A trip to Santa Cruz wouldn't be right without a stop at Tacos Moreno, so that was the first place we bee-lined to as we rolled into town. Most everything is still as I remember. The flavors haven't changed since I first started eating there almost 20 years ago. My four favorite things are the corn quesadillas, the al pastor, the lengua, and the green chile beef. Among three of us, I got a chance to taste all of these items and was so relieved to know that nothing has slipped. That awesome salsa also hasn't changed.
I felt a need to revisit Sukeroku, especially to visit the mom and pop that I worked for and learned from so long ago. Like my Morenos experience, I was happy to see that Toshiko and Isao haven't changed all that much. We sat at the sushi bar and had Isao prepare some sashimi and sushi and a few miscellaneous items. It is unfortunate, but he doesn't have a good stock of fish to work with. But that night he did have a good supply of albacore, hamachi (yellowtail), saba (mackerel), and Isao does magic with ika (squid). We had some ika-natto as well as ika nigiri. He also had a fresh box of uni that he was very generous with. He gets a fresh box of uni once in a while, but since most of the clientele don't order it, he usually steams it (probably with some sake) and keeps a stash in the fridge. He had us taste both and I was really surprised with the steamed stuff. While it lacked that briny fresh oceany flavor like fresh oysters, steaming allows the urchin to be cooked while preserving its texture. For cooked food, we had an order of gyoza, which is made with the proper ratio of meat and vegetable fillings and what I consider the right amount of chive and garlic (They were always meticulous with making the gyoza, which I remember having to prep a lot). The saba karaage (fried mackerel) with a ponzu dipping sauce was also very good. One thing we wanted to try, but were too stuffed, was the nuta (seared tuna or bonito? with a sweet miso sauce. It was a good meal, though can't compare with the serious sushi places I've been to in NYC or LA. But I'm assured of Isao's talents with his cooking, despite the lack of resources. The bad news is that they are preparing to retire and shut the business down at some point. They weren't clear on the timeframe, but judging by Isao's tone about the lack of clientele that appreciates true sushi in Santa Cruz, he realizes their restaurant is a relic and since 90% of the sushi he makes are rolls, there's little motivation to upgrade the stock of fish and hope that if he stocks it, they will come. Seems like they haven't, and so he doesn't and they are soon set to throw in the towel. I also think it's time for them to slow down and enjoy their lives now, so I wish them the best.
Another Santa Cruz institution I had to visit was the Bagelry. My mainstays were a garlic bagel with hummus, or an onion bagel with the pink flamingo (lox cream cheese spread). Again, as with Moreno I'm glad to know that the flavor of that hummus hasn't changed. It's filled with some mystery herbs and spices and cumin and probably not what an Israeli would call authentic, but it's tasty as hell.
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