Photograph by Carlie Statsky
Sweet Sri: This small family business continues to grow in popularity.
A Family Affair
Still no alcohol, but plenty of delectable sauces to choose from on Sri's expanded dinner menu
By Selene Latigo
It is astounding to think about the number of small family businesses throughout the world. I thoroughly bow down to those family units who year after year, generation after generation, dutifully work together to create a self-sustaining life for each other and some great food for the public. The ones that actually enjoy one another as well, finding a graceful work ethic within their family dynamic, are completely awe inspiring to me whenever I ponder taking on such a venture with my own relatives. When I walk into a business with obvious familial staffing and sense this positive network of a mutual livelihood, it makes me want to return. We are all lucky to have Sri nearby, where genuine care and respectful connection has turned a simple space into a well-deserved destination.
Every time I visit Sri it seems to be busier and busier. The single room dining area fills up quickly and for good reason. A range of healthful, interesting dishes, accessible prices and welcoming family-run service make Sri a good choice for any occasion. Though modest, the appealing magenta color scheme and scattered Sri Lankan décor fills the space tastefully, and the efficient service has always created a smooth, easeful experience.
Dave and I arrived at the perfect time Friday evening to nab the little back corner table. Our young server brought over water and a glowing candle for some ambience, and proceeded to provide knowledgeable explanations and recommendations about various items off the expanded dinner menu. While the lack of a liquor license means no alcohol, not even BYOB (we should have more of this convenient option like other cities), there are several beverages to choose from. I immediately selected the Faluda ($3), a new item, our server informed us excitedly, made with Kasa Kasa seeds, milk and rose syrup. It was a blushing shade of pink, creamy and sweet, with the intoxicating floral flavor of rose. The little seeds, known for their cooling digestive properties, were subtle and floated on top with just a little pop and crunch from time to time. Dave ordered a cup of pure jasmine tea ($1.50), soothing and elemental in its warmth and fragrance.
We couldn't decide on which appetizer to get, toying between familiar favorites like the warm paan and fresh salad rolls, or the more decadent fried specialties. Finally, we went with some coconut rotti ($3.50), two disks of slightly chewy, grilled crackerlike bread with bits of coconut and two dipping options: hot garlic ghee and a spicy green chile relish. We hungrily tore into one while it was still warm and saved the other, crisping as it cooled, to use as a scooping implement.
We also selected the Purple and Orange salad ($6.50) for some nourishing rawness after a week of hearty houseguest entertaining. It was a colorful heap of greens, grated carrot, beet, cabbage, onion and refreshing dill. However, the side of thick, bottled Italian dressing seemed contradictory to the optimal health of the unprocessed veggies.
Since I generally frequent Sri's scaled-down lunch menu, I wanted to sample some less familiar entrees. The String Hoppers ($10), located in the "Sri Specials" category, are basically homemade rice flour capellini, formed into flattened baskets and stacked. They were extremely effective in clinging onto the accompanying saucy yellow potato curry and the savory, light coconut sambol with bits of tomato and red onion. If it had been a Saturday or Sunday, I would have tried the unique weekend only special jackfruit curry.
Dave ordered the fish platter ($13) with his choice of two toppings from the list of close to a dozen. The flaky chunks of albacore were covered in deep, multispiced gravy, sharing space with a huge central pile of ginger basmati rice. The cashew cauliflower featured the same delicate, coconut curry sauce as my tender potatoes, with a few cashews sprinkled over the ideally cooked cauliflower. Firm wedges of sweet yet spiced mango were covered in crunchy thin almond slices, a great textural addition. In addition to these chosen accompaniments, there was a small pool of simple, earthy dal, a crisp, salty half moon of papadam and a little dollop of tangy sweet tamarind chutney.
The primary use of coconut and roasted dry curry with no dairy made all of these balanced, complex dishes feel light, without the heavy, oily aftermath that some Indian restaurants can leave. I am consistently pleased with my food at Sri and will continue to cram into this ever more popular place, which is now open Mondays.
Address: 736 Water St., Santa Cruz
Hours: Lunch 11:30am-2:30pm daily, dinner 5:30-9pm daily, 5:30-9:30pm Fri-Sat
Price Range: $3-$14.
Send a letter to the editor about this story.