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RestaurantsSanta Cruz
June 7-14, 2006

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Photograph by Carlie Statsky
Get it while it's hot: Caruso's happy chef serves up thin-crust pizzas.

A Taste of Tuscany

Locals and tourists alike enjoy fresh ingredients in Capitola Village

By Selene Latigo

Given the opportunity, I would move to another country in a heartbeat. The political climate here is reason enough to explain my European transplant fantasies of some tiny Italian town into which I could disappear. Our local equivalent of this European dream would have to be the Capitola village, with meandering streets, seaside restaurants and multicolored homes perched above. Sadly, Capitola is to Italy what Cheese Whiz is to a rare Taleggio. However, I still enjoy an occasional stroll around the village and appreciate its charm for what it is. On a recent visit, we ducked into the tiny Caruso's for a taste of Tuscany.

This fairly new addition to the Capitola dining set has become a neighborhood favorite. Although the small space would feel full even if only three tables were occupied, at 6pm on a Saturday it was already at capacity. No reservations are accepted, but our wait was brief, and not long after we entered we found ourselves at a little two-top below the open kitchen counter. A few obvious regulars were seated on stools above us along the counter, talking with the chef who would occasionally slide over a special bite for them to sample.

The menu is easy to navigate, broken up into starters, pastas and pizzas with a few heartier nightly specials posted by the door. The wines are all Italian with a wide price range. Upon recommendation from our friendly server, I ordered a glass of the "Ripasso" ($7.50), a sweet, smoky vanilla red with bright cherry flavor. Dave went with the 2002 Sangiovese Riserva "Le Grillaie" ($8). Both of our wines, however, were on the warm side, a drawback to the small space and its stove-side storage.

We enjoyed a basket of seemingly house-made focaccia strips, tender and chewy, with a bowl of garlic-infused olive oil as we passed the short time until our antipasto plate for two ($14) was served. We were expecting a typical selection of ingredients such as olives, marinated or grilled vegetables, cheeses and meats. What arrived instead was a large platter loaded with six kinds of thinly sliced meats like mortadella, copa, prosciutto and bresaola, one tiny pile of creamy gorgonzola, four razor-thin rounds of provolone and marinated artichoke heart. All of this tasted of the highest quality and was a generous amount, but we would have liked a more well-rounded representation of the food groups with a few more vegetables or chesses to widen the variety.

Once it was apparent to our server that we were holding off on any more bites from the carnivorous plate, he swiftly brought out the rest of our meal. All of the pastas are home-made at Caruso's, a welcome treat that always makes such a difference. My fettuccine del Bosco ($19.50) was excellent. The wide bowl was filled with a tangle of perfectly pliant pasta, evenly coated in a rich mascarpone truffle sauce and studded with soft mushrooms. A light dusting of parsley and Parmesan finished the dish, adding a fresh element to the earthy and creamy sauce.

Dave ordered the Pizza 4 Stagioni ($14.50), a large brick-oven-baked round with four different topping sections. Unfortunately, we were both disappointed, seeing potential in the well-flavored, cracker-thin crust but finding the pizza as a whole undercooked, pale and heavily loaded with dull ingredients. An overwhelming layer of canned black olives weighed down one section while another had thick slices of almost raw button mushrooms. It was as if the overabundance of these toppings was intended to somehow compensate for the lack of more flavorful, higher-quality ones. Yet, the tomato sauce was alive with pepper and oregano, and the whole thing could be much improved with some simple ingredient upgrades and a few more minutes in the oven.

Overall, Caruso's captures the feel of a friendly Tuscan hole in the wall. Glimpses of the gnocchi and bisteca special were proof of the skill and appeal that draws visitors as well as locals. And while a bit overpriced for this to become one of our weekday destinations, Caruso's is definitely worth a return visit for the fresh pasta and another shot at their thin crust.


Address: 115 San Jose Ave., Capitola

Phone: 831.465.9040

Hours: 5-9pm Tue-Sun

Price Range: $6-$22.

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