Lily Belli on Food: Santa Cruz dining newcomers, PETA loves us and sourdough misfires
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… Two new restaurants opened in Santa Cruz last week, and I’m already hearing great things about both of them. Bedda Mia opened at 736 Water St., in the place previously held by Pearl of the Ocean, which closed in January. Owner Alessio Casagrande opened this Italian restaurant with his business partner Leo La Placa, who also runs La Placa Family Bakery in Ben Lomond. I adore La Placa — my husband and I served its stuffed bombolini donuts at our wedding instead of cake — and I can’t wait to visit the new restaurant. Bedda Mia, which means “my beautiful” in Sicilian, is open for lunch and dinner every day and serves traditional Italian appetizers, pastas, pizzas and entrées.
And Namasté India Bistro finally opened at 1501 Mission St. last week in the restaurant space that held Vasili’s for more than 20 years. Owner AJ, whom I spoke to in March, and his family operated Mumbai Delights downtown on Pacific Avenue from 2016 to 2020, and also own two other Indian restaurants, in Monterey and Los Gatos. The lunch menu offers a wide selection of thali, or plate lunches, with a choice of entrée like aloo gobi, saag paneer, tandoori salmon and butter chicken with rice, naan, dal, pickles, salad, raita and dessert. Bring friends to fully enjoy the dinner menu, which includes dozens of starters, curries, biryani, meat and seafood dishes and tandoori. More info at namasteindiabistro.com. I’ll be visiting these restaurants within the next week and will report back.
… PETA — People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals — named Santa Cruz one of its top 10 vegan-friendly beach towns for its accessible and tasty vegan options. This list isn’t ranked, but Santa Cruz shares space with cities like San Diego; West Palm Beach, Florida; and Charleston, South Carolina. In the story, PETA notes plant-based options at downtown Santa Cruz’s Café Gratitude and Veg on the Edge, as well as the availability of vegan toppings at Pizza My Heart and meat-free Spicy Kimchi Noodle Soup at Monster Pot. As far as vegan options go, this barely scratches the surface. I’d also add the excellent pastries by Sweet Bean Bakery; deluxe veggie burgers at Pretty Good Advice; Bookie’s vegan Detroit-style pizza with zucchini harissa, tomatoes and vegan mozzarella and feta; and Huda, a mostly vegan, Syrian pop-up inside the NahNa Eritrean food kiosk in downtown Santa Cruz, which offers beautiful, veggie-full wraps and flatbreads in its own right. I could easily go on — perhaps we should write a companion piece to the vegan roadmap we offered last September. What do you think? Is it a good time to be a vegan in Santa Cruz, or is there room for improvement? What are your favorite cruelty-free meals? Email or text me, I’d love to know!
… In March, I spoke with farmer Ryan Abelson about his journey to raise, butcher and sell sustainably raised pork at his Corralitos farm, Pajaro Pastures. Although normally closed to the public, on Monday he announced that he will participate in Santa Cruz Open Farm Tours on Oct. 8-9. Open Farm Tours is to local farms what Open Studios is to local artists: Farms open their doors and invite guests to deepen their knowledge of where their food comes from, usually through fun, family-friendly activities. View a map of this year’s participants at openfarmtours.com.
Abelson is currently one of a small handful of farmers raising pork in Santa Cruz County, so if you’d like to tour his 12-acre ecological ranch and see how he raises heritage pork and pasture-raised eggs, this is a great opportunity. Tours on Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 8 and 9, are at 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. Adults are $10, kids are free and guests receive 10% off his products at the end of the tour. Want a more culinary experience? Reserve for your spot for one of two farm-to-table, three-course dinners, prepared that Saturday night by chef Andy Huynh of Full Steam Dumpling and that Sunday night by Chicken Foot chef Jessica Yarr. Local wine, beer and cider are included in the $150 ticket price. Get tickets and find more info on Eventbrite.com.
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IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
On Friday in Eaters Digest, I shared one of my new favorite local condiments: Hakouya’s original miso dressing. Of course you can put it on salad, but it’s also fantastic on rice bowls and glazed over roasted salmon. I can imagine it would also be great tossed with chopped winter squash and sweet potatoes and roasted in the oven. This week, I’m going to try it as a grill marinade. Made from homemade miso and organic ingredients, it’s tangy, a touch sweet and loaded with salty umami.
85,000 — The number of Santa Cruz County residents who receive food from Second Harvest Food Bank every month. That number is down from a pandemic high of 93,000 during May 2020, but still higher than the pre-pandemic number of 65,000 as local residents struggle against inflation. In order to open more distribution centers, Second Harvest needs volunteers, says CEO Erica Padilla-Chavez. Read more here.
“Starbucks says it values dignity and respect, but it allows our store manager to treat us rudely and inconsiderately. Shame on Starbucks, shame on you, Howard Schultz, shame on store managers who participate in union busting.” — Joe Thompson, a shift supervisor at the Starbucks at Ocean and Water streets and a Starbucks Workers United Organizer. On Friday, workers from that Starbucks — one of the first in California to unionize — became the first in the state to strike.
LIFE WITH THE BELLIS
This past week, after watching the price of sourdough loaves continue to rise, I got it in my head to try baking bread again. I’ve been baking sourdough bread on and off since 2018 with some success but more than a few under-proofed, over-proofed and “what the heck happened here?” flat, dense loaves. To be honest, throughout my bread-baking career I’ve eaten at least as many croutons as fresh slices. Every time I put a loaf in the oven I roll the dice on whether I’ll actually have edible bread to eat that day.
I thought this time might be different, but just one week in I’m almost ready to return to buying bread from professional bakers again. I started out so strong, too! My friend gifted me a thriving starter that eagerly climbed the inside of its glass jar. I tried a new recipe that was faster and less involved than the Tartine-based recipe I’d struggled with for years. I used a smaller Dutch oven to help support the loaf as it baked and was reasonably happy with my first loaf, although I still thought it was a little too dense. Then, life got in the way. I forgot to feed my starter for a few busy, exhausting days, and it did not like that at all. Now, it’s barely rising and I’ll have to baby it in order to revive it again. Also, the price of flour is laughably high, at least $3 more per 5-pound bag than it was just a few years ago, which makes me question whether I’m saving much money once I factor in the amount of time spent on this project — and my frustratingly high failure rate.
I see friends and Instagrammers proudly showing off towering loaves of fresh sourdough, seemingly effortlessly, and I long to be one of them. But after years of trying, sourdough remains my Achilles’ heel. I welcome any words of encouragement and thank you for your support during this difficult time.
THIS WEEK, I’M LAUGHING …
… at this adorable little boy and his love of corn. His adoration is so pure, it’s sure to bring a smile to your face. “Have a corntastic day!”
FOOD NEWS WORTH READING
➤ Facebook scammers stole hundreds of thousands of dollars posing as luxury restaurant suppliers (Eater)
➤ Whole Foods wants your handprints. What could possibly go wrong? (Bon Appétit)
➤ Soleil Ho is (still) eating their feelings (Edible San Francisco)
Thanks for reading! Eat well, my friends.