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HOLY TRINITY: Black China Bakery's contribution to the divine: carrot, chocolate, cappuccino

Evening in Black China

Armed with a wine list and plenty of vegan chic, Black China Bakery and Cafe takes on the night

By Christina Waters

MORNINGS at Black China Bakery are filled with the insistent hissing of the espresso machine and perfumed by the aromas of fresh pastry. Fabled for its incomparable dark chocolate cake and addictive cranberry scones, Black China morphed into a cafe a while back and began serving lunches that were pretty, organic and, yes, vegetarian.

Now the boho space on Soquel Drive has taken another plunge. Hoping to appeal to sophisticated vegans and vegetarians, the cafe is now open for dining until 9pm Thursday through Saturday.

Tiny white lights sparkle across the front windows of the spare cafe filled with original artwork. A panel fountain accents one corner, while bamboo "pillars" help to soften the industrial surfaces. An adjoining dessert buffet makes irresistible visual appeals. In the back room with the brilliant Chinese red wall is the cozy little coffee and breakfast area—the culinary nerve center of this ambitious new expansion.

We chose two interesting wines to go with the evening specials: a Spanish old vine garnacha from Valcantara ($6) and a sturdy Via Vega Zinfandel ($8). The evening menu offers several daily specials, in addition to the entire lunch menu of sandwich plates, savory bread pudding and salads. We immediately spotted the pear and Gorgonzola salad ($8.50), which arrived helpfully split into two pretty plates, thanks to our helpful server. Tossed with organic greens were thinly sliced pears that had been poached in rosemary and balsamic syrup. To these were added candied walnuts, bits of goat cheese and gorgonzola. The sweet/tart salad was delicious and arrived with slices of toasted francese and faux butter.

Next, the entrees. A square of delicious butternut squash lasagna came layered with cheeses and topped with a dollop of creamy ricotta and bright red cherry tomatoes ($10.50). The 6-inch-square was more crusty than creamy in texture, yet each bite offered clear hits of herbs and cheese and the sweetness of the squash. Very straightforward in presentation, it went nicely with the wine.

A wittily named entree of Bean Burgundy turned out to be a large bowl of three beans stewed in red wine and lots of herbs ($10.50). The pungent notes of ProvenÁal herbs filled each bite and, frankly, became tedious after a while. Some diverting garnish or side accompaniment might have been welcome. If the management is committed to making Black China an evening destination, more attention to multiplying the flavor possibilities, perhaps with a lineup of small plates, will help establish a fan base.

But there is never any quibbling with Black China Bakery desserts. Only a fool would turn down the chance for ecstasy in the form of the house chocolate cupcake topped with German chocolate frosting ($2.50). Similarly, another beautiful creation of carrot cake with a creamy faux-butter topping lived up to the house legend. We wish them luck with the dinner hour, which now is adorned by live music on Fridays.

Black China Bakery and Cafe

1121 Soquel Ave., Santa Cruz


Lunch Tuesday–Saturday; dinner 5–9pm Thursday–Saturday

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