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Aug 6, 2009 10:37 AM

Downtown Santa Cruz dinner updates?

Anything new to try for an early (6-ish) dinner in downtown Santa Cruz on my annual visits from over the hill?

Gabriella is an old favorite which I plan to revisit. I see that Oswald has reopened in a different location downtown - I really liked the old location so hope to try out the new one. Soif looked interesting when I walked by last year, so I hope to try it this year. 515 has also been recommended here, but it doesn't sound like my kind of place (not a big lounge-restaurant fan).

Any updates on these places or suggestions for new places? They can certainly be more diverse in price and cuisine than the ones I've listed; deliciousness is what's key.


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  1. You've hit on all my favorites and the choices are still pertinent.

    I did try Aquarius, the new restaurant at the Dream Inn and was very impressed.

    For Italian,(and all less $$) there's La Posta on Seabright, Carruso's in Capitola and Avanti on Mission. All worthy of a visit IMO.

    1. I tried Soif for the first time and it was delicious! Started with the salad with local stone fruit, candied pecans, and buttermilk vinaigrette, then moved on to the duck breast with wild rice and red currant gastrique, with housemade coconut and strawberry sorbets to conclude. All were very tasty, with the excellent summer fruit working great in all these different contexts. The wine by the taste/glass list has lots of intriguing choices; my favorite was a southern French white blend that included Grenache Gris and Carignan Gris.

      I'll be going to Gabriella next weekend.


      3 Replies
      1. re: mdg

        Thanks for your report back! Glad you enjoyed Soif. It's my preferred restaurant in SC given the interesting wine list and small plate options. They cook seafood (squid, scallops, fish) very nicely, and I'm a big fan of their cheese plate. Their desserts tend to be relatively weaker in my experience. I'll have to try that grenache gris/carignan gris blend next time...Their adjoining wine shop is also excellent.

        Husband and I ate a light dinner at the bar at Oswald last night. Having eaten there for dinner in the main dining room in March, I much prefer the ambience and experience at the bar. You can order anything from the regular menu as well as from their special bar menu. We shared the burger w/ fries (bar and lunch menu only) and a special appetizer of calamari stuffed w/ risotto w/ some fried tentacles on the side. Each dish was $11.

        The burger meat was tasty and exhibited that pleasant crumbliness of freshly ground beef, but I found the roquefort a bit overpowering and the too soft bun wimpy. The twice-fried frites were addictive though. The calamari dish was enjoyable w/ nicely made risotto inside, but the piquant sauce was a bit too vinegary. I had a glass of French touraine (all sauv blanc), and husband got one of their two beers on tap (Stella). All in all, it was a satisfying meal at the bar that only set us back about $40 including tax and tip. And husband left full which doesn't always happen at Soif. :-)

        Let us know how you like your meal at Gabriella; it would be nice to get an updated report. I still want to try the Cellar Door Cafe in the Bonny Doon Vineyard tasting room for dinner sometime; they have small plates and a 3-course prix fixe menu for $32.

        1. re: Carb Lover

          Gabriella was as wonderful as always. Cucumber involtini and a sald with raspberries, nuts, and some superb fennell were both winners. Our entrees of roasted whole petrale sole and a multi-way lamb including roast loin and syrah-sauced osso bucco were fabulous. These were big entrees so we skipped dessert this time, though the strawberry rhubarb dumpling sounded tempting. Our glasses of Prosecco and Petite Sirah were most enjoyable.

          Soif is very nice with very intriguing wine choices, but for me Gabriella's food is even a notch higher in interest and deliciousness. I'll eat very happily at either one! For a single diner like I was last week, the bar at Soif works better; for dinner before a concert, being able to reserve at Gabriella is an important advantage.


          1. re: mdg

            Thanks for your report on Gabriella, Michael. I haven't eaten there under the current chef's reign. The food does sound good.

            They just received a very favorable review in this week's metro:

            Soif Wine Bar & Retail
            105 Walnut Avenue, Santa Cruz, CA 95060

            Gabriella Cafe
            910 Cedar Street, Santa Cruz, CA 95060

      2. Any updates on downtown Santa Cruz choices over the past year? Currently we have Gabriella and Soif reserved, but if there's a new must-try place we can change that around.


        3 Replies
        1. re: mdg

          I think the Soif, Gabriella and Oswald are still the best downtown options for interesting and delicious food. If you're too full at dinner and want a little something sweet to round out the experience, I'd suggest a walk down to Chocolate (next to Bookshop Santa Cruz), for one of their over-the-top hot chocolates. Right now they have a "chocolatini" drink that is out of this world. Served in a small espresso cup with a much-needed spoon and a dollop of whipped cream--it is small, but mighty delicious.

          1. re: spiltinky

            Ooh, nice tip on Chocolate - thanks!


            1522 Pacific Ave, Santa Cruz, CA 95060

            Oswald Restaurants
            603 Front St, Santa Cruz, CA 95060

            1. re: spiltinky

              Soif was a real winner - I went there twice, once with my wife at a table and once solo at the bar. My solo bar meal started with a fine baby green salad with lemon cucumber and feta. It was followed by a wonderful duck breast with wild rice, spinach, a few baby currants, and a slightly sweet currant gastrique that went fabulously well with both the duck and wild rice. This was served with a knockout Sicilan wine flight - an IGT Frappato, an IGT Nero d'Avola, and a Cerasuolo di Vittoria that was a blend of the two grapes. I never had Frappato before but I'll be searching that out in the future - what delicious wine it made from two different producers!

              The highlight from the week before was the oven-roasted pheasant dish, which was probably the best pheasant I've had in this country. But my wife's pasta entree was very fine as well; great vegetables and a killer tomato sauce.

              Dinner at Gabriella was also very nice. It's back to a bit simpler style after the greater complexity of the past chef or two, but still very delicious. I really enjoyed my misto di mare appetizer - even with uni, not always my favorite - and lamb shank entree.


          2. For this year's visit we revisited old friend Gabriella - still as fine as ever - and made a couple of new friends. Laili was very nice - sort of a "paul K meets Kabul" restaurant, to use a San Francisco and Silicon Valley reference. The anar chicken with pomegranate sauce was very tasty, as was the complimentary naan and tabouleh (sort of a torshi-ish tabouleh, but that's good too).

            I didn't try dessert though because I wanted to try the Penny Ice Creamery. Goodness, that's a lovely place - my wife and I went back the next night as well. The nectarine sorbet and mint chip were stunning; the brown butter spiced pecan was lovely but the texture that night was a little soft; no such problem the next night with the sorbet and mint chip. It's a very good thing I don't live closer to this place!

            The most awesome dish at Gabriella this time was the monterey squid with squid ink - there were puddles of squid ink sauce that went great with the grilled squid, the beans, the cucumbers, and then mopping up with the bread. Some nice borage flowers accents too!


            The Penny Ice Creamery
            913 Cedar St, Santa Cruz, CA 95060

            Laili restaurant
            101 Cooper St, Santa Cruz, CA 95060