The Spice is Right

dining_malabarhpAlthough Malabar refers to a region of India along its western coast bordering the Arabian Sea, Santa Cruz’s Malabar Restaurant infuses ingredients from around the world into its vegetarian menu. Japanese pumpkins, Anaheim chilies, Greek cheese, Malaysian peanut sauce and Russian Borscht are just some of the flavors that join curries and samosas in its rich list of small plates, soups, salads, pastas and entrées.

We began the meal with exotic beverages. Persian Nights ($4.25) was a sweet, lavender-colored blend of banana, pomegranate and almond milk scented with rosewater.  Supertonic ($4.50), a refreshing fusion of ginseng, ginger and allspice, was topped with chewy dried Himalayan goji berries.

Baked Sonoma Goat Cheese Salad ($7.75) with beautiful baby lettuces was lightly dressed with lemon vinaigrette and topped with a soft puff of white cheese. We enjoyed it with an order of Pan ($4), the airy, soft flatbread, which was served with clarified butter ghee, generously laden with minced fresh garlic.

Kofta, roughly translated from Persian means ‘to grind’, and typically refers to a Middle Eastern meatball. At Malabar, Rajistan Kofta ($12.75) is made of glutinous lotus root and stuffed with spiced cherry purée. The flavor of cashews was evident in the sweet and savory, thick, taupe gravy which was topped with threads of red pepper and tiny white pumpkin seeds.

Tahu Goreng ($6.75) from the Malay language means ‘fried tofu’. On a thick block of bean curd was poured a dark, sweet and tamarind-sour sauce with minced peanuts, and topped traditionally with mung bean sprouts and pencils of red bell pepper and cucumber.

A bowl of Black Pumpkin Curry ($12.25) featured soft, sweet cubes of starchy kabocha pumpkin in a complex, cumin-scented yellow curry.  Grilled strips of fresh coconut added a tropical flair.

Malabar Restaurant, 514 Front St., Santa Cruz, 458-3023. Lunch; Mon-Sat 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., dinner nightly from 5 p.m.

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