Sleek and spacious, Alderwood Pacific offers a pared-down, casual take on its signature menu. Think playful hands-on rather than a palace of high dining. The extensive bar and high ceiling look great, with natural light pouring in from two directions.
Generously spaced tables ensure everybody can spread out amid the indigo walls and dramatic botanicals. The clientele runs the gamut from families with Patagonia-clad children to single students nursing cocktails and inhaling fries to the migratory flock of flagship Alderwood patrons who come to sample the short menu and long list of cocktails. Many burgers and assorted fried appetizers populate the central core of the menu.
Racks of golden featherlight tempura-fried onion rings were being dropped off at many tables. These gossamer creations are a bona fide signature of the Alderwood approach—American diner classics whipped up with costly ingredients and elaborate kitchen prep.
My companion went for the blockbuster Inside/Outside Burger ($18), while I decided to see what designer ingredients could do for a Smoked Beets & Baby Kale Salad ($18) plus a side of grilled Bavette steak for $21 more.
But first, let me praise the house Barolo Negroni, a soul-nourishing crimson elixir that arrived with a plump ice cube and a twist of orange ($15). Almost nothing in the world can’t be improved by adding Campari and gin.
But the astute addition of Barolo Chinato upped the game for two of my favorite liquids (the Campari, as mentioned earlier, and gin). The distinctive Chinato added a luxurious and full-bodied center filled with notes of bitter orange, gentian and cardamom (and probably more herbal aromatics). This cocktail was a study in savory bittersweetness—refreshing with a bold flavor landscape. In a word, yum.
My dinner partner ordered a well-made Rhône-style GSM red from Santa Barbara’s Land of Saints, a generous pour for $15. But I could tell he wanted my drink. So, I shared.
Bypassing the many fried appetizers on the menu, we were content with two main courses. The burger was a layering of smashed ground beef, well-done, plus onion jam, cheddar cheese, sweet pickles, Thousand Island and LTO corralled between two perfect hemispheres of sesame seed brioche bun.
Indeed, an opera of condiments, yet the anticipated juicy beef centerpiece failed to arrive. The two flat slabs of beef had been cooked into the next time zone. However, my perfectly cooked rare to medium rare grilled Bavette steak smothered the beets and greens with meaty juiciness.
A rococo dish, very intensely flavored—thanks to the nutty, sweet tahini and the assertive fried shallots—and loaded with smoked beets so good I couldn’t put my fork down. However, the overall effect of smoked, sticky-sweet and fried began to tire my palate halfway through. And while the salad offered plenty of crisp romaine and red radicchio, there was little in the way of baby kale.
The succulent beef was tasty, like meaty butter or buttery meat. And the portion that arrived as a “side” was enormous.
By the time we left to keep a movie date, the Patagonia kids had eaten everything on their plates, and the tech quartet in the front window was working on their second bottle of Windy Oaks Chardonnay. On to the next gig.
Alderwood Pacific, 1108 Pacific Ave., Santa Cruz. alderwoodsantacruz.com