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RestaurantsSanta Cruz
February 15-21, 2006

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Chocolate

Photograph by Stephen Laufer
Horse Flips Bird: An equine art object from First Night's 'pony brigade' fundraiser keeps watch over Chocolate's intimate interior.

Love, Sweet Love

Valentine's Day may be a memory, but the affair never ends at Chocolate

By Selene Latigo


Each year, Valentine's Day has been a favorite holiday for me; even at my loneliest times of singledom, I loved the pinks, reds, glitter and hearts. But, most of all, there's the chocolate. Hallmark holiday consumerism notwithstanding, you've got to love a season devoted to this rich, seductive ingredient, which can be enjoyed all day long without guilt or reproach.

So whether or not you fulfilled your Valentine's Day indulgence quotient this year, why stop with Feb. 14? Those of us truly in love with this sophisticated bean are fortunate to have the restaurant Chocolate cozily tucked away just to the left of Bookshop Santa Cruz. It's a year round haven for those of us so enamored, as well as the perfect place to extend this season of the heart.

One of the best things about Chocolate is the European-style outdoor seating. For some frustrating reason, we lack sidewalk seating in town, although this is one of the most enjoyable ways to have a meal in a town so perfectly suited to it. On sunny days, one of my first choices for a leisurely lunch is Chocolate's Pacific Ave patio, but even at 8pm in the cold dead of winter, the outdoor tables are cozy and comfortable due to powerful overhead heaters. We chose our table and were given glasses, a tall bottle of water and menus, featuring several unique salads, appetizers, sandwiches, and of course, some of the most decadent desserts in town.

The wine list has nine Italian bottles and just a few by the glass choices that are a touch pricey. Four bottled beers are offered as well, along with espresso drinks, Italian sodas and six varieties of hot chocolate. I chose a glass of our local standout the 2002 Bonny Doon Cigare Volant ($7.50) while Dave opted for the organic Wolavers IPA ($3).

Our server, the only one, was very friendly but obviously a little overwhelmed as the place filled up. Understaffing is an issue almost every time I visit Chocolate, but usually I don't mind a slower pace while enjoying the sidewalk ambiance. Dave and I were happy to fill the wait with romance and date-night conversation.

To start, we chose the small vegetarian antipasto platter ($9.50), one of the many menu items with several size options geared toward sharing or enjoying alone. A bright blue glass plate arrived laden with an abundant selection of nibbles: olives, fresh mozzarella, sun-dried tomatoes, heart of palm, portobello mushroom, pesto, roasted red pepper and a creamy garlic dip, all arranged mindfully with beautiful color and garnishing flair. We also received a basket of fresh, sweet francese on which we layered bits and pieces of our antipasto.

Next came our entrees. Dave's pork roast ($13.50) was slathered in a balanced Midwestern-style barbecue sauce with even layers of molasses, spice and smoke. The meat was mostly tender with a few pieces a bit overcooked. A wedge of potato gateaux had large chunks of potato suspended in a simple egg and cheese custard and a somewhat rubbery crust. The refreshing green salad had bright Meyer lemon vinaigrette that provided a wonderful fresh contrast to the hearty dish.

My spinach and Gouda torta ($7.50) had the same heap of mixed baby greens, this time in very light balsamic vinaigrette. The torta was a layered quiche with a thick strip of deep earthy spinach and topped with a creamy egg and Gouda base, golden brown on top. The crust, similar to Dave's, had such potential to be buttery and flaky, yet in both instances seemed dense, almost as if it had been microwaved. I have tried this same house baked crust before and know how good it is when fresh.

I was anxious to get to the most important part of the meal—dessert. I usually get the "Sofia," an Italian-style hot chocolate, but this time I went with the "Victoria" ($4), an extremely rich, dark and complex Venezuelan cocoa that was almost like pudding and topped with the signature ladyfinger and whipped cream. Dave, definitely more of a vanilla person, ordered the classic hot fudge sundae ($5) with vanilla gelato and left nothing behind.

We were both amazed to see the cafe at full occupancy at 9pm on a weeknight in our sleepy town, but it makes perfect sense; Chocolate has created a perfect date destination with a pleasing menu featuring high quality organic, free range and free trade ingredients, prepared well and offered late for planned or spontaneous indulgences.



Chocolate

Address: 1522 Pacific Ave., Santa Cruz

Phone: 831.427.9900

Hours: 11am-11pm daily

Price Range: $2.50-$17.50.


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