Review of Caruso’s Restaurant at Santa Cruz

Review of Caruso’s Restaurant at Capitola, Santa Cruz

Caruso’s is, if not the very best Italian restaurant in the Santa Cruz area, damn close. It and La Casa Nostra are neck-and-neck, although they’re as different as two places could be. LCN is big, expansive and rural, with several different eating areas tucked into the middle of a redwood grove in the middle of nowhere. Caruso’s is tiny, and in the middle of downtown Capitola, tucked into a remarkably crappy shopping mall.

Beth and I have a fairly limited amount of experience actually eating in Italy. What we did notice, however, was that the sheer quality of the ingredients, and hence, the dishes was amazing. Everything was good. The ingredients were all fresh, top-quality, and every dish was expertly prepared from scratch. Caruso’s is like that.

It’s also one of those Italian places where the owner is the chef, where he’s on the premises, where he basically guides you through your meal with a combination of charm, expertise, aggression and humor. Sometimes it seems like that kind of environment could be kind of annoying, but at Caruso’s, it’s great. Not only did we have a terrific meal, but we made some new friends, and we learned something about Italian cooking. You don’t say that every day, but it’s a great restaurant.

The Location

Address: 115 San Jose Ave, Capitola, California 95010

Phone: 831-465-9040

The Hours

Tues -- Sun, 17:00– 21:00

The Ambiance

Like something out of a movie. The place is tiny – I would guess there are eight tables, maybe. They’re crammed in up against the kitchen, which is just across the counter. The owner, Davide Caruso, will introduce himself, talk about his food, and personally oversee the preparation of your meal. He does it himself. It’s amazing.

The Service

Great, and about as personal as it’s possible for it to be. It’s like eating in someone’s home, really.

The Price

Moderate – $95, including drinks, a shared appetizer and one dessert. Portions are moderate also.

The Food

Outstanding. Classic Tuscan cuisine, prepared personally and by someone who really, really knows what they’re doing. As part of the meal, for example, we received little mini-lessons on how to properly make tiramisu, for example. Most cooks soak the cookies in the coffee for too long, which makes the dessert soggy and heavy. The trick is to use cold coffee, and swish the cookies through it once. That way you have a lighter flavor, the inside of the cookie isn’t mushy, and the dessert isn’t as heavy.

This attention to detail was present throughout the meal. For instance, the bread and olive oil combination was wonderful, too. The bread was great, and the olive oil was infused with roasted garlic – cloves that had been peeled, and roasted in an oven until their sweetness came out and the garlicky taste receded. I’ve read about this, but never had it. This is a wonderful, classic Italian preparation, and it’s also a LOT of work. It was worth it.

The appetizer was an amazing buffalo mozzarella wrapped in prosciutto, served on toast. Everything was right with this dish, to the point that we forgot to take a picture of it before digging in. Sorry. The mozzarella was amazing – light and creamy and fresh beyond belief. The prosciutto was amazing also, and the toast it was served on, for once, was not too crunchy. It was just right, which meant that the mozzarella could be used as a spread on the toast, as well as simply eaten. And when you’d finished off the prosciutto, you still had the green salad it was served on, with the remainder of the mozzarella acting as a kind of dressing. Incredible.

The first entrée was one of the specials – a chicken breast sautéed with garlic, sage and white wine, and finished in the oven with prosciutto and mozzarella. Simple, right? Right. But done by an expert, also incredibly, mouth-wateringly good. This was no ordinary chicken breast. It was light and juicy and unbelievably good.

My entrée was spaghetti with seafood – spaghetti di mare. This is a classic Italian dish, and Caruso’s does it right. Perfectly cooked spaghetti, with clams, mussels, and assorted other oceanic goodies in a garlic-based sauce that complemented the ingredients without overpowering them. Very nice.

Finally, dessert was that Italian classic, tiramisu. Unlike a typical tiramisu, this was served in a lovely little glass container – sort of like a parfait cup. It was also light rather than being gloppy and heavy, and went beautifully with two espressos as a just-right ending to the meal. One cautionary note, however – I specifically and repeatedly asked for a decaf espresso, and was then up most of the night. Caveat emptor, I guess.

If you have a big party, want a certain degree of anonymity, or want the kind of place where they just bring you your food and don’t bug you, then Caruso’s isn’t for you. However, if you want an amazing, basically homemade Italian dinner, in an intimate, personal setting (this place would be terrific for a date) then this is the place for you. It was for us.

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Caruso’s, Santa Cruz
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Published On: Tuesday, May 6th, 2014