Dining Reviews

Venus Spirits Cocktails and Kitchen’s Stylish Outdoor Dining

Venus Kitchen offers a playful menu and great service

The cornbread with bourbon bacon jam and chili honey butter at Venus Spirits Cocktails and Kitchen is a decadent experience. PHOTO: Jacob Christopher Boynton

Exceptional cocktails, attractive (and generously spaced) outdoor seating, and memorable food—Venus Spirits Cocktails and Kitchen’s stylish outdoor dining did not disappoint.

From the first tangy pink cocktail to the last addictive French fry, we savored our debut dinner at the spacious new home of Venus’ restaurant and tasting across the street from Cafe Iveta off Delaware.

What a great place to see, at a realistic distance, old friends. Melody and I were so happy to see each other after so many months without a cocktail rendezvous. The playful Venus Kitchen menu raised our spirits as well. Outdoor heaters and a beautiful twilight sky formed the background as we gabbed away while savoring the menu. Melody’s ingenious Scandanaviation came in a demi-balloon glass with a Luxardo-marinated maraschino cherry skewered on the side ($12). Ablaze with complex Venus aquavit, lemon, and creme de violette, it was both lavender and delicious. 

My cocktail, provocatively named Beach, Don’t kill My Vibe, involved a blend of Venus gin no. 1 (my favorite), with hints of strawberry, lemon and basil ($10), topped with a slice of lemon. Gorgeous drink. I’ll have it again.

By now the leading Venus Kitchen appetizer—a decadent experience in cornbread—has become famous. But once I tasted it, I have to say this small plate is even better than its reputation implies. A very tall square slab of old-fashioned cornbread ($8) arrived on a plate adorned with chili honey butter and petite slices of jalapeño. Drizzled all over the top and sides is something that ought to be illegal: bourbon bacon jam. OMG. And yes, it tastes exactly like you think it should. I licked my fingers after scooping up every trace of that jam!

Melody ordered one of the Venus tacos, involving marinated fish (probably snapper or rockfish) arriving on an open-faced flour tortilla attractively filled with salsa verde, avocado, thinly sliced cucumber, purple cabbage and garlic aioli and slices of lime ($15 for 2). My double Venus Burger ($17) was absolute dynamite. Gooey with melting American cheese, aioli and smoked onion (not too much smokiness, which was fine by me), the plump double patty burger was partnered by many thin, hot, perfect fries. Truly delicious, it satisfied that burger craving to the max. I’ve never spent a better $17. Well, not lately, at least.

Great service. Amiable, attentive, even whilst adhering to all protocols. Pellegrino in tall glasses somehow made sense even as the temperature plunged. Four V trails of migrating Canada geese cruised overhead on their way to Baja, making a vivid intaglio against the purple twilight sky. We loved our dinner at Venus. You will too.

Venus Spirits Cocktails and Kitchen, 200 High Road, Santa Cruz. Wednesday-Thursday, 3-8pm; Friday-Saturday, 3-9pm; Sunday, 1-6pm. 831-427-9673, venusspirits.com/kitchen

News Flash

This coming spring—which can’t come too soon! —look for a new Iveta Cafe in the building at 545 Pacific. It will be opening up next door to the new Big Basin Vineyards tasting room. The duo of cafe and wine tasting room will energize the top end of town.

More Delicious News

One of our most innovative chefs, Brad Briske plans to open a second restaurant early next year. And it will be housed in Discretion Brewing’s restaurant, where the brilliant Santos Majano has been cooking since he left Soif. I’m hoping Majano will land someplace close to my house. I love his inventive foods! Briske’s first dining room is Home, in Soquel (the former Theo’s for all of us old timer residents) and he and wife/manager Linda Ritten have earned a richly deserved following for the chef’s trademark way with meats.

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.

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