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Spicing Up The Scene

Those in need of a quick trip to Bali will find the exotic fragrances of Kuta Beach Grill just the ticket

By Christina Waters

NO ONE MOURNS the loss of India Joze restaurant more than I do. This town seemed to float on a haze of galangal and green curry when that Santa Cruz dining landmark was alive and well. Ah, the aromas of garlic and lemongrass, the bite of cilantro and mint. But the spice trade has been slim of late, and so it is nothing less than a gift from the gods that Robin Hall has produced a tropical food paradise in the form of Kuta Beach Grill. Hall, a veteran both of Balinese idylls and the kitchen of India Joze, named her new beach grill after the landing strip in Bali. Kuta Beach is fabled for its sublime Technicolor sunsets--and this tiny Santa Cruz version romances the myth by serving vibrantly colorful dishes of its own.

Forget white linens, stiff waiters and fussy atmosphere. Sarah and I were greeted by volumes of garlic and reggae as we headed toward a corner table at Kuta Beach. The specials board suggested something tantalizing called Green Curry Madness ($8.95 plus $3.50 for shrimp), which ended up sweeping us up in a tsunami of cilantro, coconut and potent curry sauce over three of the largest prawns this side of Sumatra. A plate of freshly made potstickers arrived at our table along with no-frills napkins and silverware.

"Are you vegetarians?" we were asked, just in case the minced chicken and pork interior of the soft wonton crescents might prove problematic. Sarah and I just grinned and shook our heads. Bring on the flesh!

Noting the bottle of Beauregard Chardonnay we'd brought--BYOB is what's happening until Kuta Grill gets alcoholified--our server returned with two wine goblets. We poured, toasted the romantic South Seas and tore into the plump, pliant potstickers. Dipped into a chile-intensive soy sauce, they were so beyond delicious that Sarah's mouth and chin soon resembled a Kikkoman ad.

Along with our first dish of Indonoodles ($7.25) came a glass of intensely gingery gingerade ($1.35), among the many distinctive house-made touches. The soft stir-fried noodles were topped with wedges of creamy tofu, zucchini, baby corn, red bell peppers and onions in a spicy ginger and coconut sauce strewn with cilantro. The addition of squeezed lime--we lavished it on every dish--brought all the flavors to full attention.

Next came a grill platter of marinated pork, thinly sliced and aromatic with coriander, tamarind and chiles ($7.95). A bed of perfect tomato and chile-laced rice and a crunchy, creamy gado gado peanut sauce finished this terrific entree. But the star was the evening special of green curry over moist, butterflied shrimp. On a bed of alabaster jasmine rice and sided with flame grapes, this complexly spiced dish is a destination winner that belongs on Kuta Grill's permanent menu.

Such an abundance of spice and rice--portions were so generous that we took half of each dish home for a further culinary adventure. After all, there are in-house desserts to consider. Rice pudding with toasted almonds, brandied bananas, grilled pineapple in rum sauce--you see the exotic theme here. As with the breakfast goodies such as scones, muffins, flans, all are house-made. It was impossible to turn down the prospect of avocado cheesecake, made from scratch on the premises ($5.25) Palest chartreuse, the tart, creamy creation was distinctive in every way, from its fine crumb crust to its lime-scented heart. Regular cheesecake will never again suffice. But then everyone who returns from Bali says that they will never be the same. Kuta Beach--a place in Bali, an altered state of mind and now a small cafe in the Sash Mill. Already packed for breakfast and lunch, it deserves a huge dinner clientele.


Kuta Beach Grill
Address: 303 Potrero St., SC--at the Sash Mill
Phone: 831.469.4745
Hours: Weekdays, breakfast 7am-11am, lunch 11am-3pm; Wed-Sat, dinner 4:30-9pm; Sat-Sun brunch
Ambience: ** Classic Santa Cruz cafe
Service: *1/2 Minimal, though very helpful
Cuisine: *** Indonesian ideas meet world fusion with spicy results
Overall: The lovely spice island flavors are a welcome addition to our dining landscape.

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From the October 16-23, 2002 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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