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The Yin and the Yang

Robert Scheer Eager Cleaver: The service may not be cutting-edge at India Joze, but the mouthwatering, multicultural creations of chef and createur gastronomique Joseph Schultz are world class.

Legendary India Joze Restaurant remains a study in contrasts, where one of the all-time inventive menus receives service from hell

By Christina Waters

When asked to list the reasons why we live in Santa Cruz, natives invariably cite the sun, the beach and India Joze Restaurant. Led by shaman/chef Joseph Schultz, the restaurant began a global graze in 1972 that blatantly spoiled us for more ordinary multicultural fare. Gained in the field, Schultz's grasp of herb and spice combinations from Bali to Baghdad is re-invented nightly in his busy kitchen--if there is any subtle aspect of how spices mingle and collaborate that he hasn't yet explored, it simply doesn't exist.

Each August we gladly join the pilgrimage to Joze's annual Squid Festival at Center Street's sensory arena, heading straight for a table out under the banana trees. A matchless setting for romantic dining and large group feasting, it's also a famously frustrating miasma of slow service.

Clearly pressed, and lacking basic serving skills (bringing condiments, bringing menus, bringing drinks), our waiter and one or two hard-working colleagues tried--as the restaurant filled up--to clone themselves into something resembling timely service. We're all adults here. We know sometimes restaurants get backed up, several groups arrive at once and the flow of food from kitchen to patron bogs down. That's when those golden rules "keep the customer happy" should kick in. If you can't bring the dinner on time, then keep those glasses full and bring plenty of chips. Right?

It's with a heavy heart that I report two things. The cooking at India Joze has never been better--our meal was a dazzling multimedia presentation of Mediterranean ideas and attitudes translated into utterly expert calamari cookery. And the service was even worse than we'd remembered.

We weren't the only diners who actually had to get up, go toward the kitchen and track down someone--anyone--to take orders or to find out why side dishes, or bread, or chips hadn't been brought.

Dining here is so exhausting that the spell of the wonderful food breaks down--culinary coitus interruptus, with no signs of closure on the horizon.

Maybe having to fight for each course improves the appetite, but we both loved the food. It's not simply that chef Schultz, who was at the helm that night, knows how brilliantly the combination of walnuts, cinnamon and pomegranate heightens lightly sautéed calamari and portobello mushrooms. He knows how to make sure the calamari is kissed but not overwhelmed by the fire, keeping it tender and moist. Another part of our appetizer mezze plate ($6.95) offered garlicky calamari ratatouille infused by rosemary and pinenuts. We both loved the vinegary eggplant and artichoke heart preparation, and my partner was especially passionate about the profusion of capers and tiny mushrooms tossed with the plate's fourth calamari variation. It's a terrific dish to share and deserves to be part of the regular menu.

Wishing I'd chosen a worthier chardonnay than the $6.75 glass of flabby Rombauer (whose vintage shall remain a mystery, since I didn't have the energy to make one more plea for information), I got up the nerve to ask for the Mt. Eden Chardonnay ($5.75). It was a happy match, as it turned out, with my main dish of calamari negra wok'd en su tinta, given salty pizzazz by an almond and garlic sauce ($9.95). The fragrant, moist calamari steaming in its own ink was handsomely supported by a column of basmati rice, a pool of tangy yogurt sauce and some raisins that had been plumped in port. A platter of excellent flat bread, warm from the oven, arrived to accompany the entrees--which provided astonishing contrasts in each bite, the true specialty of this house.

We both loved the Moroccan calamari, charbroiled and gorgeously infused with paprika, garlic and rosemary, the generous skewers perched atop more basmati rice and condiments. An incredible braise of bitter escarole in tomato sauce accompanied the order. At this point in the meal, incidentally, the chef himself stopped by tables, and noticing that we hadn't been brought our condiments--"food toys"--he whisked over the famous chutney, hot sauce and spice condiment trio for us to use. The toasted Egyptian coriander seeds were especially good, as we dipped our flat bread first into olive oil, and then into the heady spice.

Even the thought of the fabulous chocolate mousse cake couldn't tempt us--I'll come back another time for dessert, I thought. When I've got a few hours to kill. This may be no way to run a restaurant--tragically off-kilter service of stellar food--but it's been working here in Santa Cruz for almost 25 years.

India Joze Restaurant

Address: 1001 Center St., Santa Cruz
Phone: 427-3554
Hours: Lunch 11am­2:30 Mon.­Sat., dinner nightly 5:30­9:30pm, brunch 10am­2:30pm Sun.
Cuisine: Eurasian, multicultural magic
Chef: Joseph Schultz
Ambiance: Postmodern sunlit cavern enwrapped by a patio
Service: Not really
Price: Moderate to expensive
Overall: ** 1/2 (abysmal service took away one star)

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

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From the August 8-14, 1996 issue of Metro Santa Cruz

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