Pizza, Pasta, Amore

dining focacciaaFocaccia brings a slice of Italy to Water Street 

Grana Padano is popping up on menus around the county. This medieval cheese is made similarly to Parmagiano-Reggiano, but the cows graze a different terroir, and since it is not aged as long, I has a milder flavor.

At Focaccia, the younger cousin of downtown’s Café Mare, Grana Padano shares the menu with many likewise-trademarked Italian cheeses.

On various visits, the bread basket was stocked with crispy focaccia or a crusty loaf of house-made bread with a delicate interior. They were served with a dish of olive oil with mounds of minced garlic, sundried tomatoes, and chopped olives. The Focaccia Assortita appetizer ($7), an array of toasted breads, carried three different toppings; paper-thin slices of smoked salmon with capers, creamy mascarpone cheese, and fresh dill; sautéed mushrooms; and a spread of spicy black beans topped with grated quesillo cheese. dining foca

Pizzas ($9 to $14) range from the Margherita ($9), with a thin, chewy crust, fresh tomato sauce, basil, and plenty of mozzarella, to the unexpected Favolosa ($14) with spicy tomatillo sauce, porchetta ham, boschetto sheep and goat milk cheese, and a hint of truffle oil aroma, topped with an over-easy egg. Gluten-free dough is available (+$2.50).

There are a handful of salads, and at each of my visits a salad of the day, which are all big enough to share as a starter. You can always find the hearts of romaine Caesar ($6) in a classic creamy dressing topped with croutons, grated Grana Padano and a couple of anchovies.

The special salads are often topped with balls of mixed cheeses rolled in pepper. One day baby kale was topped with sliced pear fans, pumpkin seeds, thin slices of pancetta, and firm disk-shaped beans that are like both favas and garbanzos. On another, the bitter greens were topped with snowy grates of raw turnip, draped with thin slices of snapper fish and punctuated with sweet pomegranate seed rubies.

The selection of panini is different from that at Café Mare, although we were happy that the al salmone ($11) made the jump. The smoky aroma of the salted fish was joined by clean flavors of mascarpone, capers and tomatoes between slices of thin, pressed bread. It was plated with a delightful salad dressed with the house’s roasted garlic balsamic vinaigrette. Tiny white onions, grated carrot, kalamatas, artichoke heart and tomato joined mixed greens.

The entrée special was a seafood medley ($18.50). Scallops, mussels, clams, and shrimp joined silver dollar-sized rings of calamari in a tomato-seafood broth. Almost a dozen unique pastas are served every day. Elongated, semicircular pillows of Ravioli al Funghi ($15) lay in a plush green spinach cream sauce; rich but not overwhelming to the mild flavor of porcini mushrooms. A menu entrée is Maiale Sorrentina ($16). Thin slices of dining focaccialean pork tenderloin were topped with even thinner slices of prosciutto ham. Fresh mozzarella melted into the chunky marina, which engulfed the meat. It was served with skinned roasted potatoes and matchstick vegetables.

House-made desserts include Crème Caramel ($7), a delightfully creamy, lightly sweetened flan-like egg custard.

Focaccia, 503 Water St., Santa Cruz, 425-1213. Beer and wine. Open daily from 11:30 a.m. until 9:30 p.m. Visit focacciasantacruz.com.

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