515 Kitchen and Cocktails

Been There, Done That – 515 Kitchen and Cocktails

I increasingly have a real problem with restaurants that are not, at the end of the day, comfortable. When I go out to eat somewhere, I am not interested in putting up with stuff. This includes tiny, tippy little tables, a lot of noise, uncomfortable chairs, or interior design that looks great and hip and trendy and interesting, but is not an especially pleasant place to actually sit and eat and talk.

515 Kitchen and Cocktails in Santa Cruz, doesn't have this problem.

515 is comfortable. It’s a place that makes you want to settle in and stay, where you are … there isn’t any other word for it … comfortable.

First of all, the seating consists of either banquettes, overstuffed chairs or actual couches – you know, like in someone’s living room. The place is relatively quiet, and dark, and intimate. There are three different dining areas and two bars, all packed into one two-story house, so you can eat in whatever kind of setting you want. This includes, by the way, a really lovely second-story outdoor patio, with fire pits that keep the place warm when the ocean air rolls in and it gets chilly at night.

515 also has some fun, quirky touches. Again, two bars, one on each floor. The lower bar projects old movies and commercials on the wall, without sound, which makes for an interesting backdrop. Your check arrives not inside one of those dumb little portfolios, but tucked into a book, into which previous diners have written comments and marginalia. The kitchen is on the ground floor, so servers are constantly running up and down the stairs. And, as in all Santa Cruz restaurants, the servers are entertaining. The evening we were there, our server was a young woman who was a rock climber/photographer/waitress.

The Location

515 is on the corner of Cathcart and Cedar streets, just off of Pacific Avenue, right in the middle of downtown Santa Cruz. It is kitty-corner from two very big municipal parking lots, so parking should never be a problem, although be forewarned that it’s also not free.

Address: 515 Cedar Street, Santa Cruz, CA

Phone: (831) 425-5051

The Hours

4:00 pm to 10:30 pm every day for dinner. Small plates and the bar are available until midnight.

The Ambiance

As I’ve said, 515 is comfortable. People tend to settle in couches or big chairs and stay put, or settle down on the patio with appetizers and drinks. Because it’s so intimate, you may also end up chatting with whoever is sitting at the table next to you. The evening we were there, we sat next to a technician who was out on a date with a professor of Feminist Studies, and we ended up with an invitation to a house party. It also tends to become something of a student scene later in the evening, with kids coming down from the University of California at Santa Cruz until by 10 or so, it seems like it’s all college students.

The Service

Great. The servers work in teams, handing tables off as the meal progresses, but they’re well-coordinated and good. They’re also fun – we had a good time speculating with our server about why a guy, who was talking loudly about it at another table, had gotten dumped by his girlfriend … for another woman. Hmm.

The Price

Pretty expensive. $90 for two, including drinks and dessert. The portions are adequate, but not enormous.

The Food

The food is terrific. Dinner is organized into small plates, which is a fancy name for appetizers, and include three different cheese platters. Entrees include eight different kinds of salad, plus a number of pasta, meat and contemporary Italian specialties. There is also a massive cocktail menu, and beer and/or wine pairings are suggested for each entrée. This is fairly serious cooking – presentation is nice, and there is always an interesting mix of seasonings and elements to each dish.

We started with a small plate of beer-steamed mussels, which came with a nice pile of pommes frites on top. The mussels were excellent – hot, garlicky, and in a rich broth, which also went really well with the frites, which were salty and hot. For dinner, we ordered the pork tenderloin, which was basically a grilling demonstration. It was perfectly done – because pork can be lean, it sometimes ends up dry, but this was art – flavorful, flawlessly grilled, and nicely paired with fingerling potatoes and grilled asparagus. A Dijon gremolata tied everything together, which was a nice, creative touch – it gave the dish a little bit of a bite, and gremolata is usually something you see with ossobucco.

We also ordered the bavette steak, which was a miracle – tender, buttery, exactly right. A bavette is a cousin to a skirt steak, which means it had been seriously marinated for a long, long time, which made it rich. This came with au gratin potatoes made with Gouda, and Swiss Chard as a vegetable – again, a nice contrast to the potentially over-savory combination of gouda and marinated steak. For dessert, we had a pound cake made with crystallized ginger, which was fantastic, along with a big pot of French-press coffee. The pound cake was especially good, as it wasn’t the usual yellow lump of butter and sugar, but infused with pieces of candied ginger, with a delicate, light flavor. As with all things at the 515, we took our time, and were surprised, at the end, to find that we’d been there for two hours.

On second thought -- no we weren’t.

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515 Kitchen and Cocktails
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Published On: Thursday, June 20th, 2013