910 Cedar St
Santa Cruz, CA 95060
It had been a while since I’d been to Gabriella Café, they seemed to have a slight downturn in the kitchen a couple years ago, but that is the case no longer. We had an outstanding meal.
Since it was my husband’s birthday, we started the meal off with a 1998 Roederer champagne. It was lovely with the amuse bouche sent out by the chef: an oyster with lentil “caviar.” The oyster was a perfect size with excellent flavor but I think I needed a squeeze of lemon or a dash of vinegar to bring a little acid to it. Nevertheless, it was a great opener.
We stared at the list of antipasti and salads for quite awhile not able to decide which ones to get. The way we solved that problem was by getting all of them! Well, all but the Pigs Blood which just grossed me out. Anyway, the first to come out was the Chili Mint Shrimp (with green garlic anchovy white bean purée). The shrimp had a good char on the outside, and was cooked flawlessly. Served at the same time, the Seared Kampachi Spine had tremendous flavor but was quite the challenge to eat, seemingly having more bones than flesh. The flavor was so good however, we sucked the bones clean!
The winners of the evening, without question, were Hamachi and the Marinated Asparagus dishes. I eat as much raw fish as I can, so I have a lot of palatial experiences (experiences with the palate) to compare this to. This was some of the best hamachi I have ever had. It was on par with the Ahi we ate in Hawaii that was just an hour out of the water. Complementing it were two fried sides: a shrimp polpettini that wasn’t overwhelmingly shrimpy just scrumptious, and fried spring onion, both of which added a good contrast to the freshness of the fish by being fried and crunchy (and I’m not typically a huge fan of fried food). The asparagus dish was served with a rustic salsa verde which was acidic, smoky, buttery and overall just yummy. The asparagus was perfectly crunchy and a wonderful, fresh reminder that it is spring. It also included “Upland Cress” which is a type of cress I’d never tried; it had a nuttiness similar to arugula but with an almost musty flavor, I’ll have to keep an eye out for this market, I very much enjoyed it.
Having moved on from the Roederer, we needed a hearty red wine to go with our entr&actue;es. The chef recommended a Ridge Lytton Springs, and although we would have loved it, we’ve got that in our cellar and wanted to try something we didn’t have. So we went with a 2005 Alfeo Super Tuscan.
I have to say, it went very well with my braised beef cheeks. If you would have told me a couple of years ago that I would be ordering beef cheeks, I would’ve thought you were insane. I remember watching an Iron Chef episode back when it was on the Japanese station and just subtitled—pre-Food Network bastardization of the show—entitled Hohoniku Confront! a.k.a. Battle Beef Cheek. They were so excited about the portion of the cow that they got to use for this battle, the commentators had the on screen drawing tools they use for football games, which they were using to point out the perfectly gelatinous-looking areas of the beef cheek that were the best to eat. I think I may now understand the love. The meat had all the flavor of a slow cooked stew meat, but was amazingly tender and buttery, not at all stringy, with the ideal amount of texture. It was supposed to have been served with polenta, but that already had cheese in it so that was out for me, so they substituted a braised Umbrian Chicerchia herb salad instead. The Chicerchia is a cross between a fava bean and a chick pea and that is exactly what it tastes like. I would say that’s another thing I want to look for in the market but fava beans are so much work to shuck, if these are the same, I will never make them! I’ll leave that to the fancy-pants chefs at places like Gabriella.
The dessert menus came and I was shocked to see that there wasn’t a single chocolate dessert on the menu… what was I to do? Well I wasn’t disappointed. I ordered the “peas and carrots” which I was pretty positive didn’t involve peas or carrots. It was gelato prepared in a way that reminded me of a terrine without the wiggly-Jello aspect: pastel layers of gelato. I much prefer this preparation!
We had a meal without disappointment, with a few surprises, and a desire to return soon to an old favorite haunt.