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RestaurantsSanta Cruz
March 21-28, 2007

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515 Cedar

Photograph by Carlie Statsky
Cedar Street shuffle: Red's little sister is still working out its timing issues.

The Right Number?

A long wait and missing ingredients deters from an otherwise pleasant dining experience at 515 Cedar

By Selene Latigo

The ideal Sunday brunch always includes a sun-drenched spring day and mimosas, and this past weekend couldn't have offered a more appropriate setting for the occasion. We eagerly ascended the stairs at 515 Cedar St., passively wondering why, at 11am on a weekend downtown, this appealing alfresco perch was far from packed, but mostly we were just hungry and ready for the picture perfect Sunday brunch the day denoted.

With our drinks ordered and the hot rays pouring down onto our sun-starved limbs, this meal began beautifully. My mimosa ($6) with tart, fresh juice was sparkling with a good ratio of bubbly and garnished with a seductive blood orange. Dave's coffee came in a stylish stainless steel press pot, full of strong coffee ($3), yet without the bitter overroasting that is so common these days. The menu featured a well designed mix of meat and vegetarian options throughout the breakfast fare and lunch-y salads, burgers and pizzettas, all containing "whole, organic meats and produce" in classic yet innovative combinations.

The first sign of the downward spiral was when our golden beet salad ($9) arrived 20 minutes after placing our order and without beets. Small in size for the price, a bed of wilted lettuce was dressed in a balanced, sweet citrus and whole grain mustard vinaigrette with several juicy orange slices--but no beets. We notified our server of the absence of the star ingredient and upon his return with the very same salad, announced that they were out of beets. Some prior communication between the kitchen and the wait staff could have avoided our feelings of being duped, but we shrugged it off, looking forward to our more substantial entrees to come.

If we had paid more attention to the neighboring diner's murmured complaint about a long wait, we might have requested our check immediately instead of entering the 40-minute time warp that ensued after the salad dilemma. This finally prompted Dave's strong inquiry of "What's the *&%#! deal?" Our server, who had been absent for the duration of this wait, informed us of the reasoning behind the circumstances. Excuses revolving around tardy, overworked staff, understocked products and confrontational management were all valid and misfortunate, however, a smoothly run establishment would not have these specific issues. Upon seating, a brief notification of the wait and perhaps a snack, even just toast, to stave off the inevitable irritability of low blood sugar would have been a smart move to head off our frustration. I generally dismiss these circumstantial negative dining experiences as normal acts of human imperfection and let it go; however, this is not the first time we, as well as friends and acquaintances, have encountered these kinds of problems here at 515 and at their big sister, Red.

As we were literally gathering our things to leave, our food finally arrived. All of my rantings being said, both of our selections were delicious, prepared per ordered with obvious care as to the quality of ingredients. My polenta benedict ($8) featured a large, plump round of fried polenta, crispy on the outside and creamy soft inside, topped with earthy ribbons of chard and two, brightly yolked poached eggs. This tower was liberally covered in a rich feta cream sauce that was an equally suitable pair with the home-fry medley of various sweet potatoes with succulent crunchy skins. The absence of preserved lemon as described on the menu was attributed, I'm sure, to the previous issues discussed.

Dave's filet mignon and eggs ($15) was also excellent. The quality cut of meat was tender and flavorful, again, without the balsamic glaze mentioned on the menu but it was hardly missed. Two perfectly easy eggs and a pile of vertically cut, slightly overcooked fingerling potatoes accompanied his filet along with a sliver of buttery toast with tangy, dark cherry jam.

I would return here if I were only thinking of the food we received and nothing else. But eating out is always a multifaceted experience, and the unfortunate patterns that we have repeatedly encountered will most likely deter another visit. The slick spaces and appealing menus at generally decent prices of both the 515 and Red are what draw people in as dining destinations. I would love to see these elements followed through and enhanced with a better alliance between the front and back of the respective houses to achieve the caliber we all desire.

515 Cedar

Address: 515 Cedar St., Santa Cruz

Phone: 831.425.5051

Price Range: $4-$15 (brunch)

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