.The Dazzling Pizzazz of Iveta 545

The new downtown Santa Cruz spot sizzles with locally sourced dishes, a thoughtful wine list and upscale ambiance

Sophisticated as jazz, vibrant as a sunset on the beach, Iveta 545 is busy tiptoeing into its place as Santa Cruz’s new dining hotspot.

Perched at the point where the downtown ends and the Boardwalk begins, the newest Iveta mirrors the footprint of its next-door neighbor, Big Basin Vineyard Tasting Room. Both spaces have smart and spacious outdoor terraces that practically join in a fringe of banana trees. In fact, Big Basin winery founder Bradley Brown and his family were taking their seats on Iveta’s patio as we arrived for our debut meal.

Savvy decor gives this new dining spot instant appeal. Lavish greenery in all the right spots, a neo-Cubist diptych holding down one wall, black marble-topped tables, very Italian-Brazilian moderne. The entire effect oozes confidence and restaurant savvy—just what we’d expect from the Bilanko family, who also bring warm proprietorship and restaurant expertise to Iveta Cafe on Delaware, as well as a store on the UCSC campus.

We began with crab cakes ($18) of local Dungeness crab with dijon mustard and lemon zest, sided by a tart sauce of dill yogurt, topped with capers and a fan of fresh fennel bulb. This appetizer was close to perfect; crab-intensive without bready filler, and designed for sharing. Fresh from the grill, the two crab cakes went beautifully with the tangy sauce and crisp slices of fennel. No wonder it’s already the most popular order in the house.

The crab cakes were doing a brisk business when we dined last weekend, as were other very patron-friendly items—a burger and fries, and a fried chicken app. The expertly honed menu includes a rib eye, seafood linguine and mushroom risotto entrees, as well as charcuterie, burrata with figs and flatbread appetizers. Everything’s organic and/or grass fed, and locally sourced when available. The entire vibe here is confident and upbeat, like the sensuous house playlist of classic bossa nova, including Sergio Mendes’s Brazil 66 and Chet Baker’s cool jazz. We loved settling into this sparkling new dining room, enjoying the sun’s glowing benediction.

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At the last minute, our kitchen informed us that ahi would substitute for the menu’s sea bass that evening. A felicitous choice. The beautifully cooked piece of fish, arriving on a small bed of diced squashed and garbanzo beans, lemon butter cream and topped with a sheaf of plump perfectly cooked asparagus ($27), was glamorous to see, delicious to consume.

We also shared a plate piled high with organic Brussels sprouts ($15), lightly fried and tossed with bits of apple, lean bacon and toasted almonds, all bronzed in a soy honey glaze. Yes, glazed sprouts are still having a moment, and these were terrific.

Through our meal, we explored the inventive wine list. An appealing and eccentric Vermentino from the playfully named Aslan family-run vineyard in Italy featured a Narnian lion on the label ($11). A generous pour of  Elyse C’est Si Bon, Napa red blend ($14) was equally engaging, with a well-balanced blend of grenache and syrah plus assorted other red grapes. Full-bodied, yet not heavy. All the house wines reflect the experienced taste of Iveta’s wine director Darlene De La Cerna, who was happy to provide us the colorful backstory on each wine. The entire staff here at the affordably upmarket Iveta 545 is friendly and knowledgeable. Dessert of vanilla panna cotta ($7) arrived in a glass goblet topped with utterly ripe strawberries and shaves of dark chocolate. The perfect finish for a great evening. Can’t wait to go back.

Iveta 545, 545 Pacific Ave., Santa Cruz. Open for lunch and dinner, 11am-8pm.

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