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Bittersweet Parting

Life's Bittersweet Pageant: Cafe Bittersweet's owners, Thomas and Elizabeth Vinolus (pictured here in 1994), look ahead to the sweet rewards of their new location in Aptos' Deer Park.

A Westside landmark begins its southward migration into expanded culinary quarters

By Christina Waters

After months of probing and a flurry of rumors flying up and down the county, I finally got Tom Vinolus--chef and co-owner of Cafe Bittersweet--to admit that, yes, he has bought a new property and will be opening his new restaurant, Bittersweet Bistro, "near the end of May, beginning of June." Vinolus and wife Elizabeth have purchased the former Deer Park Tavern in Aptos--yes, that Deer Park, the huge, legendary dinner and dancing spot.

Hmm, the Sparrow spawns a bigger Ostrich, and a Bittersweet gives birth to a very big restaurant sibling--is there a trend going on here? But in response to my concern that a site that large would, shall we say, interfere with the whole intimate idea of "bistro," Vinolus quickly points out that he and his contractors are currently revamping, renovating, freshening up and, most importantly, dividing up the cavernous landmark into a series of small dining areas. "A full 2,000 square feet will be set aside exclusively for banquet facilities," Vinolus explains, "so that in itself will cut down the feeling of largeness."

One of the new features of the bigger mid-county Bittersweet is what Vinolus is calling the "Bistro Room"--where full dinners and desserts will be served at late-night hours within the cozy hearth of the huge old fireplace and a full liquor bar. "There will be an outdoor seating area for warm weather, and a patio room with hardwood floors," he says.

But there's more. Bittersweet Bistro will sport a "more intimate" dining room with coffered ceilings and full carpeting, as well as seating that nestles next to the open exhibition kitchen. "And then there's the main dining room," Vinolus says, accessed immediately as you walk through the front doors. In fact, the chef has gone so far as to locate and purchase the original, heavy redwood doors that once graced the original Deer Park Tavern. "But everything is being streamlined, and made cleaner," he says. "We'll really be offering a multitude of dining areas, for different dining styles--families, couples and single diners."

Unlike Cafe Bittersweet, the new restaurant will offer expanded hours. Daily lunches lie in the future, maybe six months down the line, Vinolus says, but Bittersweet Bistro at first will serve dinner nightly, lunch on Friday, and brunch on Saturday and Sunday.

As far as the menu, the new eatery will showcase a wood-fired pizza oven--I think you can figure out what that's for--and, oh yeah, there will probably be a few memorable desserts to finish up those American bistro main courses.

What about the closing of the original Cafe Bittersweet? Vinolus says that he intends to keep the popular Mission Street location (2332 Mission St., SC; 423-9999) open right up to--and perhaps beyond--the early summer opening of Bittersweet Bistro. Currently up to his ears in exhaustive interior remodeling, the Bittersweet owner admits, "We're looking forward to the opening."

Top Pasta

One restaurant that isn't leaving its Westside home is Ristorante Avanti, where we've fallen deeply in love with a house signature dish involving gnocchi perfect enough to qualify for sainthood. Substantial enough to hold their delicate ovoid shape, yet tender enough to melt upon oral impact, these gnocchi are ravishingly good. And their potatoey depths are enhanced by a tossing with tangy winter kale, golden chanterelle mushrooms, a bit of olive oil, some garlic and a dusting of Reggiano Parmesan.

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From the March 7-13, 1996 issue of Metro Santa Cruz

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