Gabriella Cafe is a funky, classic little French bistro located in downtown Santa Cruz. The décor is eclectic – the tables don’t all match, the interior is a series of little rooms – the layout doesn’t really make a lot of sense – and the overall impression is sort of French countryside-y, if that makes any sense.
And the food? It’s fantastic. This is classic, perfectly executed bistro food – earthy, rich, simple (but sophisticated) and good. It’s a cozy, romantic restaurant and an ideal place to settle down and enjoy a really good, leisurely French meal. It’s also a place that takes very seriously the goal of working with the many area farms for their produce, and the results are fantastic.
Gabriella’s is on Cedar Street in downtown Santa Cruz. There are several parking lots and garages within a quick walk, so parking isn’t a problem, ever. Just be prepared to pay a few dollars.
Address: 910 Cedar Street, Santa Cruz CA 95060
Phone: (831) 457-1677
Interestingly, Gabriella’s is open every single day except Christmas. Hours are: Monday – Friday: 11:30-14:30 and 17:30-close; Saturday and Sunday: 11:00-15.00 for brunch and 17:30-close
Casual, funky and elegant. Local art from Santa Cruz artists adorn the walls, with fresh flowers and lamps and things. It’s very minimalist – there are no table linens, settings are simple and not fussy, and the entire place has a country feel. Although there are plenty of windows, and the place is airy and filled with light when it’s daylight outside, in the evening it becomes somewhat dark and more intimate. It’s also kind of quiet – this is the opposite of Akira – it’s a well-heeled, older clientele here, and it’s easy to have a conversation.
Efficient, personal and good. This is the exact opposite of a big, corporate-owned restaurant – it’s small, and owned by one person, who’s on the premises a lot, so the servers tend to stay with Gabriella’s for a long time, and really know their stuff.
Expensive. Dinner, drinks, dessert and coffee for two ran to about $150, including a tip.
Great. Just great. Bistro cooking like this is warm, family-style food, with robust dishes, easy, not fussy. There’s nothing at Gabriella’s that’s especially tricky, or that demands that you sit up and admire it. They don’t try to make castles out of their preparations. This is food you eat because you’re hungry, not because you need to do research for your doctorate in food preparation.
And it’s also food that draws heavily on local producers. Santa Cruz and the surrounding area, especially up along the coast, is filled with small, family-owned farms that produce everything from vegetables to cheese, eggs, poultry and so on. Gabriella’s makes full use of this bounty, and builds their menus around it. In fact, the menu lists who their farmers are, and is filled with regional names like Dirty Girl Produce, Live Earth Farms, Everett Family Farms and so on. These are the best the Bay Area has to offer, and it’s what Gabriella’s works with. They also have an extensive list of Northern California wines – again, in keeping with the goal of working with local producers whenever possible.
First appetizer was Brussels sprouts, with hazelnuts and apple gastrique. I hate Brussels sprouts, as anyone with any sense of taste would. Yet, a year ago, I had a dish of them that was made by someone who really knew what they were doing, and it was a revelation. These were the same. They were, I think, deep fried, and served with a sweet sauce, and they were wonderful. The sweetness of the sauce set up a fantastic contrast to the underlying bitterness of the sprouts, and the dish was wonderful.
The other appetizer was the beet salad which, first of all, was beautiful simply to look at. Slices of fresh, roasted local beets, along with wild arugula, honey-pistachio purée, candied citrus & herb chèvre. This wasn’t a salad – it was more like a small sculpture, and the results were delicious.
For entrees, we first ordered the pork shoulder, which came with leek – potato croquette & pear gastrique. The shoulder was wonderful – rich, earthy, and really deep flavor – it had obviously been marinated for a long time, then slowly cooked. The croquettes were a nice, fun counterpoint – light and crispy, and sort of a twist on the chicken croquettes people would get in school.
The second entrée was a ribeye steak, which came with grilled pears, Gorgonzola cream, green beans and mashed potatoes. Comfort food, this was, but damn good – a rich, savory dish, nicely set off by fresh, perfectly-cooked green beans.
Finally, dessert was a ganache cake, which was also terrific. Unlike the cakes I’ve had elsewhere, this wasn’t a leaden chocolate bomb that seemed to be half candy bar. It was a light-but-rich, solid cake, and the perfect finish to the meal, delivered without overpowering us with chocolate.
All in all, Gabriella Cafe is a classic French bistro, and the perfect place to go for a romantic dinner, or a great meal on a chilly night. Or anytime, for that matter.