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In the Mood Indigo

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Robert Scheer

Desserts to Dye For: Cafe Indigo sous chef Bryan Molitor proudly displays one of the young yet intriging restaurant's decadent chocolate desserts.The warm eatery is an Eastside godsend.

An appealing new bistro charms its East Cliff neighborhood with stylish atmosphere, friendly staff and promising, vivacious menu

By Christina Waters

LIGHT YEARS REMOVED from the proto-sprouts and falafel era of its predecessors, Cafe Indigo gleams with coastal glamour and an inviting, modestly priced menu. We were charmed from the minute we walked in last week. Jazz filled the air, spotlights highlighted the linens, and splashy bright paintings in the Van Gogh manner lent interest to the walls of this East Cliff Drive site, previously occupied by Keffi and innumerable vegetarian eateries.

Given the size of the crowd that quickly filled this place, I'd say a popular haunt is well in the making. The friendly young staff looks smart in white shirts, ties and black pants, but service timing is still a bit rough. Overall, some things worked, some didn't. But there was enough culinary energy and esprit to bode well for Indigo's future, especially since fine-tuning is obviously in progress.

Indigo offers a straightforward and likable bistro menu, ranging from risotto and baked goat cheese appetizers to pastas, seafood and assorted meat dishes. Since Indigo is still in the process of acquiring its beer and wine license--check before you drop by--the cafe is offering wine on a complimentary basis. The Estrella house pour is serviceable, but only just, so bringing in your favorite wine is recommended.

We were happily working our way through some fragrant francese bread when appetizers of Dungeness crab cake ($9.50) and organic baby green salad ($5.25) arrived. The menu said "crab cakes" but our appetizer in fact was a single fat, very nicely executed crab cake--crisply breaded a la Japanese katsu cooking. Bearing not a trace of oil, it was loaded with sweet Dungeness crab and served with a full-flavored creamy red bell pepper puree. I think, in retrospect, that $9.50 is too much to pay for a single crab cake, but at the time, it was good enough to damn the price.

The salad was bountiful, but the dressing proved a few notches too tart for maximum enjoyment.

A well-made gazpacho ($3.50)--as spicy as our waiter had warned--went over big with my companion, who keeps his own personal stash of Louisiana Hot Sauce in his car. I helped myself to the succulent grilled prawn that topped the soup and felt not one iota of guilt. Another appetizer of portobello mushroom ($7.50)--ordered late--also arrived late into our meal. A vertical interweaving of thick portobello slices--marinated in salty plum sauce and then grilled to an exotic smokiness--might have been better (but still too smoky) had they been served hotter. Ditto the mashed potatoes on which they sat.

After a lengthy wait--it was a crowded Saturday night--our entrees arrived. My gnocchi ($11.50) came with a side dish of steamed fresh squashes and carrots. Pretty, but bland. The light, plump gnocchi, along with tiny scallops and prawns, were completely submerged in a drowning pool of wonderful gingery tomato cream sauce. I had to trawl for seafood nuggets, whose moist shapes barely broke the surface. By God, it was good.

My companion had ordered the roasted chicken breast ($10.50), which arrived cool enough to turn crisp to soggy. A side of polenta was similarly drenched in chicken juices, though the chicken's herb and garlic marinade gave everything a terrific flavor. A fresh ratatouille of tomatoes, zucchini and eggplant was bright with Mediterranean flavors and made an appealing side dish to this inexpensive course.

The desserts we sampled that evening showed potential--a frozen Mascarpone cheesecake ($5.25) was rich, but served with tasteless peaches, and a chestnut/espresso tiramisu ($5.25) was nicely flavored but too dry.

Cafe Indigo still has some sculpting to do, especially in terms of kitchen turnaround, but with atmosphere this stylish, it makes a great addition to the East Cliff neighborhood.

Cafe Indigo

Address: 2-1245 East Cliff Dr., Santa Cruz
Phone: 479-1134
Hours: Daily breakfast 7:30­11am Wed.­Sun., dinner 5:30­10pm Wed.­Sun. (until 11pm Fri.­Sat.)
Price: Inexpensive to moderate
Chef: Grog Verbek
Ambiance: *** Feels like an established bistro, ample charm
Service: ** Uneven, though friendly
Cuisine: ** Real flair, must finesse details
Overall: This is a cafe to watch, with friendly prices, high-quality ingredients and lots of sex appeal

****Outstanding ***Excellent **Good *Okay

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From the October 31-November 6, 1996 issue of Metro Santa Cruz

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