.Spiritual Awakening

Venus goes beachside at Rio del Mar

The sleek new bar was already full. So was the outdoor patio, and the new family-friendly banquettes along the oceanview windows. In short, the newly spiffed-up, redesigned and reimagined Venus Spirits Cocktails & Kitchen Beachside is already a wild hit with locals and visitors. And on a Wednesday!

Melo and I got one of the few remaining tables in the spacious main room and enjoyed the sight of owner Sean Venus working the crowd, greeting patrons, and making sure tables were bussed. It was that busy. While we enjoyed the action, and the glimpse of a private party room that had been carved out of the original space, we made our drinks orders. On a previous occasion we’d enjoyed one of the house specialties, Beach Don’t Kill My Vibe, a bit of liquid poetry involving Venus gin No. 01, strawberry puree, lemon and basil, so we explored further down the Cocktails menu.

I’m a big fan of the Gin+Tonic with No. 01 (slightly less botanical than No.2 or the current seasonal gin), so that’s where I placed my bet. Melo, always a big David Lynch fan, wanted to try the  Laura Palmer, a libation our server assured us was the current favorite with Venus regulars (both $14). My pretty G&T came adorned with a sprig of lavender, a scattering of juniper berries and a slice of orange. Everything is fragrant and refreshing.

The Laura Palmer was aromatic with a beautiful magenta hibiscus tea reduction, a splash of rose water, seltzer and lemon slice, added to the flagship No. 01 gin. These are easy-to-love cocktails that cry out for slow sipping and lots of gossip. Only a few sips later and our shared appetizer of burrata with grilled peaches and heirloom tomatoes arrived ($18). The word is “wow.”

A sensational way to start dinner, and one of those killer summer pairings of cool and fire-grilled ingredients. The white sphere of creamy mozzarella sat surrounded by a shallow pool of mint oil, Friends in Cheeses jam, and toasted almonds, with a trio of toast points of Companion sourdough on the side. We cleaned that beautiful plate in record time. The noise level rose along with the tide, visible gleaming in the setting sun just beyond the front parking area.

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Kudos to Venus. This is an attractive remodel of the original room. Next came two memorable mains, a delicious creation of crispy seared sea bass ($38) and the house specialty, lobster roll ($36 that evening, but market price varies).

Cutting to the chase let me just say that the lobster roll was outstanding. Better than outstanding. It was the Platonic Form of lobster rolls on a soft, toothsome brioche roll. Nuggets of moist lobster had been tossed in a tarragon aioli and sherry vinaigrette, but not to the point of obliterating the fresh sweet lobster flavor. Enormous house-made potato chips, quite salty, filled the other side of the large platter.

We shared this fabulous entree, just as we did the plump sea bass, sitting on a freshly sauteed landscape of squid, including teeny tentacles (irresistible!), oyster mushrooms, tomatoes, and emerald broccoli, the entire layering of seafoods and veggies encircled by a thick swirl of avocado crema.

Seriously wonderful food, so wonderful that it overcame the noise level that had built over the course of our visit. The line for tables was out the door by the time we left. One touch of Venus is never enough. Can’t wait to go back.

Venus Spirits Cocktails & Kitchen, Beachside

131 Esplanade, Aptos

Open Wed-Sun, 5-9pm. Reservations for sure. venusspirits.com/vsckbeachside


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