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The Main Attraction: Diners are loving the Kitchen Kabaret at Michael's on Main, but it's still what's coming from the kitchen that keeps them coming back.

Three Courses and the Truth

Michael's on Main experiments with seasonal courses and a little dinner theater

By Jessica Neuman Beck

You're sitting in a swank dining room, about to take your first bite of pistachio- crusted salmon, when you see the chef come out of the kitchen, drop to his knees in front of some woman, and begin to sing, "Please come to Watsonville, it's so beautiful."

Allergic reaction? Acid flashback? No, it's Kitchen Kabaret at Michael's on Main, written by Joe Ortiz of Gayle's Bakery and directed by Greg Fritsch.

"It's very hard to describe to someone unless you're actually sitting there," says Michael Clark, owner and executive chef of Michael's on Main, "but you're sitting there, and these people just burst out in song. It's a three-course meal and you sit down and you're entertained. It's so unique in the community."

Dinner theater may be relatively new to Santa Cruz, but it's all the rage in bigger cities like San Francisco, where Teatro ZinZanni draws people from all over to experience dinner in a French cabaret. Kitchen Kabaret on Thursday nights may not be quite so crazy, but it's just as inspired. Also, it's only $28 for the whole food and song experience.

In addition to the theatrical dining experience, Michael's on Main offers an array of exciting diversions for patrons, including Wednesday night karaoke and Tuesday night food and wine pairings.

"What's so wonderful about the food and wine pairing is that we choose a different theme each week, and a different winery comes," Clark says. The dinner is served buffet-style and the winemaker sits down with the diners to answer questions and make recommendations. "It's really a lot of fun," says Clark. "It's not structured where you're sitting down and the winemaker is explaining everything to you while you have your different courses. You can go at your own pace." Starting in May, the food and wine pairing is going to feature a month and a half of Santa Cruz wineries.

Friday and Saturday nights always feature live music, and Clark is excited about the fact that this summer they will have live music during Sunday brunch. "So you have music, and you're out on the deck," he says.

Clark prides himself on offering upscale comfort food at comforting prices.

"I want to create sort of that Cheers atmosphere, where people come in and they feel comfortable," says Clark. "We're animal friendly, we're kid friendly, we enjoy families. It's not one of these restaurants where you necessarily have to dress up."

Clark is also proud of Michael's community ties. "I support the local wineries, Santa Cruz Winery wines, local growers, Corralitos market, Glaum eggs. I'm a fanatic about California cheeses. I feel that California cheeses are as good if not better than European cheeses. Really on the cutting edge," he says.

The menu at Michael's on Main changes with the season, and Clark is enthusiastic about this summer's fare. "The things I love are heirloom tomatoes, the asparagus," he says. "The beginning of the asparagus season that we're in, I get a phone call from Stockton, Calif., and there's an asparagus grower, and they say 'OK, there's asparagus growing,' and all during the season they come directly from the farm to us--there's no in-between person. I try to get the freshest products. To have that wonderful produce straight from the market and into the kitchen--it's exciting."

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From the April 21-28, 2004 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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