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RestaurantsSanta Cruz
April 11-18, 2007

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Photograph by Carlie Statsky
Hearthside seating: Italian immigrants recreated the flavor of an Italian cafe in 1912 with the founding of Scopazzi's, which has the comfortable but dignified ambiance of an authentic Italian restaurant.

Hello Old World, Here We Come

Experience the rich history and consistent quality of this nearly century-old Italian eatery

By Selene Latigo

I truly love California and don't foresee a permanent leave of absence. However, in my travels to states with much lengthier historical backgrounds, I realize how childlike the West Coast is, at least in a completely Eurocentric, history book kind of way. Deep awe is inspired from spending time in a building back east that dates back to the early 1800s and infuses the air with the rich history that came way before our insignificant selves. We don't have as much concentration of places like these out here, but sometimes you'll stumble upon a place like Scopazzi's in Boulder Creek that serves as a reminder of the immigrants who helped shape our beloved Santa Cruz county.

Established in 1912, this landmark Italian eatery is a throw back to the service-oriented supper clubs of yore. A professional attitude, classic menu and authentic vintage design create the same nostalgic ambiance that gives me goose bumps in similarly old and haunting locales. We began in the expansive bar with stiff drinks poured by our proficient bartender, a nod to the cocktail culture of past that is seeing a resurgence these days but never seemed to depart this mountain nook. My dirty Belvedere martini was perfect, as was Dave's "Crimson Creek" ($7.50) with Kettle One vodka, pomegranate juice, grenadine and port. My dad went head on into Italian tradition with his straight Compari on the rocks, an acquired taste that is worth trying at least once.

We were guided by a genuine maitre d' over to our table in the main dining room, dimly lit with amber-hued bulbs and glass-blown lamps set into polished wood burl slices. As we surveyed the wine list, with mostly local selections and a few French and Italian imports, a huge relish plate was set down on the table. This free antipasti surprise featured all the expected old-school items like celery sticks, canned black olives and marinated bean salad. However, the earthy, clove-hinted beets, sweet jicama sticks and excellent lentil salad with mint and feta surmounted any worn out idea of the typical crudités platter.

Our 2003 Nozzole Chianti Classico Riserva, Estate ($32) was lean with leather and tobacco. As it breathed a bit, we enjoyed the tableside assembly of our Caesar salad ($16 for two), a custom that lends to a high entertainment factor and neccesitates a practiced server. The Caesar was balanced and crisp, prepared with an egg, garlic, lemon, olive oil, Parmesan and a touch of red wine vinegar that added a stronger bite.

On recommendation from our server, I chose the Vermicelli Melanzana ($14) for my main course (despite the out-of-season eggplant) with Kalamata olives, tangy capers, onion and fresh peas. Fresh herbs and Parmesan enhanced the light white-wine sauce while the pasta was slightly overcooked.

My dad also went with a pasta dish, the Linguini con Vongole ($17) that was more al dente than mine. Plentiful with mixed seafood and mushrooms, it was rich in butter and huge in portion, as well as a reminder of his own linguini with clams that he used to make when we were kids.

The venison roast ($25), a "house specialty" that Dave ordered, was less gamey than non-farm-raised meat, he explained, and covered in a thick, port-based gravy with reconstituted shitake mushrooms. Tiny fried balls of creamy mashed potato and garlic were a unique and fun side, kind of like tater tots for the elite. A diverse mix of simply prepared veggies was colorful but overcooked.

We had barely glanced at the long dessert menu when my dad proclaimed that we would be ordering the cherries jubilee ($14 for two), another classic item that seems to be few and far between. Our server returned with the instruments for the flambé show, pouring the hot brandy, cognac and dark preserved cherries over two heaping bowls of vanilla bean ice cream. The flame, while impressive, was not hot enough to fully caramelize the concoction, which resulted in a grainy texture.

Our night at Scopazzi's was thoroughly enjoyable and duly noted as a place to return, if not for the somewhat typical quality of food, but more for the professional staff and integrity of a place that has been around so long for a reason.


Address: 13300 Big Basin Way, Boulder Creek

Phone: 831.338.6441

Hours: Wednesday-Sunday, 11am-2am

Price Range: $5-$39.

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