.Mentone’s Lunch Menu Pops with House-Cured Salmon and More

Warm weather and Mentone lunch on the weekends. What’s not to like? So Melody and I met up at the lively Aptos Village dining room, designed and fine-tuned by Manresa’s David Kinch, to sample the new lunch menu. The bar was already full, and the spacious interior was starting to fill up—not to mention the covered outdoor patio—when we arrived.

The menu is fully dialed to patrons’ most desired dishes, with a few special surprises, and frankly we had trouble making choices. Salads, a few choice salume, olives, Manresa bread offerings, a couple of pastas and of course those outrageous pizzas.

I passed up a cocktail, since I had to get back to my computer after lunch, but Melody made the sacrifice and ordered a light and delicate sparkling wine from Closerie des Lys ($14). I snuck a sip while she was studying the menu and approved the summery bubbles. After extensive discussion, we settled on three items to be shared: a Caesar salad ($17)—probably the most popular non-pizza item on the list, salmon appetizer ($22) and a pizza involving house-made soppressata ($24).

The house-cured salmon slices arrived like pale peach satin, laid out on a plate next to toast points of Manresa brioche (oh God), and a small porcelain ramekin packed with fresh farmer’s cheese and a drizzle of olive oil. The appetizer worked like a rich deconstruction of bagel with cream cheese and lox. The salmon was silky, the cheese ultra creamy, the thick toast points, flawless. The entire plate was somehow both delicate yet opulent—as was the Caesar salad that followed, a tossed eden of mixed chicories, faintly bitter and crunchy, studded with lots of buttery, nutty Cravero parmigiano and definitive croutons (large, torn shards of toasted baguette, Manresa again) all slathered with an outrageous anchovy dressing ($17). Even though we came to bury Caesar, there was still enough to take half the bowlful home. Rich and intense was the theme of our lunch. The pizza was the sort of simple luxury that reinforces Mentone’s reputation. Tasting like a cross between a lean salame and prosciutto, the vibrant soppressata stood up to the hot red peppers and a dusting of parmesan and pecorino cheeses that studded the entire surface of the pizza. The crust was sheer poetry, ethereal yet substantial, kissed with a patina of oak charring. We finally shared a huge portion of dense chocolate gelato ($7) that was so rich we could only manage a few bites. A few incredible bites.

Mentone serves lunch indoors and outdoors, Saturdays and Sundays. Noon-2:30pm. Reservations required. mentonerestaurant.com.

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Designer Drink of the Week

That would be the bold and refreshing Lemon Tonic Water ($6.99/4 pack) from Fever-Tree. Tucked into the diminutive 6.8 fl.oz bottles is bright and tingly high-citrus flavor. The undertone of tonic is bracing all on its own, and I suspect that a few generous splashes of gin (Venus? Good idea!) would bring it up to all-star cocktail status. The Fever-Tree folks also do a mouth-pampering Lime and Kuzu bubbly water that is an oral revelation. Get you some and drink it down. This would be a great addition to any drinks menu for those who like their liquids sans d’alcohol.

Greek to You

Achilles, the new fast casual Mediterranean eatery has opened (on March 20), and is now wowing the folks in the Seabright region of Soquel Avenue (in the former Taco Bell location) with pita pocket sandwiches, chicken shawarma and gyro beef done the way you like it. Go on over and get acquainted. The official name is Achilles by the Sea, 1404 Soquel Ave. Open daily (except Monday) 11am-9pm.

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