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Jump On In

The newly opened Jumping Monkey cafe is a gem

By Selene Latigo

With all of the vacancies and changes occurring on Front Street these days, it is hard to keep track of what businesses are still there. So, I was excited to see the new natural Indian cafe Jumping Monkey open its doors a few weeks back in the 418 Project building across from the Metro bus center.

Always curious about new eateries, especially when containing ingredients from one of my favorite cuisines, Indian, we tried lunch there last weekend. Although the space is small and wouldn't be able to accommodate large groups, there's a light and relaxed feeling to the room. Decorative touches like orchids, a colorful monkey mural, sitar music and comfortably spaced tables and chairs create an open and soothing ambience.

Immediately greeted by the large menu board above the simply equipped open kitchen and counter, we found it easy to choose from the few options offered, pleased to see that they use all organic ingredients. After placing our order and paying the very reasonable total, we stationed ourselves at a nice corner table by the window, picking up a book about the benefits of coconut oil for some informative reading while we waited. Seconds later our kind server brought out our drinks, one ginger lime cooler ($1.75) and one mango lassi ($2.75). Both in pint glasses, these generously sized beverages hit the spot. The ginger lime cooler was light and refreshing, without any kind of cloying sweetness. The lassi was thick and smooth, packed with seductive mango flavor. Along with these came our samosa ($2.00), a large hand-shaped turnover filled with a skillfully spiced and seasoned potato and pea filling and served with a sweet tamarind chutney. I was greatly impressed by the tender, flaky and not at all greasy crust of the samosa, rivaling the work of the most talented and light-handed pie crust makers. Noticing our amazement, our server explained that the wheat-crusted pastries were fried in coconut oil at a low temperature to preserve the benefits of the oil.

Referring back to the book we'd borrowed, we learned that coconut oil has been proven highly beneficial for numerous ailments, including skin disorders, cancers and heart disease, to name a few.

Although high in saturated fat, the book says that most of the negative connotations we have regarding coconut and other tropical oils are due to a smear campaign started by the American soybean industry in the 1970s. Our entrees arrived quickly on stainless steel plates, both accompanied with authentic Indian pickle, a small mixed green salad and a cooling cilantro-infused sauce similar to raita. The masala dosa ($5.50), a specialty generally hailing from southern India, is a thin, fermented crepelike pancake filled with, in this case, a potato, pea, red pepper and cabbage mixture, seasoned with fresh ginger, cumin and black mustard seeds.

The tang of the sour pancake was balanced well with the savory spice of the filling. The kitchuri plate ($3.95) was a heaping portion of delicate basmati rice blended with yellow lentils, carrots, potatoes and bits of spinach. The fragrant basmati paired with the fresh spices was intoxicating. With both of our choices, I never once felt the need to salt or alter the flavorings, enjoying the cook's judgment and skill enormously. Our only complaint was that the side salads were a bit overdressed with a somewhat bland tahini dressing. This was just a small detail in an otherwise completely satisfying lunch.

We finished off with a steaming cup of house-made masala chai ($1.75, with regular milk or soy). This frothy drink was hot; both in temperature and in spice, with creamy and subtly sweet tea flavor--a great endnote to an equally great meal. On our way out, after bussing our dishes, we perused the small dessert case containing vegan brownies, bars and cakes, all made with the highly promoted coconut oil.

I'll definitely return to the Jumping Monkey soon, and hope to see some expansions to the menu over time. Although limited, I think that starting out with a small menu is better for a new restaurant than trying to offer too much too quickly. For fresh and organic vegetarian dishes at an incredibly reasonable price, this modest cafe should be the next stop for anyone interested in a new and flavorful dining experience.

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From the May 25-June 1, 2005 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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