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Photograph by Carlie Statsky
Chocoholic Much? So good you can't eat just one. From left, Bittersweet Bistro's lemon napoleon, chocolate walnut bread pudding, chocolate pâté and chocolate mousse.

Restaurant review: Bittersweet Bistro

Dessert first could become a habit here

By Denise Vivar

One of these days I'm going to eat dessert first. I'll approach said menu fresh, with a hearty appetite and full of anticipation. With a clean palate I'll carefully tend to each bite with proper reverence and attention to the pastry chef's labors, taking in the dish at a leisurely pace over good conversation while considering the possibility that maybe I might just have room for a dip into a salad at the end.

Of course this would be an indulgence, a rare treat and a red-banner day if I ever do it in real life. But I'd like to start with dessert here, on this page, as I am anxious to share my sweet tale of Bittersweet Bistro's confectionery acumen.

My friend Debra and I enjoyed several small courses that allowed us to consider dessert, and because we couldn't choose just one, we ordered both the chocolate walnut bread pudding ($8) and the homemade ice cream ($9.50) and were wowed by the presentation alone.

Both treats came on expansive white plates. Our scoops of French vanilla bean ice cream were cupped in a thin crisp tuile—a cookie bowl, if you will—surrounded by a field of raspberries, blueberries and strawberries and artfully drizzled with bittersweet chocolate sauce and raspberry coulis.

The bread pudding was not your grandmother's bread pudding (with all due respect to grandmothers' puddings), but a dense cakelike mound of rich magma so chocolate-laden it was black. Against this rested a caramelized banana "cap"—slivers of banana fused together by their melting sugars with edges toasted and crisp. A generous dollop of crème anglaise balanced the sculpture, and again the blueberry, strawberry and raspberry trio danced about the plate while the edges were laced with bittersweet chocolate sauce.

Both plates were magnificent to behold. Gingerly we spooned into the presentations and quickly found ourselves dipping from plate to plate, creating delectable amalgams of ice cream/banana/bread pudding, or berry/banana/crème anglaise, then bread pudding/raspberry coulis/blueberry. But we quickly became full, and it was at this point that I formulated the "dessert first" plan. Despite having been poised for sweets all along, and notwithstanding our valiant efforts to clean our plates, we simply weren't able to finish our deserts. And taking them to go seemed, well, unseemly—not that our waiter didn't kindly try to send us off with them.

We had split the fire-roasted mission fig salad ($13) and each had a small cup of soup ($6)—steak and vegetable for Debra, corn and wild rice for me. All entrees are offered in full and small plate portions, which is perfect for the small appetite—or, as in our case, if one is flirting with the dessert menu.

Debra chose the garlic chicken ($18/$14), a marinated and grilled chicken breast with a roast garlic, shallot and lemon jus with au gratin potatoes and crisp steamed vegetables, and I ordered the wild salmon ($28/$19) with the plum-sambal glaze. My salmon was served a la napoleon—stacked on top of a mixed bed of wild, basmati and jasmine rice and stir-fried vegetables.

Both small-size dishes were perfect portions for a petite appetite, but I still had to set aside half of my plate to save room for the grand finale. The au gratin potatoes were the favored of the sides, while the plum-sambal sauce on my salmon lent a nice sweet-and-spicy accent to the salmon fillet, which I found on the dry side.

We enjoyed the fig salad, another pleasing presentation of figs, Point Reyes blue cheese and orange slices on a bed of endive, frisée and mesclun. The figs were warm, which paired nicely with the cheese.

Debra's soup was a hearty mix of carrots, onions, celery, peppers and tomatoes in a beef stock, and the simmering rendered the steak butter-tender. I preferred the fresh corn and rice soup, which seemed more summerlike in its lightness.

The staff at Bittersweet is most accommodating and genial. Debra and I enjoyed an unhurried dinner of several courses that were leisurely, but perfectly timed and attentively served. And had we had the good sense to ask for dessert first, there would have been no trouble at all.

bittersweet bistro

Address: 787 Rio Del Mar Blvd., Aptos

Phone: 831.662.9799

Hours: Dinner 5:30-9pm Sun-Thu, 5:30-10pm Fri-Sat; happy hour 3-6pm daily

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