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Photograph by Brian Harker
Fire and Spice: The spicy prawn appetizer at 515 is an incendiary dish that doesn't sacrifice flavor.

Magic Number

Cozy, casual and chic--the scene at 515 makes an appealing offer.

By Christina Waters

MOST PEOPLE go for the plush velour couches, the sparkling firelight and the romantic deck. Oh, and let's not forget the sophisticated lineup of cocktails. But we went to dine, and we were happy with the overall results.

The two-story early-20th-century landmark at 515 Cedar St. is adorned with a charming pastiche of lounge seating and small dinner tables. Both floors have distinctive features, the downstairs with its front-and-center bar and the upstairs with its intimate semiprivate front room next to the balcony dining area. The entire establishment is designed to slake after-work thirsts or tempt weekend couples with attractively priced dinners and appetizers.

We opted for a small table next to a fireplace, a feature conveniently copied from 515's sister establishment, Red. Knowing full well that it's sacreligious to visit 515 and not order a high-power cocktail, we nonetheless went ahead and ordered wine by the glass. Our excellent choices--a full-throated Byron Pinot Noir 2007 ($11) and an eccentric Spanish Alma de Blanco ($8)--worked nicely with the foods to come.

We took the suggestion of our attentive waitperson and split an order of the house signature appetizer, Lamjoun ($10). If you think Middle Eastern pizza, you won't be far off. Rustically shaped flat bread has been lavishly spread with spiced lamb before being strewn with minced red bell pepper and feta. Rich with cumin and garlic, this is a wonderful--and big--starter, enough for two to share over wine. We paced ourselves and packed half of the delicious creation to take home.

Katya and I also worked our way briskly through a second opening plate of distinctive and spicy black tiger prawns ($9). I loved this dish. Six plump grilled prawns, three for each of us, arrived in an oregano-intensive verde sauce and a slick of chili oil that left our lips tingling. Since I'm one of those who do like it hot, I made a mental note to return just for this dish. When you're in the mood for hot sauce that isn't cilantro-driven, this might just be your dish. And the whole time, my excellent pinot kept pace, opening nicely into a middle of licorice and plums. In fact we both liked the red wine enough to split another glass of it when our main dish finally arrived.

Yes, there can be a bit of a pause between starters and main dish, but then most of 515's patrons are there to enjoy conversation and meaningful eye contact. The whole point here is big flavors and relaxing ambience.

Our entree arrived with flourish. A burger by the name of Bleu d'Auvergne (named for its key ingredient, a pungent French blue cheese), it rode a toasted onion roll pre-split into two dramatically large halves ($11). With the burger came a crimson pool of ketchup, a side of bacon aioli and a huge thicket of french fries too abundant for even the two of us to make a dent in. (Thank God we only ordered one!) The terrific fries were long, slender and crisp. And the burger was lavish with grilled radicchio and shallot confit. Serious burger. Delicious burger. Bargain burger. Mmmm.


Address: 515 Cedar St., Santa Cruz

Phone: 831.425.5051

Hours: Open 4pm-midnight Mon-Fri, 10am-2am Sat, 10am-midnight Sun

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