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Life's a Beach

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Ed Lee

Back in Blacks: Blacks Beach chef/owner Rob Morris provides his Eastside eatery with comfy dishes and summertime flavors.

Blacks Beach Cafe gives aid and comfort to enlightened vegetarians and beach grazers in the East Cliff neighborhood

By Christina Waters

SINCE ITS OPENING five years ago, Blacks Beach Cafe has provided fresh produce stylings for a local beach-community following. Its sleek pin spots, cafe tables and clean industrial interior lines make an easy excuse to linger over a salad of organic greens, a glass of locally made wine and revolving collections of artwork lining the walls. A colorful lineup of framed photographic prints was on display when we stopped by for dinner. We watched the last traces of twilight from our window seat and enjoyed some warm French bread and unsalted butter as we surveyed the evening's possibilities. Blacks Beach offers a good-looking prix fixe dinner, but the entrees--all headlining summertime staples like fresh corn, basil, tomatoes-- caught our eye.

Jack liked the looks of the menu. "It offers itself as primarily vegetarian," he noted, "but with plenty of side possibilities." Indeed, all entrees indicate a devotion to fresh veggies, yet all are available with side adornments that range from grilled salmon or smoked tofu all the way to chicken and lamb sausage. Here vegetarian cuisine is given respect, as are vegetarian diners who want to take along their meat- and seafood-loving dining companions. It's a great concept that has won chef/owner Rob Morris lots of grateful fans.

Along with opening salads, we chose a split of Bonny Doon Vineyard's celebrated Le Cigare Volant 1995 ($18.50), that had aged into full-bodied gorgeousness thanks to its half-size container. (Cork-to-wine ratio helps to determine aging rate.) My house salad of organic baby greens ($4.25) was served with a wonderful vinaigrette that suggested a basil-infused olive oil. It was punctuated with a few perfect micro-cherry tomatoes of various hues, as well as very tasty lettuces.

Jack's sweet corn salad ($5.75) was a huge platter of freshly cut-off-the-cob corn kernels laced with diced tomatoes and Bermuda onion, and tossed in a red bell pepper vinaigrette. The enormous mound of corn was cradled by butter lettuce cups--did I mention the enormous mound? Soon we were both in danger of corn overload. It was just too gigantic. Besides, our entrees arrived hard on the heels of salad removal.

My house specialty of curried roasted garlic mashed potatoes was dramatic and beautiful ($14.95). Astride the central pillow of truly delicious potatoes--tasting exactly as you'd want curried potatoes laced with roasted garlic to taste--was a fan of an expertly roasted portobello mushroom. Easily the best portobello I'd ever eaten, it had been cooked with care so that every millimeter of the mushroom was silky, tender and completely cooked. It was wonderful. Also on the potato cushion were two huge and utterly nude branches of broccoli. They added nothing to the dish, though it was given further complexity by a central dice of Provençal olives and a surrounding basil emulsion. Without the broccoli, this might have been a dream dish.

Jack's order of quinoa, fresh corn and arugula with spicy apricot--which also included two large grilled Hawaiian albacore steaks--was tasty, but ultimately tedious ($15.95). Essentially, it was his corn salad appetizer mixed with arugula and quinoa--a delicate and delicious Native American grain that was lost in the corn hash--then decorated with a fiery apricot sauce. Why not arrange the dish so that the quinoa could be explored with its identity intact? Or showcase a single tuna steak and top it with a less gratuitous display of the excellent sauce? It was a daunting portion featuring great items all mixed together into a single featureless mass.

We finished up with a welcoming dessert--it tasted like a childhood fantasy--involving warm pineapple and world-class vanilla ice cream, with a luscious caramel sauce and black pepper ($4.75). It tasted like a day at the beach. In this case, Blacks Beach.

Blacks Beach Cafe

Address: 2-1490 East Cliff Dr, Santa Cruz
Phone: 831.475.2233
Hours: Dinner Tue-Sun 5-9pm; breakfast/lunch Sat-Sun 9am-2pm. Closed Mondays.
Chef: Rob Morris
Ambiance: ** Very Memphis, postmodern beach industrial, with cozy dining nooks and a spacious feel
Service: *** Helpful and friendly, often quite casual, often quite skilled
Cuisine: ** Some delicious vegetarian specialties, with quality outweighing presentation
Overall: Blacks Beach Cafe is a neighborhood landmark, offering cafe comfort and non-stereotypical vegetarian-leaning cuisine.

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From the August 20-26, 1998 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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