Amba Jane DesJardins
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Amba's Eats

AMBA's EATS

I love to eat and cook - and I do a lot of both.  Here are my recommendations for the Santa Cruz area:
 
Savvy New Local Restaurant
La Posta, 538 Seabright at Murray, 831.457-2782
Savvy ambiance, great location blocks to Seabright Beach, innovative food -- and I'm not usually into Italian.  This is Italian food like you find in Italy:  salumi, grilled bronzino, veal, sardines, pastas, fresh salads, wood-fired pizzas... elegant, tasty, and nothing else like it in this area.  Soif owners and architect Mark Primack answered a call I've been making for several years:  Where do you go in the Seabright neighborhood for a nice glass of wine, good food, good service, and a casual yet interesting ambiance?  After it's recent soft opening, it seems to be bustling which means locals were ready for a new cool addition. $$$
 
Top-quality Sushi
Shogun, 1123 Pacific Ave, 831.469.4477
Consistent, excellent quality traditional sushi in generous portions.  They've got the best selection of fish including the harder to find sea urchin, uni, my favorite, which they serve nightly.  I don't really do the rolls thing since I'm a bit of a purist when it comes to raw fish, but I have tried a couple and they're tasty.  I always get the seaweed salad -- and sake.  $$$
 
Locals Pizza and Games For All Ages
Engfer Pizza, 537 Seabright at Murray, 831.429.1856, www.engferpizzaworks.com
Other than the thin crust pizza I make, this is the only pizza I eat -- other than on the Haight.  It's an ultra-casual and fun industrial-style pizza joint where you order authentic wood-fired pizzas with your choice of fresh ingredients or "planning department-approved combos," and a soup or salad or two, at the counter.  Don't forget to scout around the wine racks for a good bottle -- or go for the excellent beer on tap.  Look for the ping-pong tables in the next room and grab that game of chess, checkers or backgammon.  Local owners use the best fresh ingredients, make fresh handmade dough (and dough-to-go), create original recipe sauces, make homemade desserts -- and don't forget to peek in the popsicle drawer. $$
 
Patio Dining Bistro Fare Open Late
Chocolate, 1522 Pacific Ave. at Locust, 831.427.9900, www.chocolatesantacruz.com
It's hard to believe this is one of the few outdoor dining spots in Santa Cruz.  It's nestled in front of BookShop Santa Cruz, one of downtown's most cherished independent bookstores, where people-watching abounds.  Become a member of the slow food movement, as service isn't quick.  Dine and drink local wine in the sun or under heat lamps on the streetside patio, or tuck inside the cozy bistro.  Though not everything on the menu makes the cut, Chef David makes an outstanding shiitake mushroom soup, the house-made baked pasta rilletes with a sauce du jour are excellent, the salads are fresh and plentiful, the complimentary bread and olive oil divine, and the local wine list short but sweet.  Open late.  $$
 
Tried-and-True Fine Food
Oswald, re-opening soon at their new location replacing The Garage, on Front St.
I would always check the exciting menu posted on the old romantic brick and viney exterior.  Once I'd seen the bone marrow first course, I salivated for weeks until we made the excuse to splurge.  Just as we were seated, we silently watched as the table next to us ordered up the last plate.  When we were finally able to conjure up a similar excuse and return a few months later, the seasonal menu had already changed.  We've never been disappointed by our elegantly-prepared meals, the wine list and service.  It was a charming, unique and intimate space.  I continue to salivate until their re-opening in 2007.  $$$
 
The Ultimate Gastronomic Experience
Manresa, 320 Village Lane, Los Gatos, 831.354.4330, www.manresarestaurant.com
It's one of the only reasons to drive 30 minutes away from the coast.  If you love food, are open to experiencing different galaxies in food and want to splurge all at the same time, go to Manresa.  Chef David Kinch constructs innovative Californian cuisine using French and Catalonian-inspired influences, local fresh ingredients and their own herb and vegetable garden.  So far, all my waiters have been from Santa Cruz.  Reservations necessary.  Do it.  $$$$
 
Consistent, Sophisticated Food and Service
Avanti (Ristorante Avanti), 1711 Mission St at Bay, 831.427.0135
This has been a long-standing favorite since I was introduced to it when they were still serving breakfast.  I miss eggs and asparagus with black trumpet mushroom sauce and grilled rustic bread, fritattas and sausages, outstanding coffee and reading the newspaper at the charming wood and steel counter.  Only locals knew about it, and maybe someday they'll return to serving the best kept secret, but at least we still have them for lunch and dinner.  It's excellent, upscale Italian-inspired fare using local, seasonable ingredients.  They put flights of wine together from an excellent wine list and serve gorgeous specialty cheeses. The owner's usually present, and it continues to be the lovely surprise in the unlikely strip mall, which you forget about as soon as you pass through the doors into the bustling, welcoming foyer.  Casual, rustic ambiance, excellent, knowledgeable service.  $$$
 
 
Stay tuned for the skinny on the rest of Amba's Eats:
 
Soif Wine Bar, 105 Walnut Ave at Pacific, 831.423.2020 www.soifwine.com $$$
Gabriella, Cedar $$$
Red, Cedar $$
Hula's, Cathcart at Pacific $$$
Olitas, Santa Cruz Pier $$
Pink Godzilla, 41st Ave. at Portola $$
Cafe Cruz, 41st Ave at Soquel $$
O'Mei, 2316 Mission St at King, www.omeifood.com
Linda's Seabreeze Cafe, Seabright at Murray, www.seabreezecafe.com
Zachary's, $$
The Buttery, 702 Soquel Ave at Branciforte, www.butterybakery.com $
Kelli's Bakery $
Charlie Hong Kong, 1141 Soquel Ave at Seabright, 831.426.5664, www.charliehongkong.com $
Thai Basil, Capitola $$
Wine Bar in Capitola $$
Taqueria Vallarta, Soquel Ave. at Seabright, Pacific Ave at Cathcart $
Tacos Morenos, Water at Seabright $
Planet Fresh, Cedar St $
Pete's or Starbuck's?  The buck stops at Pete's. $
Bonny Doon Tasting Room, Bonny Doon Rd. $
Vung Tao, Vietnamese, San Jose $$$
 
And of course, there's the classic, independently-owned local and reputable Shopper's Corner Market with a butcher, excellent quality produce, awesome wines, and the friendliest service.