Santa Cruz Restaurant Week (SCRW), from Wednesday, Oct. 14 through Wednesday, Oct. 21, is an opportunity to partake in some fun, specially designed three-course menus at nearly 40 restaurants across the county.
Here are the basics: participating restaurants offer SCRW prix fixe menus (they still offer their regular menus, too). Dinners cost $25 or $35 for three courses; each restaurant picks one price point. The cost does not include beverage, tax, or tip. Menus typically include three options for each course—appetizer, entrée, and dessert—and customers choose one selection for each. Reservations are recommended but not necessarily required.
The first SCRW was held in early October 2009. The program has gained momentum each year, with increasing numbers of restaurants participating. It’s also now eight days long -- it used to be seven days. For the first five years, SCRW menus were always $25. In 2014, program organizers decided they would let restaurants have a $35 menu instead of a $25 one if they preferred. Some restaurants wanted to design dishes using more expensive ingredients, etc. More than a third of the restaurants selected this option; because of that success, SCRW decided to try it again this year.
Several restaurants are new to the program: El Jardin, Mozaic, Kianti's, Water St. Grill, Cremer House, Your Place, and Margaritaville. Although Mozaic only opened in August, it’s been drawing crowds every night. If you haven’t tried it yet, this week might be the perfect time. The special menu’s entrée choices will be chicken souvlaki, gyros plate and grilled salmon. “These dishes reflect the variety of flavors we offer,” says co-owner/operator Jay Dib. “We love the combinations and they exemplify our cuisine and who we are as a whole.” Dib is excited to be part of SCRW. “We absolutely love Santa Cruz and want to reach out to as many locals as possible,” he says. “We want to offer the very best of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisine and hospitality.” He and the other owners are very committed to giving customers a great dining experience. “We worked really hard to see this place come to life,” he adds. “It is more than just a lifestyle and a passion; it is our home away from home.”
One of the dishes on SCRW newcomer El Jardin’s prix fixe menu is chicken mole poblano. The restaurant’s mole sauce, created by George Delgado, won People’s Choice for best mole at the Santa Cruz Mole & Mariachi Festival in 2013 and 2014, and it was awarded runner-up in 2015. The Delgado family owns and operates the restaurant, and they are excited for new people to try El Jardin during SCRW. Other highlights of this week’s menu are the three appetizer choices: wheat quesadilla (including spinach, jalapenos, and cotija queso), tortilla soup (a customer favorite), and mini carnitas tacos.
Soif Restaurant & Wine Bar has been a SCRW participant since the program’s inception in 2009. They participate for a variety of reasons. “There is great energy around the week, everyone in the restaurant gets excited, and there is lots of anticipation from restaurant people and diners alike,” says owner Patrice Boyle. “Also, the event is a great opportunity to show off a bit and appeal to new guests with the special tasting menu.” Boyle says there are many new faces; folks who might not normally eat there come try it out. Chef Mark Denham took a few minutes to discuss the menu with me. “We take pride in everything we cook at Soif, but particularly our house-made charcuterie. This year one appetizer we are serving is a lamb and pistachio terrine seasoned with coriander and smoked Padron chiles from Toby Kline (of Santa Cruz Farms),” he shared. Another dish to look forward to? Denham mentions the entrée clam and corn “chowder” which he describes as a light sauté of sweet corn, celery root, steamed-to-order clams and house-made potato & herb dumplings. One of the SCRW dessert options is rum butterscotch pot de crème topped with salted caramel, whipped mascarpone and cashew praline.
Seascape Resort’s Sanderlings is also a veteran SCRW participant. Manager Donita Branson has been with Sanderlings since 2009, the same year the restaurant joined the program. She says SCRW is great for encouraging people to visit that wouldn’t normally think about coming to the resort for dinner. When asked if the SCRW menu featured dishes from the regular menu or ones that aren’t normally available, Branson replied, “We like to feature a combination of our most popular items as well as items that will be on our upcoming winter menu.” She says their house specialties are award-winning clam chowder, organic roasted chicken and Sanderlings crème brulee. “The items created for this restaurant week are roasted Brussels sprouts & pancetta salad, Mongolian style pork belly sliders, grilled peppered NY strip, pan fried mahi mahi, classic tiramisu, and Nutella cheesecake,” adds Branson.
Crow’s Nest has already announced that after SCRW is over, their special menu will be available every Thursday during lunch and dinner until March 2016 (during SCRW itself, all restaurant’s special menus are only served at dinner, not lunch). During last year’s event, their menu proved so popular that they extended it as a Thursday-only meal through March 2015. A few other restaurants also decided to extend their menus, but they did it as a daily option for the following couple weeks, ending the promotion in early November 2015.
As previously mentioned, most restaurants are offering customers—for each of three courses—a choice between three options. For example, the entrée choices at Café Mare are tagliatelle with speck and Taleggio cheese, pork scaloppini, and panko-encrusted cod with tomatillo sauce. At selected restaurants, there will be higher quantities to choose from. Hollins House will feature five appetizers, such as oyster ceviche, and five entrees including duck confit with curried pumpkin tortellini. Ristorante Italiano’s five entrees include rack of lamb with red port balsamic glaze. At Kauboi, there is a unique beverage supplement available during SCRW. They are serving a sake pairing (one specific sake with each of the three courses) for $10 extra. So go ahead, get a taste of someplace new or visit one of your old favorites but try something different. There are lots of choices. Bon Appetit! $25 menu (27 restaurants)
$35 menu (12 restaurants)