Sestri has been open for quite a while now at the corner of Capitola and 7th but all the reports I heard had been fairly lackluster. I finally broke down and tried the place tonight and am now bummed I did not try this place earlier. The menu is a mix of Italian and Cal med. Prices are around $8 for apps/salads, $10 for pizzas, $15 for pasta and $15-$20 for mains. The decor is fairly nice for SC although I was in a side room so I did not get to watch the wood burning oven or the open kitchen. Service was professional and friendly. Seemed to be an early dinner crowd perhaps drawn in by a <6:30 $20 prix fixe.
Salad Special ($7.5)- grilled octopus salad with potatoes, arugala, endive and lemon vinaigrette. Octupus was tender and with good smokieness. Lemon vinaigrette on the greens brought out the flavors nicely but the potatoes were cut a bit large. Very nicely balanced flavors. Portion was huge and while I might have dressed up the presentation and cut the potatoes smaller, I thought it fit with the Italian theme. The waitress checked if I enjoyed it later as the kitchen was curious as I was the first person to order it since they added it to the menu.
To test the kitchen I ordered the Tagliatelle w/ Ragu Bolognese ($14.5). One of my favorite dishes and something I quite enjoy cooking at home. There are so many mediocre ground meat in sauce versions of this dish and I was hoping they took the time to cook this properly. The pasta appeared housemade and while it did not have the perfect silky but slightly toothy bite of the best fresh pasta, it was perfectly decent (and nice to see the classical tag. / Bolognese pairing). While I prefer my own version of this sauce, this was very good. The meat was very tender and had that nearly smooth texture that comes from long simmering. I thought it had good balance of meat/tomato/dairy flavor and a proper balance between the meat and sauce proportions. They also sauced the pasta well, perhaps a touch more condiment than necessary but not bad and properly cooked with the pasta. Overall a very nice effort on a dish that I was going to be very critical of.
Also split a contorno of rapini ($4) with garlic and chiles. Nicely done, tender with just a little bite and a a nice blast of garlic and chile. Good quality greens- I noticed they had some Happy Boy lettuces in there salads so I was wondering if they sourced this from them since they have had some blockbuter rapini at the farmer's markets. (particularly at the start of winter)
I also managed to steal some small bites from my companions so I will share a few comments though these are from a quick bite so don't quote me on these:
Pizza margherita($8)- too much of a very good sauce, good cheese, decent winter basil, crust was a thin and a touch chewy- I would ask the kitchen to crips/burn it a bit me in the future.
Spit Roated Pork Loin with Polenta/Rapini/Apple/Cider Vinegar sauce ($17.5) Very impressed by a small bite of meat. Perfectly cooked with good woodsmoke flavor with a bit of sweetness from the sauce. I just had the very popular pork chop at Limon in SF this weekend and while I prefer Limon's sides/sauce, I thought this piece of meat was very competitive.
I also grabbed a quick bite of the garlic mashed potatoes side that come with the steak. Not a ton of garlic flavor but well seasoned with good texture that did not taste like they had sat for too long. Not as much butter as I use (though you need to visit higher end restaurants for butter w/ potatoes!) but this was probably a good thing as the steak had a large knob of gorgonzola butter on it.
Overall the place was very good and is a nice addition to Santa Cruz IMO. The one area where it seemed lacking was the wine list. I'm not a wine geek but a broader selection would be nice- only one red italian (a Palladio chianti) on the by the glass menu is a bit weak. I would say there closest competion is Avanti on the west side and, while I think Avanti has good talent in the kitchen, I thought the menu at Sestri was more interesting and more focused which is surprising considering it is larger.
I will definately be back to see if it stands up to repeated visits. There was an interesting sounding quail special, a gnocchi gratin with squash, kale, sage and scamorzza, some wild mushroom dishes, etc. The linked menu is a bit old but a lot of the dishes are still there and a few have been tweaked for the season. You can also find positve reviews from Mercury, Metro and Sentinel.