EATERS DIGEST: Superlative seafood, Venus Beachside opens and can the Perg rise again?

Oysters Bienville are prepared at Venus Spirits Cocktails & Kitchen Beachside.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Enjoy your Independence Day weekend with local seafood recommendations, a free treat at the Boardwalk and weekend events for craft beer lovers.

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Lily

Everyone working in the restaurant industry is gearing up for a busy weekend, and the rest of us are looking forward to a few days off. If you’re hoping to relax with a great meal, I have a few seafood-focused recommendations, including a crab tartine at The Farm Bakery & Café in Aptos, a silky ahi tuna carpaccio at Trestles in Capitola and the oysters Bienville at the new Venus Spirits Cocktails & Kitchen Beachside. There, more than one dish impressed — be sure to check out my story on its Southern-inspired opening menu, upcoming renovations and what this second restaurant location for Venus Spirits means to sleepy Rio Del Mar.

Also, the Perg is for sale, and I think it would make a killer restaurant space in the right hands. Are you the right person for the job? Plus, two events for craft beer lovers this Saturday.

Read on, and have a happy and safe Independence Day.

News

Does anyone have any interest in reviving a piece of old Santa Cruz? If you do, the historic building that housed Café Pergolesi for 28 years — it closed in August 2017 — is for sale and can be yours for just under $3 million. Apparently, the current owners became overwhelmed with refurbishing the historic house, which includes a three-bedroom apartment above the restaurant space and a 1,050-square-foot basement.

I’d love to see someone with a whole lot of vision — and money, that’s definitely a must — create a unique restaurant experience. The space has an unusual amount of outdoor seating, which is a premium feature in our post-pandemic dining landscape. This person could hold exclusive parties and speakeasies in the basement, and either live above the restaurant or create a luxury apartment. The south end of downtown Santa Cruz will see numerous renovations in the next few years, including the Cruz Hotel and Pacific Station South, that should bring new life and new customers to the area. This iron is hot; who’s going to strike?

‘Tis the season to hang out at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. I make at least one annual pilgrimage this time of year to ride the Giant Dipper, spend way too much money losing at games in the arcade and to enjoy one of my beloved corn dogs. Yes, your food and drink reporter loves a corn dog slathered in French’s mustard in the summertime. And now through the end of October, if you purchase four corn dogs at the Surf City Grill — located at Entrance 3, by the Speed Bumps ride — you get a free order of fries. I don’t recommend eating four corn dogs by yourself, though, even for free french fries. This year, you can wash it all down with a can of Boardwalk Dreamin’, a limited edition West Coast IPA created by Humble Sea Brewing Co. for the Boardwalk.

Eat this

Recently, my closest girlfriends and I celebrated a special birthday at Trestles Restaurant in Capitola. I hadn’t been back since last fall, and was thrilled that we managed to snag the outdoor table around the fire pit. We zealously ordered what felt like half the menu, and two dishes in particular stood out. In the ahi tuna carpaccio, crispy chunks of tempura avocado and slivers of fresh radish and jalapeño lent welcome textural contrast and flavor to the rich, silky raw tuna. We considered ordering a second one, but just then the next wave of dishes came to the table, including a memorable asparagus Caesar salad. No romaine lettuce here — just long, dark green shoots of tender asparagus, peppery dandelion greens, salty cured egg yolk and crunchy pistachios, bitter, earthy, creamy and umami-packed. Asparagus is nearing the end of its season, so visit soon. More info at trestlesrestaurant.com.

I have to admit, while I adore raw oysters, I typically don’t care for them cooked. It’s too easy to overcook them, which results in an unappetizing, tough, metallic taste. But at Venus Spirits Cocktails & Kitchen Beachside, I took a chance on the oysters Bienville and was delighted. Underneath the crispy shrimp, morel mushroom and bacon topping was a just-set oyster that was still creamy and briny. It was one of several memorable dishes I enjoyed at the newly opened restaurant in Rio Del Mar. Read about my experience and what it means for the growing Aptos fine-dining scene.

The Crab Tartine at The Farm Bakery & Café in Aptos
(Lookout Santa Cruz)

Husband-and-wife team Meg and Rolo Igno took over the The Farm Bakery, Café & Gifts in Aptos at the beginning of 2020, and I’m impressed with the new menu. I’m fast working my way through their entire sandwich board and will soon have to move onto brunch items, then the bakery … someone, send help. Last Sunday, the Crab Tartine hit the spot. The open-faced sandwich was made on a thick, fluffy slice of Texas toast, piled with sweet crab salad, dill and pickled onions. Simple, but just perfect — I have no notes. View The Farm’s new menu at thefarmbakerycafe.com.

Events

Free Day, Discretion Brewing’s annual Independence Day celebration, will be held Saturday from noon to 9 p.m. at the Soquel brewery. “Free” refers to “Freedom,” not free beer, unfortunately. In keeping with its annual tradition, Discretion will release a West Coast-style Free Day IPA on draft and in cans. New this year, proceeds from the event will support Keep Our Clinics, a national campaign that supports independent community-based reproductive health clinics. Owner Rob Genco says Discretion will make a donation after the event, but Alcoholic Beverage Control prevents the brewery from saying how much, as it could encourage people to drink — heaven forbid! Enjoy your pints while listening to all-day music, playing beer garden games and perusing a maker’s market of local artists. More info at discretionbrewing.com.

Other Brother Beer Co. is making a trip up from Seaside for a pop-up Saturday at Soif Wine Bar in Santa Cruz. In addition to Soif’s elegant wines, the brewery team will pour a special beer flight and cook up drive-in-style smashburgers and fries. Check it out on Walnut Avenue and find more info at soifwine.com.

Have you ever visited the UC Santa Cruz Farm? Here’s a good opportunity — on Sunday, enjoy a free guided tour of the 30-acre organic farm, including greenhouses, orchards, garden beds and row crops, all overlooking Monterey Bay. Visitors will also learn about the history of the site and organic farming and gardening techniques. More information at calendar.ucsc.edu.

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