Owner Ayoma Wilen shows off some of Pearl of the Ocean's signature dishes.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)
Food & Drink

EATERS DIGEST: Pearl of the Ocean closes, a much-needed gut check and the return of SF Beer Week

As 2022 begins, we say goodbye to two Santa Cruz restaurants, Pearl of the Ocean and India Joze. Nutritionist Magali Brecke shares some advice on how to bounce back after the holidays, and SF Beer Week returns.

Happy new year! The first week back after the holidays can be rough, and we are starting the year off by saying goodbye to two much-loved Santa Cruz restaurants. A family emergency has necessitated Pearl of the Ocean’s sudden closure and India Joze will be shuttering within days as well.

Lily

If you’re still feeling a little under the weather from indulging over the last few weeks, check out nutritionist and Kitchen Witch Magali Brecke’s advice on how to give your gut a little love. I’m not sure she’d approve of my new favorite cooking fat, but I still think you should give it a try.

News

Santa Cruz Sri Lankan restaurant Pearl of the Ocean is closing this week after 12 years. The last day of service will be Friday. Owner Ayoma Wilen explains that the sudden closure is due to a family emergency that requires her full attention and an indefinite leave. She has offered the restaurant as a gift to one of her employees, but says it’s unlikely he will continue her menu. She will be handing over the reins immediately.

Pearl of the Ocean uses fresh, farmers’ market-sourced plant-based ingredients.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Wilen says the decision was sudden, and she didn’t have time to make an announcement to her customers. She says running her restaurant has been a fantastic experience. “My dreams came true in this space. That’s why it’s difficult to say goodbye.”

At Pearl of the Ocean, Wilen was committed to serving vegan-friendly dishes made exclusively from organic ingredients, much of it sourced from local farmers markets. Love and meditation were as integral to her cooking process as her homemade spice blends.

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Wilen plans to use this time to refresh after enduring the pandemic’s challenges. She doesn’t know what the future holds, but is hopeful for a new beginning. Fans can enjoy her last dinner service for takeout or dine-in at 736 Water St, Santa Cruz.

India Joze is also serving its final meal this weekend as the building on Front Street is set to be demolished. Thankfully, it doesn’t sound like chef Jozeph Schultz will be staying out of the kitchen. You’ll find a closer look at what “retirement” looks like for Schultz here.

Half a dozen new laws affecting the restaurant industry went into effect on Jan. 1, including one concerning takeaway alcoholic beverages. The good news for restaurants is to-go cocktails, beer and wine are here to stay, with restrictions. However, local craft distilleries like Venus Spirits will no longer be able to ship their liquor to customers throughout the state. Read more on the new beverage laws here.

Beloved sushi restaurant Naka on 41st Ave. in Capitola is reopening for indoor dining this weekend. Seating will be limited and all covid protocols will be followed. More info at nakasushi.org.

Eat this

My holiday season was delicious. I enjoyed champagne and croissants at Flower Bar with a girlfriend while shopping for gifts; a white elephant party with Boulevardier cocktails and lots of cheese; cioppino on Christmas Eve, followed by beef tenderloin on Christmas Day, and eggnog and cookies. I have no regrets, but my gut is telling me I need to take a break. Literally — my stomach hurts.

I reached out to nutritionist and Kitchen Witch Bone Broth co-owner Magali Brecke, whose recipes always leave me feeling healthy and satisfied, to get her advice on recovering from holiday indulgences. Check out her simple advice on how to start 2022 off feeling your best.

Despite all that, my new must-have pantry item is lard. Not Crisco, but real, rendered pork fat. I know, I’m just as surprised as you are. I cooked with it for first time a few weeks ago, when Hanloh’s Pad Thai Meal Kit included two round, white knobs of the stuff and an encouraging note that read, “Don’t be afraid of lard!” I loved how it sizzled and browned the tofu and shrimp without burning or becoming greasy and was surprised by its neutral flavor.

Later, I snagged a jar of craft butcher El Salchichero’s homemade stuff ($11 for 16 oz) and owner Chris LaVeque admitted he uses it for everything. I’ve been using it to sear steaks, roast veggies and fry eggs, and it’s become my new favorite cooking fat. Pajaro Pastures in Watsonville also sells high-quality lard through their website. Try something new in 2022!

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Speaking of crispy, I discovered by accident that the secret to super crispy tofu is freezing it. Something sciency happens between throwing the container in the freezer when you get home from the store and defrosting it days or weeks later. That simple step is the key to crunchy-on-the-outside but still soft-on-the-inside tofu.

Events

SF Beer Week returns to the Bay Area and the Central Coast February 11-20, 2022.
(Via Pixabay)

After two long years, SF Beer Week, which includes the Central Coast, will return Feb. 11-20. Traditionally our local breweries and taprooms have pulled out all the stops to throw a week’s worth of massively fun celebrations, accompanied by wide-ranging, limited-edition brews, some created specifically for Beer Week.

In our current climate, I doubt we will experience the fanfare we did in previous years, but I’m sure our beer folk have something up their sleeves. (And if Emily Thomas of Santa Cruz Mountain Brewing wanted to throw a vaccinated-only Twisted Tasting, I’d be first in line.) Mark your calendars!

January is Mushroom Month in downtown Santa Cruz. A dozen businesses are offering fungi-focused specials throughout the month. Bookshop Santa Cruz is highlighting mushroom foraging books and gifts, the Penny Ice Creamery is offering an ice cream made with maple syrup-scented Candy Cap mushrooms, and Bad Animal and Barceloneta are featuring locally foraged mushroom specials on their menus, just to name a few. More information and a full list of participating businesses at downtownsantacruz.com.