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A Moon in Saturn

Saturn Cafe
Robert Scheer

Beneath the Planet of the Ates: Co-owners Tristan Nathe (left) and Annie Schuessler are joined by chef Eric Davis to show off their out-of-this-world natural array of menu choices.

As old as the planets, as new as a sunrise, Westside SC's Saturn Cafe aims its telescope on another delicious voyage of discovery

By Christina Waters

WHO BETTER THAN A young woman named Moon to join me for dinner at a cafe called Saturn? Besides, during her very recent student days up on the hill, Moon had spent considerable hang time at Saturn Cafe, that venerable venue of vegetarian cuisine that has welcomed students and starving artists for several decades. Armed with a legacy stretching back to the very threshold of the Hippie Era, Saturn celebrated political correctitude with meatless menus long on sprouts, tofu and creamy desserts.

"The desserts are a big thing here, and late-night food," Moon pointed out, leading us back to sit at the "beach table," a tableau of sand, seashells, ticket stubs, drift wood and even a bathing suit top covered with a see-through Plexiglas tabletop.

Still funky, but far less grungy than in its earlier incarnations, Saturn has a new coziness that caters to patrons of all ages. The famous planetary ceiling finally imploded and has been reconstituted in gleaming white. The mismatched tables and chairs still boast a certain surfer mystique, but well-mannered hanging plants and low-tech table lamps give the interior a family-room ambiance.

Saturn is still strictly meatless and strictly no-frills. And you can still get a cup of plain organic brown rice for a buck. But there is news: French fries--killer fries that you absolutely can't stop eating--and table service. Sure, your Calistoga is still served in a plastic tumbler, but it's brought to your table with a smile.

Our meal began with a glass of the house red wine, from Barefoot Cellars ($2.75), and for Moon a lemon-scented Calistoga ($1). With that, we'd have the evening's pasta and salad special ($5.25), a cup of vegetable soup ($1.70) and the classic Saturn Burger ($4.25--all flora, no fauna) with a side of fries ($1). Swiftly delivered, the portions were substantial enough to put Saturn into a permanent orbit around local hearts, minds and wallets.

Even better, the food was flavorful, fresh and well-prepared. The linguine arrived al dente and slathered, not submerged, in a delicious tomato-garlic pesto sauce. The sliced whole wheat bread was unworthy, so we ignored it. With it came a curly leaf lettuce salad (organic, naturally) topped with enough purple cabbage, shredded carrots and tahini dressing to feed Neil Young's touring company.

The soup was the kind of thing you're always searching for on a chilly evening. Filled with tomatoes, potatoes, celery, garbanzos and carrots, it was beautifully made--a clear, rich broth filled with true veggie flavors. "A good soup is very important," Moon intoned solemnly as she plunged another over-sized French fry into ketchup.

Let's wander over to those fries for a minute. They were large enough to retain moisture and true potato flavor, yet crisp enough on the outside to provide proper ketchup delivery.

The burger also was terrific. One of those mysterious veggie patties that probably involves rice, cheese (a vegan version is available), herbs and tofu, it had flavor, texture and style. Its whole wheat sesame seed bun was even better. This was no faux version of a beef burger; it was better than a beef burger without sacrificing one micron of burgerness.

Moon chose our desserts. The results were one generous slab ($1.75) of spicy-sexy gingerbread (I'd refused the option of whipped cream) and a gorgeous slice of vanilla bean mud pie ($2.75). The pie lived up to its rep--an intensely chocolate toasty Oreo-type cookie crust, a silken layer of vanilla ice cream (Polar Bear) and a topping of house-made fudge. It was rich, sweet/cool and topped with real whipped cream. We split it, sighing the whole time and thanking our lucky stars that Saturn continues to rule.

Saturn Cafe

Address: 1230 Mission St., Santa Cruz
Phone: 429-8505
Hours: Noon­midnight Sun.­Thu. (until 1am Fri.­Sat.)
Price: Cheap
Chefs: Eric Davis and Billy Joe Slater
Ambiance: *** Only-in-Santa Cruz, academic diner with oddball chic
Service: ** 1/2 Friendly, can be stretched when crowded
Cuisine: *** Excellent, home-cooked, straightforward vegetarian diner/cafe food with organic emphasis
Overall: Saturn Cafe is a lovable stronghold of vegetarian consciousness--and long may it remain so

****Great, ***Excellent, **Good, *Okay

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From the January 30-February 5, 1997 issue of Metro Santa Cruz

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