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Bear Facts: Tired of drinking alone, this bear is looking forward to Bittersweet's tea party.

Party Animals

Bittersweet Bistro in Aptos opens its doors for tea and teddy bears

By Christina Waters

YOU KNOW you want to get into the holiday spirit, but you can't quite get out of neutral. How about this? Consider joining your favorite youngster at the Teddy Bear Tea Party this Sunday, Dec. 1, at Bittersweet Bistro.

Starting at 11am the spacious bistro, housed in the former Deer Park Tavern, turns into a holiday party landscape. Little ones and their adult companions can feast on storytelling and fun treats including cookies, hot chocolate, coffee, tea and assorted finger sandwiches. No less a holiday party animal than Santa Claus himself will be making a surprise visit in the midst of all the fun. Fast becoming a welcome family tradition, something we need in spades right now, the Teddy Bear Tea Party gives young ones a chance to bring their favorite teddy bear or doll to tea. My sister and I spent what seemed like our entire girlhoods playing tea party with our dolls, eating special little cookies and making up fantasies about the rest of our lives.

Bittersweet hosts Tom and Elizabeth Vinolus have intended the tea party as a chance for party-goers to learn the joys of giving as well, so guests are invited to bring a new, unwrapped teddy bear on Sunday, to donate to a child served by CASA of Santa Cruz County. Helping to bring some cheer to children who have been abused, the teddy bear gala truly fosters the spirit of these winter holidays. Given the state of the world, it's impossible not to feel the need to give to those who suffer at the hands of oppressors. Teddy Bear Tea tickets are $40 each, or $25 with a teddy bear donation--and prepaid reservations are required. Call Bittersweet, 787 Rio Del Mar Blvd., in Aptos, at 831.662.9799 to reserve quickly.

Timing Is Everything

A love letter to all our local restaurants, bakeries and bistros, delis, cafes and wineries. You think you've got trouble making ends meet? Consider the timing of seasoned restaurateur Paul Shenkman, who opened his multimillion-dollar, 154-seat, 8,000-square-foot Cetrella "bistro" approximately one week after Sept. 11. Counting on the expansion of the dotcom population in Half Moon Bay, as well as overflow trade from that foggy hamlet's swanky new Ritz-Carlton, Shenkman is probably wondering how he could have accumulated so much negative karma.

For a dozen years co-owner of Half Moon Bay's only other decent eatery, Pasta Moon, before he sold it to his partner, Shenkman dreamed big. With a Silicon Valley investor, he began retrofitting the rustic Half Moon Bay Growers' Association building, and from what I saw last week, no expense was spared. Slate floors covered with oriental carpets, Tuscan stonework in the bathrooms, cozy little hardwood bars surrounded by inlaid tiled floors and a 40-foot exhibition kitchen cooking line complete with wood-fired oven and rotisserie--and there's much more in the way of conspicuous consumption that might be mentioned. The wine inventory is stunning, as is the Mediterranean menu designed by Rose Pistola chef Erik Cosselmon. The food was fine, especially a roast pork loin with creamy polenta and the unbelievably creamy cranberry beans under my flavorless ono filet, but service a bit vague and unfocused and the place was not packed when we tried out Cetrella last weekend.

It's clear that this venture was counting on a continuing boom economy and plenty of flush diners high on stock market wealth. It will, I'm sorry to say, take nothing short of a miracle for this place to stay afloat. Did I say the architecturally dramatic restaurant encompasses 8,000 square feet? Have courage, Santa Cruz area dining room managers. You can't possibly be as worried as Paul Shenkman.

On a Roll

Have you seen those outrageous ciabatta rolls-four for $1.99-from Sumano's Bakery in Watsonville? Well, we have and we love them. I get mine at Shoppers Corner, where Jim Beauregard turned me on to Cheri's pepper jelly, our new secret ingredient for well-balanced vinaigrettes. Stay tuned for many more idiot-proof culinary tips during the holiday season. And keep sending me your gripes, discoveries and family recipes for whatever. Salut!

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From the November 28-December 5, 2001 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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