Herbal Essence

dining_hotplateBlack China Bakery Café has added dinner time to its repertoire three nights a week. Initially sharing the patio and back room of an interior design studio, the café now occupies the entire building.

A Cheese Plate ($12.50) was listed on the specials board, so I chose a bottle of Valcantera old-vine Spanish Grenache ($19); a bit spicy, smooth, and with a dry finish. Three cheeses were sprinkled with fresh rosemary needles. A medium-hard, sharp, Petit Basque sheep’s milk cheese, semi-ripe Brie, and a semi-soft wine-soaked cheese were joined by large, plump, soft dates, colossal green olives, and skinned almonds, and served with rustic bread. Hunger pangs subsided as we nibbled through the textures and flavors; sweet, crunchy, earthy, briny, and creamy.

We studied the display of poster-sized photographs by Santa Cruz’s Charles Berger, each a study in texture. Within the peeling bark of eucalyptus trees, shapes emerged: a fox, a dolphin, a face; “Spirit Trees” of the Aborigines.

The menu consists mainly of sandwiches ($8.75 to $9.75), each served with a green salad, and all vegetarian with some vegan alternatives. I ordered the Pear-Gorgonzola Sandwich ($8.25). Toasted slices of hearty whole wheat sourdough bread were spread with goat cheese, topped with thin slices of sweet caramelized pears, toasted candied walnuts, and melting crumbles of gorgonzola. It was an interesting combination of tastes that didn’t overpower the delicate flavor of the goat cheese.

A mixed baby greens salad covered half of the plate, topped with grape tomatoes, shaved carrot and more crumbled blue-veined cheese.

On the specials board also was Lasagna ($9.75) layered with thin slices of butternut squash seasoned with sage, rosemary and thyme, and topped with basil pesto. The soup was a buttery medium-bodied purée of yams and pears, accented with herbs.

Black China Bakery and Cafe, 1121 Soquel Ave., Santa Cruz, 460-1600. Beer and Wine. Serving breakfast and lunch from 7 a.m. daily, and dinner Thursday through Saturday until 9 p.m. Visit blackchinabakery.com

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