40th Birthday Dinner in Santa Cruz
Greetings All, I am writing from Toronto. I will be in Santa Cruz on Fri. Aug. 13 to celebrate my friend's 40th birthday. Fancy is not necessary but possible. Seafood would be great. But just a nice, fun, elegant place to celebrate is the ticket.
So, please let me know what you think.
I'm a local, for 21 years, and very connected to the food scene in Santa Cruz. If you want "special," avoid the Shadowbrook, which is a tourist hot spot. The food is better than average with the exception that they serve CAFO (factory farmed) meat. YUCK. They are not connected to the local farms, not that I have noticed. So cruise ship food, I think. Much ado about nothing, in my book.
The best food, sourced locally, is at Oswald, Cellar Door, Gabriella Café, Ristorante Avanti, and Soif. (I haven't been to La Posta in years, and my only experience was sticker shock when a plate of charcuterie, a shared entrée, and two glasses of wine cost $65.)
You can see the Cellar Door's menus online: they serve a prix fixe three-course menu that changes daily. You won't be able to see it until the week of August 9-13, though. (I think.)
I would have to recommend Oswald as being my favorite. I had my birthday dinner there, with three other friends. The food was fantastic: one of the best meals I've had in years. Service was perfect without being cloying. We had two appetizers, three entrées, a bottle of red wine, a birthday glass of prosecco, three desserts, and two cocktails, and got out for about $50/person before tip. About those cocktails? World class. The bartender used to be with Michael Mina in San Francisco. One was a raspberry-basil concoction, and the other, a jalapeño margarita that was lip-stingingly good. We all agreed that the raspberry vodka was the best cocktail any of us had ever had. (Three of us are in our fifties.)
It is everything you seek, I believe. It is elegant, a little on the "pleasantly noisy" side (which I don't mind, because I am not especially comfortable in places where you can hear a pin drop, and feel compelled to speak in hushed tones), and is a very attractive room.
I believe it is the only one of the places I've mentioned with a full bar. I recommend it whole-heartedly. Enjoy, and happy birthday!
Soif and the Bonny Doon Cellar Cafe are both great choices. Gabriella Cafe downtown is also very good, but the space is small, so it depends on how many people will be joining you. Ristorante Avanti has phenomenal food, but it can get pretty noisy on weekend evenings. Also, if time and logistics allow a pre-dinner cocktail, I highly recommend Aquarius at the Dream Inn as a lovely kick-off point. Hope you enjoy your visit.
1711 Mission St, Santa Cruz, CA 95060
I agree the food is very good to excellent at Soif, Avanti and Cellar Door. Probably three of my four favorite places for top-end food (add La Posta to complete my top-tier list). Avanti is more Italian-leaning than the other two. I was fairly disappointed with Gabriella last time but that was with the last chef; the new chef was fairly recently installed and I haven't heard anything either way.
If wine is a consideration, then I'd vote Cellar Door off the island. I just don't like Bonny Doon wines very much. On the other hand, Soif has a very extensive selection of amazing choices, of which about 50 are by the glass. Avanti also has an excellent wine list, of which about 10 are by the glass on any given night.
538 Seabright Avenue, Santa Cruz, CA 95062
Looks like none of the locals are going to step up to the plate, based on talking folks up and poking around the net, it seems the two contenders are the cafe at the Bonny Doon Winery and a place downtown called Soif. Have heard good things about both. Check online menus and see what you think.