Based on some positive hearsay about this newish restaurant, Y and I met up w/ another local hound (can you guess who??) for a nice weekday dinner at Caruso's in Capitola Village. Even though it's just 10-15 min. from our place in Santa Cruz, we rarely go to Capitola to dine or do much else for that matter, so it was a nice change of scenery.
Caruso's is in a very central location on the Esplanade area of Capitola, just a few steps from the beach. It's not right on the beach, so doesn't have the draw of a view. Metered parking is available and we had no problems on a Tues. night, but parking is probably challenging during weekends and holidays.
The interior space was much smaller than I anticipated w/ about 6 or 7 small tables and a few seats along the bar area. The chef's industrial-style stove is w/in view and flames fluttered from back there a few times during our meal. A group of 15 could easily take over the entire space. I liked the intimate, neighborhoody feel of the place though. The decor was nothing special, but my eyes were quickly drawn to the wood-burning oven glistening on the back wall. This usually means good things...
When we got there around 7pm, the tables were unfilled, although the staff were clearly present and awaiting patrons rather than moping around. We had our choice of tables and chose a 4-top at the corner window. Just as we sat down, a few small parties trickled in and infused a more convivial atmosphere.
The menu has a moderate number of options and is categorized into appetizers, pastas, entrees, pizzas, and desserts. There were a few meat-based specials that night, but nothing that appealed to us. Prices are moderate to high w/ apps averaging around $10; pastas $15-20; entrees $20+; 11" pizzas $9-15; desserts $6.50.
There's a moderate-sized wine list that is exclusive to Italian pedigree, which was nice to see but is pretty much like reading a foreign language for me. Fortunately, Mystery Hound ordered the wine which I hope he can say more about. It was a red wine...blackberry-colored, full, earthy w/ some spice. A fine all-purpose table wine but nothing that truly sparked me. We were given fresh focaccia bread w/ olive oil infused w/ garlic cloves. I don't know if they make their bread, but it was golden and full of olive oil goodness.
Antipasti platter ($14): Described on the menu as for two people, but when it came out, it was more like for four! I was pretty impressed w/ the generous array of salumi on this plate. See link below for photos of courses and list of specific items on this plate. Everything was fresh-tasting and offered a distinctive contribution. I have never had bresoala (air-dried beef) before and really enjoyed it, but my favorites were the boiled ham and mortadella. The other meats were tasty, but cut on the thick side for me, and I actually would have preferred a more balanced proportion of meat to cheese to olives and marinated veggies. The gorgonzola was very nice, not ammonia-ish at all.
Eggplant involtini stuffed w/ goat cheese in a balsamic vinegar reduction (~$10): This came on the plate as four neat bundles that were stacked in a surprisingly elegant as opposed to rustic way. Even w/ its nice presentation, this was my least favorite dish of the night. The thinly-sliced eggplant was a bit dry and overpowered by both the tart goat cheese and cloyingly thick vinegar reduction. Not awful but just not deftly-balanced.
Two pizzas...one w/ speck and mascarpone (~$15) and the classic margherita (~$9): I'm not a pizza afficianado in the least, but their thin-crust pizzas are very nice overall. The crust is more golden, buttery, and very thin. The bottom was evenly charred, and the edges were crisp; however, it was def. a knife and fork pizza. Both were good, but I favored the speck one since it was more balanced in flavors and had an alluring lusciousness that was lacking in the tangy margherita. I wish the crust had a bit more presence though.
Caruso's pizza is distinctly different from Sestri's, and I like them both. I actually prefer the yeasty, chewy crust of Sestri's pizza, while I like the cheese and classical toppings at Caruso's. Good reason to continue patronizing both.
We had some leftovers of each dish except the eggplant, so we had some room to share their only housemade dessert...tiramisu. The few other desserts are locally made (gelato from Gelatomania) or imported from Italy (tartuffo, etc). This rendition of tiramisu was pleasant, smooth, not too sweet. I liked it enough but it didn't wow me.
In the end, I'm really glad that we finally tried Caruso's. I was generally pleased w/ the quality and attention to detail, especially since it's just getting established and in such a beachy casual area of Capitola. Our waiter was friendly and readily answered our houndly inquisition about source of ingredients. Y and I will def. return to sample more pizzas, have a try of their housemade pasta, and explore the wine list some more. I think this is a great weekday spot when it's more calm, we can have a leisurely meal w/ a glass of wine, even chat w/ the chef. They seem like they're drawing in people and aiming to please, and I hope they can survive given the small number of seats, high overhead, and tendency for touring families and some locals to go for cheaper eats. For visiting hounds, this is probably one of the best options for the Village area. I do wish their prices were a touch lower so that it would make it easier for us locals to do our part if we want to keep that oven burning...
Caruso's Tuscan Cuisine
115 San Jose Ave.
Tues. through Sun. 5-9pm
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