Touring Italy

dining cafemareFrom simple to exotic, the fresh flavors and house-made sauces at Cafe Mare are memorable 

Cafe Mare at lunchtime is brightly lit by a sea of white tablecloths reflecting light from the expansive arc of windows. It wasn’t busy mid-week, with a few people at the bar eating or enjoying cups of espresso.

The menu has an incredible amount of choices. Salads ($7 to $10) include arugula with truffle oil, roasted pancetta and goat cheese, with choice of prawns, chicken or salmon (add $4).

The Italian word mare refers to the sea, so it is no surprise to find an abundance of sustainable seafood dishes on the menu. We started with Salmone Affumicato ($12). A large plate was layered with micro-thin slices of gently smoked salmon, lacquered with olive oil and topped with snipped bits of dill, tart, caper buds and a dollop of creamy, fresh mascarpone cheese. This appetizer took advantage of the rustic-crusted house-made bread that arrived warm at the table.

One of the twelve pasta dishes ($14 to $19) combines fresh pasta with vegetables and mozzarella which is baked with marinara and béchamel sauces. Cannelloni alla Nizzarda ($15) featured pasta rolled enchilada-style around a filling of ground veal, puréed spinach and ricotta cheese. The house-made tomato sauce, with a bit of cream, was light, tart and fresh-tasting.

Main courses ($16 to $21) include eggplant and zucchini parmigiana and free-range veal scaloppini. Pizzas ($12 to $15) offer toppings such as mascarpone, salmon, prosciutto and seafood. Pollo Alle Mele ($18), a torpedo-shaped chicken breast with a vein of melted Gorgonzola blue cheese running through the center, was wrapped with a thin layer of pancetta bacon which crusted nicely during baking. It was served with delicious roasted apples and vegetables. Cubes of potatoes with a bit of caramelized onion were joined by smoky, sliced Brussels sprouts.

For lighter appetites, Panini ($10) are served with soup or a small salad (only at lunch) on homemade focaccia bread. I especially like the smoked salmon panino with mascarpone and tomatoes.

Cafe Mare also serves brunch on the weekends. Favorite American staples such as French toast, buttermilk pancakes and eggs Benedict are joined bydining cafemaren Italian specialties. Spaghetti carbonara, frittata with Italian bacon, and a selection of Italian cheeses for the omelets offer new flavors for the morning palate. Salads and panini are also available.

Happy Hour, which happens Sunday through Thursday nights at 5 p.m., includes some nicely priced meals in addition to appetizers. The fire of Ali di Pollo alla Diavola ($8), or hot wings, can be easily quenched with draft beers ($3) or well drinks ($5). Deep-fried calamari, pepperoni pizza and a variety of pastas ($8) with that house-made bread, pair well with a glass of house Chianti ($7).

I sat at the polished, long, angular bar and enjoyed a generous glass of Zayante Vineyard Merlot ($8) while anticipating a bowl of pasta. The very al dente tubes of penne rigate were tossed with a rich and meaty tomato and top sirloin sauce which was herbed just the way my mama used to make it.

On Thursdays, enjoy wine and cheese pairings at 5:30 p.m.

Cafe Mare, 740 Front St., #100, Santa Cruz, 458-1212. Full bar. Open for lunch and dinner weekdays 11:30 a.m. until 2:30 p.m. and 5 until 10 p.m. Open weekends from 10 a.m. until 10 p.m. Visit cafemare.com.

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