalsantacruz.com.

Open and Shut

Alderwood is open. Aquarius is closed—but not for long. Sometime in mid-February the gorgeous dining room and bar at the Dream Inn will re-open its newly renovated Jack O’Neill Restaurant and Lounge. Can’t wait.

New Year Musings

Is the craft beer craze winding down?  Will mixologists run out of ways to make botanical bitters? Can we expect robot servers? Self-serve fine dining? The answers are still being formed, but we can offer a word to restaurateurs in general.

One of the things you’ve got that Amazon doesn’t is direct personal contact with your customers. So being polite, organized and helpful is something your staff can offer that patrons will remember. Treating patrons with respect builds repeat business, not to mention customer loyalty.

But reverse that picture for a minute. If the first contact patrons have with your establishment or your product is a bored, disengaged, unhelpful staffer, you’ll likely suffer some negative consequences. Just a thought.

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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