I was in the Santa Cruz area visiting my sister and reporting what I've eaten during my visit. With the exception of Taqueria Santa Cruz and Manresa, every other restaurant was chosen by other people. This was a very last minute trip and I had very limited Internet access where I was staying. So no prior research was done. My eating partners were predominantly vegetarian, and the choices were made with that taken into consideration.
Charlie Hong Kong -- Californian spin on Asian street food. Fast food setting, immensely popular, many vegan and organic items. I ordered the chiang mai noodle bowl (substituting rice noodles for wheat noodles at an extra charge) topped with green curry chicken. It just didn't taste right to me. I think a lot of it had to do with the fact that the noodles part was vegan. A traditional chiang mai noodle dish has fish sauce in it. The curry tasted like it was made from Mae Ploy paste (and I hate Mae Ploy). It's unidimensional and a bit aggressive and lacks the subtle nuances of a good Thai style yellow curry. The chicken really had no flavor. I'll bet it was the leftover chicken from them making their chicken pho after all the flavor has been cooked out. Kind of tasted a bit like wood. The pad thai was not quite my thing as well. However, it seems that loads of people love the place. For the price and the fact that it's organic and with many vegan items, I guess I can understand its appeal. But I would be a bit hard pressed to go there again.
Tacos Moreno -- I got the chile verde taco and lengua taco. I've heard that it used to be really good many years ago but there seems to be new ownership or management. Both of the tacos came with beans and cabbage slaw. I'm guessing that's more of a Cal-Mex thing as I've never seen that in NYC or Mexico. Not bad, but I don't think it lives up to the hype that I've heard about from folks.
Taqueria Santa Cruz -- I ordered the fish taco and al pastor. The al pastor was excellent. I'm not the largest fan of pineapple on my pork, and was glad that I didn't detect a pineapple taste to it. Either they don't use pineapple or it's a lot more subtle. The fish taco? Well, I guess I kind of deserved it for ordering a fish taco in Santa Cruz. The fish wasn't crisp and there was way too much cabbage and fish for the size of the taco. I couldn't eat it taco style but had to end up deconstructing it as the proportions were way off. Topped off my meal with some Mexican coke -- so much better than that HFCS stuff. I was telling a couple of women I met in a store that I had lunch there. They actually kind of poo-pooed it, telling me there's a much better in-the-know spot for Mexican food. It's on Mission and supposed to be very cheap. Unfortunately I forgot the name, but it sounds like El Palomar or something like that.
Chopstix (Felton) -- Not terrible. A lot better than I thought it was going to be. It's a Chinese-American place. I had ordered the hot and spicy shrimp. The shrimp were actually pretty fresh and well-cooked. The sauce was a bit too sweet for my taste. Somebody ordered an eggplant dish which was actually decent, but very oily for my taste (boy, don't I sound like that annoying Japanese judge on Iron Chef America). Another guy ordered the Buddhist vegetable dish. Guess he found it bland because he drowned the entire thing with soy sauce. The mu shu fake chicken was actually pretty good. If I had to go there again, I think I would stick with the mu shu.
Crow's Nest -- I ordered the steak which came with a baked potato. Well, not quite steakhouse quality by a long shot. But I didn't expect a lot considering the steak was $17. The views were quite nice, but the food was pretty average IMO. I didn't try my sister's pizza, but it didn't look too appealing to me.
Pearl of the Ocean -- I was there for lunch. The woman who works there is extremely nice. Service was a bit spotty because I think she was the only person there handling everything. Totally understandable. It's a Sri Lanakan restaurant and supposedly under new ownership. I've only had Sri Lanakan food once before. So I'm a huge novice. All I can say is what I liked and didn't like. I tried the kale with coconut, curried chicken, mushroom soya, mixed vegetable curry and broccoli and tofu. I got the ginger rice (which is what the woman recommended). I was a fan of the kale with coconut and broccoli and tofu. Curried chicken might have been good, but it was cold (like it came out from the fridge cold). I found the mixed veggie curry and broccoli OK, but didn't like the mushroom soya at all. It was a huge departure from the other Sri Lankan restaurant I've been to. At the other place, there was a lot more spice and the food was served with some fermented fish condiments. Pearl of the Ocean's food was not as assertively spiced and no condiments to be found. Perhaps it was because that the vast majority of the lunch menu were vegetarian.
Donnelly Chocolates -- I was trying to find a gift, and this woman I met was recommending Donnelly chocolates. Chocolates are handmade there. Lots of very interesting and more "unusual" flavors. The guy there (owner?) gave me a sample and it was indeed very delicious. It seemed that he was very busy but he was so sweet as he offered me a glass of water because it was hot outside. I'd definitely hit this place up again when I'm in Santa Cruz.
Swanton Berry Farm (Davenport) -- I was talking to this woman (same one who recommended Donnelly) and she was raving about Swanton Berry Farm for the most delicious organic strawberries. OMG! She was right! They were super cheap (well, at least according to NYC standards) and so sweet and flavorful. I wish I was able to eat more. I've had the so-called wonderful strawberries from the farms of NYS. NYers would rave about these farmer's market strawberries. I was wondering if they were on crack or something because I've had some supermarket Driscoll's batches that I found more flavorful than NYS's farmer's markets' strawberries. No comparison by a long shot. Swanton's is superior in every way. If I wanted to be a bigger pig, I could have eaten half a flat by myself. Swanton's also had the most delicious jams (though I didn't pick up any because I wasn't checking in any luggage).
Manresa (Los Gatos) -- One of the posters on the SF board (porthos perhaps?) told me that he found Manresa's food to be most like Pierre Gagnaire's (where I've had my favorite meal) style-wise in America. So Manresa had been on my wish list for a long time. We ended up getting the tasting menu. I didn't take notes, nor did they give us a menu. It was very seafood and veggie heavy, and I personally thought most of the items were too sweet for my taste. My meal was very reminiscent of L'Arpege in Paris (also very seafood and veggie heavy). In fact, one of the menu items was called the Arpege egg. Most of the items were well prepared with the exception of two courses which were underseasoned. One of the fish items was also overcooked. The next day, I ate at Cyrus in Healdsburg. Everything at Cyrus was so wonderful and delicious -- and it was about $30 cheaper. And you got so much more food at Cyrus. So compared to Cyrus, I was definitely let down at Manersa. If I had not eaten at Cyrus the next day, perhaps I would have liked Manresa better.
Also, if my sister is reading this post (as she also lurks and posts on CH once in a while), I hope I don't sound like a grump and a complainer. I'm really grateful for all of the places you took me to. I guess I can be a pain in the butt picky person at times. : )
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