Prodigious Pantry

dining_casablancaThe menu at the reinvented Casablanca Bistro offers novel ingredients to complement the fabulous view

The new owners of Casablanca Bistro and Inn have enlisted Jon Carder as Executive Chef. With an extensive multi-ethnic culinary background, his menu brings numerous unique and unfamiliar ingredients to the table.

Lunch is served downstairs in the Bistro bar’s Sea Level Room and on its Beach Street patio. The menu includes a selection of small plates, salads, and sandwiches.

Build your own Grilled Cheese Sandwich ($6) with a familiar flavor, or investigate Spain’s rich Manchego or Italy’s Burrata, a fresh mozzarella with creamy center. Then choose vegetables, meat and a spread such as fig jam or spicy Tunisian harissa. Other sandwiches ($11-$15), served with salad or fries, include France’s famous ham and cheese croque monsieur or Grilled Coulotte steak with blue cheese, and Chinese heirloom pink watermelon radishes.

Dinner is served upstairs where the multi-tiered floor still delivers sensational bay views from every table. On a warm Thursday evening the fog bank stood guard in the distance as sailboats enjoyed the calm azure bay.

Airy house-made herb-topped focaccia, drizzled with oil, sprinkled with flakes of salt, and accompanied by coarse basil and pistachio pesto, was truly addictive.

The sommelier was still sorting through Casablanca’s extensive wine collection, so a small selection was available by the glass, chosen to pair well with the menu. A bottle of Danzante Chianti ($28), priced four-times the glass price, was both fruity and spicy, and indeed complemented our dishes.

From the list of Bites ($5 to $7), smoky Roasted Pistachios ($6) were flavored with flaked salt and mild Basque espelette chili pepper powder, but less crisp than I expected.

I found the selection of small plates ($7 to $15) extremely appetizing. A half dozen creamy Kumomoto Oysters ($14) were presented on crushed ice with pretty strands of baby kelp. In lieu of Tabasco, they were served with icy, granita-textured, spicy Bloody Mary sorbet.

A pair of smooth biscuit-sized buns held Liberty Duck sliders ($11) with watercress, caramelized onion, and the appealing sharpness of Swiss raclette cheese. I would have enjoyed a bit more lubricating, garlicky aioli. They were served with sticks of house-made fries.

Tubes of Fried Calamari ($14), like little torpedoes, were stuffed with Dungeness crab, Spanish chorizo, pine nuts, and Carpagio, an Asiago-style cheese made from goat’s milk by Sebastopol’s Bohemian Creamery. Dredged in fine crumbs they were accompanied by spicy paella sauce.

Large Plates ($17 to $26) include California-style Bouillabaisse seafood stew in lobster-saffron broth, stuffed organic tomatoes with house-made ricotta, and crispy duck confit. The Sonoma Direct Lamb Ragout ($20) included wide, house-made pappardelle noodles, tender braised lamb, and fresh English peas in a rich, semi-sweet dark sauce.

We enjoyed dessert as a peach moon climbed above the fog. A plate drizzled with raspberry coulis and chocolate sauce held a dark chocolate-covered half dome filled with dense chewy mousse which paired well with Taylor Tawny 10-year Port ($6); almost syrupy with an essence of chocolate-covered cherries.

Casablanca Inn and Bistro, 101 Main St. (corner of Beach St.), Santa Cruz, 426-9063. Full bar. Open Wednesday through Monday for lunch from 11a.m. until 3 p.m., happy hour 3 p.m. until 6 p.m., and dinner from 5 p.m. Visit casablanca-santacruz.com/santa-cruz-dining

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