Dining Reviews

Recalling the Best Santa Cruz Takeout Meals of a Hard Year

There were wonderful dishes and good memories shared this year

Brett Emerson, owner and chef at Barceloneta restaurant in Santa Cruz, shows his freshly prepared vegetable paella. PHOTO: TARMO HANNULA

Twas the year that gave new meaning to the whole idea of dining out. Yet there were wonderful dishes and good memories shared in this year of dining in. 

Starting with the most vivid—a dinner consumed in the rambling Victorian of our friends Tom and Rita. Not only did we endure the insults of Covid-19 quarantine, but wildfire evacuation as well. Under these conditions there was nonetheless a remarkable dinner picked up from La Posta, of brined pork chop with braised napa cabbage and a complex peach and nectarine mostarda. Freshly-baked sourdough bread, little gem salad, and amaretti cookies for dessert.

Paired with the Birichino Grenache, which had evacuated along with us, it was both comforting and expert. Me and Jack in the dining room, Rita and Tom in the kitchen, thereby assuring social distance with a big dose of camaraderie. 

From India Joze came the first of many outstanding meals ordered, picked up, and then inhaled at our own dining table. A sensational Persian chicken filled with mushrooms and pomegranate was kept company by outrageous sumac-dusted potatoes with a side of soy and jalapeño ketchup. 

From Gabriella Cafe came a sumptuous curbside delivery of rack of lamb in chimichurri sauce with astonishing smashed potatoes—the ultimate comfort food—and sauteed market veggies. An order of never-better house focaccia and a treasured vintage of Le Cigare Volant made it a festive occasion. 

One of the sexiest dinners I had all year was carryout from Steamer Lane Supply. All the ingredients for killer carnitas tacos were there, from cabbage, cilantro, tortillas and two salsas to a slab of slow-cooked pork with instructions for whipping it up in my own cast iron frying pan. Ab fab! 

Laili came through with a kaleidoscope of chutneys and sensuous baba ghanoush to accompany grilled lamb on a bed of aromatic saffron basmati rice. All the dishes from Laili were robust but the lamb kebabs especially. 

Avanti wowed me with an appetizer of grilled calamari followed by another starter of intensely flavored lamb meatballs on polenta draped with red bell peppers. 

A twilight meal at Venus Spirits Kitchen provided a terrific plate of cornbread topped with jalapeño honey butter and bourbon bacon jam. The double Venus Burger gooey with melting cheese, aioli and smoked onion was positively sinful as was the lemon, basil and Venus Gin No.1-intensive cocktail “Beach, Don’t Kill My Vibe.” The pleasure of seeing my great friend Melody across the table was the best dessert.

In the top tier of meals this year was Barceloneta’s fantastic carryout involving succulent short ribs and the amazing Ibiza Hippie salad of shredded kale with preserved lemons, spiced yams, and a vinaigrette of carrots and ginger. Authentic flavor excitement.  

From Bad Animal came cauliflower a la Polonaise involving micro cubes of cauliflower, romanesco, egg, infant croutons, and yellowfoot mushrooms in a pool of brown butter. 

Dungeness crab and avocado from Oswald, oh my.

The Buttery came through this year, over and over with bracingly good coffee to match its zucchini muffins (ultimate comfort food) and decadent chocolate croissants. 

An order of Julia Child-worthy tiramisu from Vim soothed our souls. Dreamy, elegant, and filled with mascarpone, tea-soaked cake and unsweetened cocoa powder. 

The dumplings from Sawasdee knocked me out with garlic, ginger, pork and shrimp in a sweet and spicy mystery sauce. Compelling and earthy.

Our local food makers, chefs, flavor artisans, and winemakers were true heroes during this terrible year. I wish them, and us all, a far better New Year! Here’s to 2021.

Christina Waters was born in Santa Cruz and raised all over the world (thanks to an Air Force dad), with real-world training in painting, music, winetasting, trail running, organic gardening, and teaching. She has a PhD in Philosophy, teaches in the Arts at UCSC and sings with the UCSC Concert Choir. Look for her recent memoir “Inside the Flame” at bookstores everywhere.

4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. Orly

    January 4, 2021 at 6:34 am

    agreeing that PGA is doing it right !

  2. Orly

    January 4, 2021 at 6:33 am

    infant croutons? absurd !!!

  3. Brett

    December 30, 2020 at 8:02 pm

    Cheese “Burger” from Pretty Good Advice was the star of the year!

  4. Laura

    December 29, 2020 at 4:46 pm

    Wow so many dead animals consumed. Wish you would have included more vegetarian options!

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