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Photograph by Carlie Statsky
So Hot : Chef/owner Judd Anthony works the stove at La Bruschetta.

Earthy Entrees at La Bruschetta

Scenic lunches and intimate evenings make La Bruschetta an obvious San Lorenzo Valley dining destination.

By Christina Waters

La Bruschetta has always been a terrific place to gather in groups for al fresco lunches and vivacious dinners. Even when it changed hands last year--the original chef/owner went on to launch In Vino Veritas in Scotts Valley--the setting has proven almost irresistible to locals. Two recent meals at the lovely Felton restaurant provided a puzzling mixed culinary metaphor. The outdoor lunch under the sprawling old oak was packed on a luxurious warm day, yet both service and menu proved limited and inconsistent. Dinner last week, however, brought forth the very best from this exhibition kitchen, even though the dining room itself was mysteriously underpopulated.

Mateo and Francesca, our favorite dining couple as well as fanatical foodies, joined us for a meal that spanned the best of this Sicilian-inflected menu, from a lusty platter of messy, delicious grilled vegetables ($9.95) to memorable desserts of classic house-made cannoli ($8) and freshly created pistachio gelato ($5). After much discussion concerning wines from the trusty list of Italian and California varietals, we all pounced on the fragrant, tender focaccia dredged through bowls of garlic and finely diced Kalamata olives. Our wine came swiftly, providing generous pours of excellent, tannic Chianti Classico Le Bocce 2005 ($8.50) and a supple Ridge Three Valleys Zinfandel 2006 ($9).

Next came a huge square platter on which slabs of grilled heirloom tomatoes were arranged in quadrants on a bed of very thinly sliced grilled eggplant and zucchini, topped with a tangle of thickly chopped onions, olives and a crisscross of slender asparagus. Almost entirely composed of the tomatoes and onions, the dish nonetheless served as an interactive and fun centerpiece to our nonstop conversation.

Empty appetizer dishes remained, occupying the middle of the table when entrees were produced--the kitchen gets high marks for managing to organize four very different dishes all at the same time. We had to literally help our charming server clear the appetizer plates to make room for the incoming dishes. A bit of Serving 101 might prove helpful here in making for smoother transitions between courses.

Steaming hot, perfumed with capers, olives, tomato sauces, anchovies and garlic--all the sensuous fragrances of the Mediterranean--the entrees each made a powerful impression. Francesca's Spaghetti Carbonara ($15.95) was loaded with all of the expected synergy of eggs, pancetta and black pepper--comforting and homey, as anticipated. Mateo's house-made spinach raviolis ($14.95) were nicely prepared. The mezzaluna pasta arrived filled with a delicious, light spinach-and-cheese filling, slathered with a thick sauce of fresh tomatoes. Jack loved his veal scalloppine ($18.95) with piccata saucing of lemon, wine and capers, sided with smashed Yukon gold potatoes. An unlikely side dish of julienned, barely cooked peppers and carrots looked and tasted a bit jarring--as did an unnecessary, and unpleasantly large, twist of sliced orange. My linguine entree featured the "Chef's specialty" of prawns, mushrooms, tomatoes and a cream sauce loaded with olive oil ($19.95). Alas, there was an abundance of cheese in the sauce, the richness of which worked against and pretty much overwhelmed the prawns. The linguine portion was so super-sized that enough for two more meals went home with me that evening.

We finished up our dinner with espressos and two desserts. One, a house-made and completely authentic cannoli filled with a light, not-sweet chocolate ricotta cream laced with nuts and raisins, was a knockout. The other was a scoop of fresh pistachio "gelato" (though the texture was more like American ice cream than the extremely tight texture of Italian gelato), studded with whole, toasted pistachio nuts. It was both playful and elegant, a perfect ending to all of the garlicky flavors of the pastas.

Whether it was competing with televised election coverage or the budget-consciousness of San Lorenzo Valley diners, this restaurant deserves better patronage than it enjoyed the night we visited. As with all things worth preserving, if you don't use it, you might just lose it. La Bruschetta can deliver memorable meals, but you'll never know if you don't make a reservation.

La Bruschetta

Address: 5447 Hwy. 9, Felton

Phone: 831.335.3337

Hours: Open 5-9:30pm Mon-Wed, 11am-10pm Thu-Fri and 8am-10pm Sat-Sun

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