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A Complete Guide to the 13th Annual Santa Cruz Restaurant Week, Oct. 20-27

Annual dining event brings together the local dining scene

Severino's. PHOTO: Tarmo Hannula

It is fundamentally human to take things for granted. Even though we know we ought not to, succumbing to this perspective pitfall is all but unavoidable most of the time. But if there’s one thing the pandemic has taught us, it’s not to take even the most basic things in our life for granted. Going to a movie, socializing with friends and sending the kids off to school all seemed like immutably concrete parts of everyday life—until they weren’t.

And so it was with going out to eat. We came to realize that our favorite restaurants need our support, and that no business—no matter how popular or long-standing—is immune from going under. Supporting our favorite local eateries has taken on a kind of civic-duty quality since the pandemic hit. Here in Santa Cruz, many restaurants have expressed extreme gratitude, crediting the local community for taking ownership of their favorite local spots in order to make sure the doors stay open and grills stay hot. GT asked this year’s Restaurant Week participants two questions, one looking back at the pandemic and one looking forward to this year’s offerings. Here’s what they had to say.

WHAT HAVE YOU LEARNED FROM THE PANDEMIC ABOUT THE RESTAURANT INDUSTRY?

“We really have excellent regular customers who supported us during the height of the pandemic and shutdowns. One customer came through the restaurant and tipped every employee $100. It really breathed life into the restaurant.”

— Ben Kralj, Chef/General Manager at Back Nine Bar and Grill

“Even after so many years in business and trying to succeed, you never know what can go wrong. We have survived the .com bubble and the 2008 recession, but I never saw this coming.”

— Jean-Pierre Iuliano, Chef/Owner of Café Mare

“The pandemic really taught us just how adaptable we can be. We had an opportunity to turn the beach into an amazing outdoor dining experience and develop a take-out system, which we had never done before. Above all, we were reminded of the amazing strength and support throughout the Santa Cruz community.”

— Alisha Dodds, Manager, Crow’s Nest

“The industry itself is very resilient—especially in Santa Cruz, where more restaurants have survived.”

— Paul Cocking, Owner, Gabriella Café

“Not to take staffing and supply chains for granted. It also taught me patience and learning to accept the things that I can’t control.”

— Liza Wadstein, General Manager, Hula’s Island Grill

“The importance of adaptation, and cultivating a more sustainable relationship not only with our guests, but our local farmers and fishermen as well.”

— Greg Karjala, Chef de Cuisine, Jack O’Neill Restaurant and Lounge

“We definitely appreciate our local regular customers. We were seeing a lot of the same faces during the pandemic, and we really appreciate the support.”

— Roberto Castagno, Manager, Kianti’s

“I believe that not just us, but all restaurants have become more focused on the guest and are being more careful and concerned about cleanliness and contamination.”

— Giovanni Spanu, Chef/Owner, Lago di Como

“Restaurants are a truly collaborative community effort. I am particularly grateful for our staff and our loyal, loving and patient patrons.”

— Patrice Boyle, Owner, La Posta

“It’s definitely been challenging, especially for a new restaurant, but it’s given us the opportunity to cater to the community in a unique way. It forced us to get creative.”

— Anthony Sitch, General Manager, Makai Island Kitchen and Groggery

“It’s very important to have a full staff, as well as catering to individual guest’s needs so that they feel comfortable dining out.”

— Joseph Moens, Executive Chef, Michael’s on Main

“The industry is not a given; you can be here today and gone tomorrow. And that you have to be flexible and resilient.”

— Damani Thomas, Chef/Owner, Oswald

“Just making sure your staff feels safe, that the culture is positive, and to be aware of our current surroundings. And also, being more transparent about what happens behind the scenes.”

— Ron Bonifacio, Director of Operations, Palapas

“The industry is resilient and has very hard-working employees. And it really gave the industry an opportunity to think outside the box, as well.”

— Margaux Keiser, Manager, Paradise Beach Grille

“To be grateful—for our jobs, our community and for the people helping us. Even the delivery drivers, I give them free food. It’s not about the money, it’s about supporting the community.”

— Ayoma Wilen, Chef/Owner, Pearl of the Ocean

“People’s expectations don’t change, despite it being well-known that restaurants are short-staffed. But we’re still putting forth a lot of extra effort trying to meet those expectations, and many of the staff including myself are doing the jobs of multiple people.”

— Ryan Koehler, General Manager, Riva

“The service and hospitality industries play an integral part in our society. What we do genuinely matters and people need to have shared social experiences. We all need to be able to celebrate life and one another and there is a lot to be said for taking care of others and helping to facilitate those moments.”

— Steven Miller, General Manager, Seabright Social

“I always thought that my profession was safe. But this has shown me that even the restaurant industry can be affected by outside factors.”

— Ken Drew, Executive Chef, Severino’s Bar and Grill

“We have a great community here in Santa Cruz that has been supporting us as well as other local restaurants. We consider ourselves very lucky and are grateful for all the support.”

— Dede Eckhardt, Manager, Soif

“It’s difficult working with fewer tables and reduced capacity, so we had to find a different way to serve our customers, such as takeout.”

— Marco Paoletti, Co-Owner, Sugo

“How wonderful and amazing the Santa Cruz community is, which I already knew since we opened in 2012. But now it’s even stronger. And that quality food always wins and how important it is to have a team that is like family.”

— Luca Viara, Owner, Tramonti

“It’s shown me that individual workers who want to make a difference have shown up and delivered exceptional service. Especially with so many restaurants short-staffed, those that are here are doing the jobs of multiple people.”

— Laine Elliott, Food and Beverage Manager, The View at Chaminade

Hula’s. PHOTO: Tarmo Hannula

WHAT DISH ARE YOU MOST EXCITED ABOUT ON THIS YEAR’S RESTAURANT WEEK MENU?

“I’m super excited about our grilled dorado (mahi-mahi) with a mango salsa. After visiting Mexico recently, I was very inspired by this fish and pairing it with tropical flavors.”

— Ben Kralj, Chef and General Manager at Back Nine Bar and Grill

“The pork scaloppini with roasted California chestnuts, shallots and white wine. It’s a perfect fall dish, in tune with the season, and the chestnuts make it unique.”

— Jean-Pierre Iuliano, Chef/Owner of Café Mare

“We are really excited about the menu this year, it sets the perfect tone for those hearty fall flavors. To start, you can’t miss out on the pumpkin carrot soup, it will warm you right up.”

— Alisha Dodds, Manager, Crow’s Nest

“Our fettuccine Bolognese which now features fresh-made Bigoli pasta from Watsonville.”

— Paul Cocking, Owner, Gabriella Café

“Our Bali Hai barbeque pork ribs that are slow cooked, fall right off the bone, and have a good tangy mango barbeque sauce. They are served with our island-style slaw with pickled ginger and jasmine coconut rice.”

— Liza Wadstein, General Manager, Hula’s Island Grill

“Our pumpkin soup that combines local heirloom pumpkins with local organic produce. It’s perfect for fall and showcases the local terroir of Santa Cruz.”

— Greg Karjala, Chef de Cuisine, Jack O’Neill Restaurant and Lounge

“Our gourmet pasta, which is a long-time favorite. It’s a very rich creamy pesto pasta dish with bacon, sun-dried tomatoes and artichokes.”

— Roberto Castagno, Manager, Kianti’s

“The nectarine panna cotta, made with organic nectarines, cream, milk, and sugar. It’s a traditional Italian dessert, and a specialty of our new pastry chef Crescenzo Pellicia.”

— Giovanni Spanu, Chef/Owner, Lago di Como

“The wild mushroom arancini are going to be amazing. It’s a great time of year for wild mushrooms, and they are served with a slightly spicy tomato aioli. It’s super seasonal, bright, and flavorful.”

— Patrice Boyle, Owner, La Posta

“Our poke bowl is definitely my favorite entrée on the menu. It has fresh ahi tuna, along with some unique flavors such as lychee and our Sriracha cream sauce.”

— Anthony Sitch, General Manager, Makai Island Kitchen and Groggery

“I like our Kalbi-style short ribs, which are unique and different. The heat and sweetness of the dish balance each other really well, and the meat is fork-tender.”

— Joseph Moens, Executive Chef, Michael’s on Main

“Our appetizer, the savory oyster bread pudding. It’s been a while since I’ve rolled this one out. It used to be a crowd favorite at our old location.”

— Damani Thomas, Chef/Owner, Oswald

“Our skirt steak entrée, which is a specialty for us and one of our most popular items. It’s Harris Ranch beef, and comes with rice and beans that are housemade by our chef every morning.”

— Ron Bonifacio, Director of Operations, Palapas

“Our fresh grilled salmon that has a lemon saffron beurre blanc and is plated with homemade garlic mashed potatoes and wilted spinach.”

— Margaux Keiser, Manager, Paradise Beach Grille

“Our wild-caught salmon curry from my mother’s recipe. It’s very unique, the flavors and the sauce, and people probably haven’t tried anything like it before.”

— Ayoma Wilen, Chef/Owner, Pearl of the Ocean

“The local-caught halibut with a housemade orange-rosemary cream sauce, rice pilaf, vegetable medley, and topped with our famous fried zucchini stick.”

— Ryan Koehler, General Manager, Riva

“Our spin on grilled street corn is something that everyone loves. It’s a modern take on the classic Mexican dish, sautéed in butter and fresh lime juice, and topped with housemade garlic aioli, shredded parmesan cheese and cayenne pepper.”

— Steven Miller, General Manager, Seabright Social

“A dessert that I made as a taster to help me get this job. It’s a pumpkin crème brûlée served in a real mini pumpkin. People love the presentation, it’s perfect for fall.”

— Ken Drew, Executive Chef, Severino’s Bar and Grill

“The short ribs, a hearty and comforting dish that helps welcome in the change of seasons. The meat is very tender and flavorful.”

— Dede Eckhardt, Manager, Soif

“The egg fettuccine that comes with porcini mushrooms and sausage in a creamy marsala rosemary sauce.”

— Marco Paoletti, Co-Owner, Sugo

“The new dessert we’re offering: a meringata made with Italian meringue, whipped cream, and berries and pastry cream on the inside. It was my favorite dessert as a kid in Torino and I used to run to the pastry shop to buy them.”

— Luca Viara, Owner, Tramonti

“The fresh, local, and wild King Salmon that comes with roasted fingerling potatoes, Kalamata olives, pancetta, chervil, and is finished with a sherry gastrique. It’s a brand-new dish that the chef is looking forward to having the public try.”

— Laine Elliott, Food and Beverage Manager, The View at Chaminade

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. When is restaurant week? The complete guide I did not see any date. Thank you

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