venus-spirits-dining
Dining Reviews

Venus Brings in Diners, Brings Out Striking Flavors

Distillery’s dining room opens with new options

Diners inside Venus Spirits Cocktails & Kitchen on the Westside. PHOTO: TARMO HANNULA

The outdoor dining at Venus Spirits Cocktails and Kitchen is about as cool as it gets. But when the fog comes in and it becomes too cool, you can now dine indoors. The menu of irresistible high-key flavors and edgy textures has been reinvigorated, as well.

Chef James Manss (formerly at Sotola and Suda) and sous chef Gabby Molina have created lunch and dinner menus aimed toward communal dining. The justly popular Venus burger is still front and center, as well as the mac and cheese strewn with cornbread crumbs, and the highly munchable crispy Brussels sprouts. Venus fries with garlic aioli are impossible to ignore. Eat one and you’ll finish them all. Look for new small plate items perfect for sharing such as steamed mussels, smoked salmon, and a sausage board of handcrafted items from El Salchichero.

The dinner menu will offer alternating fish and steak specials. Right now there’s a grilled New Zealand salmon with braised greens, crispy potatoes, Calabrian chili and Greek yogurt crema. The vegan Caesar mixing baby gems, radicchio, crispy chickpeas and nori sprinkles is almost too beautiful to eat. I have trouble getting past that outrageous cornbread with bourbon bacon jam and honey butter. But that’s me. Don’t miss the new Mezcal from Venus in addition to a long and high-spirited list including the celebrated gins, aquavit, vodka, tequila and whiskey. We’ve been binging David Lynch’s Twin Peaks at home—the original series, as well as the very surreal 2017 continuation. So the next cocktail I’ll have at Venus Spirits will be the Laura Palmer—Gin 01, hibiscus tea reduction, rose water, lemon, and seltzer. Come fire walk with me. The dinner menu runs Wed-Fri 4-9pm (5-9 Sat; 5-8 on Sun). Lunch is served Sat-Sun noon to 3pm; snacks from 3-5pm. Venus Spirits Cocktails & Kitchen, 200 High Rd., off Delaware Ave., Santa Cruz. venusspirits.com.

Pizzeria Avanti Reopens

For the past year and a half, a steady stream of pizza lovers came and went—masks on—to pick up their carryout pizzas and Brussels sprout salads. And finally, last week, after the long pandemic closure, Westside’s beloved Pizzeria Avanti opened its doors again for table seating. The soft opening—presided over by a happy chef/owner Hugo Martinez, various family members, and a newly-hired can-do staff—gave loyal patrons a chance to come in, sit at their favorite tables, and swill hot-from-the-oven pizza and big bowls of the signature Brussels sprout salad laced with sherry shallot vinaigrette, golden squash, pumpkin seeds and diced pancetta. The menu is everything we’ve been missing for the past year. Daily lasagna specials. The Niman Ranch lamb burger with melted manchego sauteed mushrooms and caramelized onion. Pasta dishes with meatballs, with shrimp, with chicken. We toasted Martinez and his co-owner chef partner Rene Serna. Yes, it all did taste better hot from the oven, rather than reheating at home. After nine years, Pizzeria Avanti knows its specialties inside out. Welcome back! Daily from 5pm. 1711 Mission St., Santa Cruz.

Humble Sea’s Rising TideThe space in the Potrero complex formerly occupied by Uncommon Brewers (and the Oasis) is slated to become a production site for Humble Sea Brewing Co., all the better to supply their expanding empire which now includes a Pacifica taproom, in addition to the out-of-control-popular Swift Street flagship. And then there’s the Cremer House addition—Humble Sea Tavern—which will open any minute now in Felton. A booming market is driving this expansion, with Humble Sea set to brew up close to 10,000 barrels this year. Kudos to the Humble Sea team: Frank Scott Krueger, Nick Pavlina, Taylor West and Lee DeGraw.

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