A fine sign of dining’s return: Trestles in Capitola checks the boxes on food, vibe, setting, service

Roasted trumpet mushrooms on a bed of gruyere fondue at Trestles restaurant in Capitola.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

A visit to Trestles in Capitola Village, at the former location of Bella Roma, puts all the recollections of why we used to go out to fine meals back into proper and tasty perspective.

My first visit to Trestles, named for its location under the iconic Capitola trestle bridge, was a first for several reasons. It was the first time my husband and I have gone on a real dinner date since the birth of our baby five months ago, and it was the first time I’ve dined in a packed restaurant since early 2020.

At least, to my pandemic-weary eyes it seemed packed. It was just after 7 p.m. and every table in the cozy dining room was full, with several guests seated outside. Others might have visited this space when it was Bella Roma, and might remember that it’s a fairly intimate restaurant.

Trestles can seat 50 inside, but there is very limited outdoor seating. There are eight seats at an outdoor bar and six seats at a 90-degree-angle booth around a fire pit, and it’s first come, first served. Because of the limitations of the space, the restaurant will be unable to add more seats outside.

But far from feeling claustrophobic, white walls accented with brick matched with dark wood tables and low lighting made for an intimate, romantic atmosphere. It did take a moment to adjust, but then I relaxed. It felt like a sign that we are slowly but surely finally moving on. We are allowed to have some nice things again.

Trestles, an example of some nice things being allowed to happen again.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Although we made a reservation on a Thursday night, we needed to wait. No matter, though. The hostess was friendly, and I enjoyed a lively Trestles Spritz ($10) on the front patio overlooking said trestle until we were seated 10 minutes later. Guests were lingering at our table, so we were offered a high-top in the bar. We accepted and were able to watch chef Nick Sherman and his kitchen staff in action from my seat.

It’s lovely to watch an open kitchen where everything is functioning smoothly. There was no shouting, no frustrations, just the practiced, coordinated movements of someone in complete control of their environment. Sherman was supported by a sous-chef and another kitchen staff member, who, when not attending to the order tickets fluttering at their stations, actually seemed to be enjoying themselves. For someone who has worked in kitchens where this has not been the case, it’s wonderful to see.

The action in the kitchen at Trestles.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

In fact, I’ll say here that the service throughout our meal was wonderful. Our server was kind, unhurried and attentive. The timing of the arrival of our courses was perfect, not so fast that the meal was over too soon, but not so slow that we were distracted by our stomachs growling. This professionalism is so vital to the enjoyment of a good meal, and allowed us to fully relax into our conversation and experience.

With our first appetizer, the ahi tuna tartare ($17), we were off to a strong start. The fresh ahi was tossed with diced avocado, an apple mustard ponzu sauce, soft, sweet shinko pear, and finished with chili oil. We piled it onto two large sheets of nori that had been battered in tempura and fried, creating the perfect briny chip. I loved how the citrusy ponzu played off the sweet Asian pear, followed by the subtle pop of mustard seeds and the crackling of the seaweed.

This was followed by dark cubes of pork belly ($17), glazed with soy sauce and seared super crispy on the outside, while the fatty center nearly melted on my tongue. The rich meat was balanced by sweet bites of watermelon and a jalapeño vinaigrette. Our roasted trumpet mushrooms ($12) arrived buried under a pile of wispy parmesan shavings and arugula. As we dug in, we dragged the tender mushrooms through a puddle of earthy gruyere fondue. This dish was a perfect match for my glass of 2018 Outlot sauvignon blanc ($11).

Crispy pork belly with watermelon and jalapeño vinaigrette at Trestles in Capitola.
Crispy pork belly with watermelon and jalapeño vinaigrette at Trestles in Capitola.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

My husband’s prime New York steak “frites” ($44) was a generous 10 ounces, and cooked a perfect medium-rare. It arrived on a bed of sauteed chard, drizzled with bourdelais and butter, and a mountain of thin-cut truffle fries, also sprinkled with parmesan. If you are the kind of person to whom a “night out” is synonymous with great steaks, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

I adore scallops, and was thrilled to see them on the menu. I was worried they would be rubbery, as they can be if you overcook them for even a few moments, but these were tender and sweet. They were matched with Brussels sprouts, kohlrabi, golden raisins and port reduction, a creative fall combination I’m going to try replicating at home.

As we ate our dessert, a brownie topped with vanilla ice cream, it was clear that Trestles already has regulars. More than one guest came back to the kitchen to say hello to the chef, who greeted them by name. It’s easy to see why guests return again and again.

While other restaurants in the Village cater toward tourists, it’s clear Sherman set out to create a comfortable environment for locals, too. In the three months since it opened, the friendly ambiance matched with professional service and excellent food has made Trestles a neighborhood favorite.

316 Capitola Ave., Capitola. 831-854-2728. Trestlesrestaurant.com.

Under the trestle in Capitola Village.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)