There are several very nice restaurants in Santa Cruz, but the one my brother-in-law and his partner had been most excited to take us to was Avanti. A charming little Mediterranean bistro in a strip mall off of Mission Street, this was one of the highlights of our trip. However, we went in the evening, it was pouring rain outside, and our table was dark. The pictures we took are unspeakably bad. So you shall have to envision the food I am about to describe, and I will appease my need to stick photos into posts by showing off some images I took from the ocean cliffs nearby.
Avanti was one of those places where I look at the menu and immediately want all of it, simultaneously. It was all perfectly seasonal and local and delicious-looking, and I couldn’t see how I could possibly choose. Eventually I calmed down and was able to focus, and we avoided some of the problem by ordering three antipasti for the table.
The first was bruschetta with beans and kale. Does that sound dull? It wasn’t. The beans were billed as cannellini, but they were the most enormous cannellinis I’d every seen, and instead of being mashed into a puree they were left whole and perched on crisp toasts. Ribbons of soft kale wove through the beans, with slivers of Serrano ham on top.
Our second plate was roasted asparagus topped with finely chopped black olives and boiled eggs. I always forget about the chopped-egg topping for asparagus, but it’s definitely a winner. Although the little crumbly bits left on the plate are hard to mop up with bread.
The third appetizer was fried calamari – not an unusual or particularly interesting dish these days, but it was nicely done and came with a sharp mignonette instead of a mayo-based sauce. The effect was rather like fried fish with malt vinegar.
For our entrees, we split the table. Two of us got the lamb special, and the other two ordered the boudin blanc. Everyone was happy. The lamb was fairly simple, with a green olive topping, bitter greens and croquettes of what might well have been leftover asparagus risotto, very hot and crisp. The boudin blanc was soft and juicy and savory and wonderful and came with rather decent roasted potatoes, but what I especially liked was the spicy, mustardy shredded carrot salad that came alongside. It was the perfect foil to the rich sausage.
I’m not often tempted by restaurant dessert menus, but I did my part to help eat the meyer lemon tart that was ordered. And the espresso was well made and hot.
You can read more about the joys of Avanti over at Christina Waters’ blog. Lucky her, she gets to eat there whenever she wants. And she has some photos that were actually taken in daylight.