Hello food people. Welcome to Eaters Digest. Sadly, we start the weekend with news that another longtime Santa Cruz favorite is closing – Vasili’s Greek Restaurant will be closing after this weekend. But there’s good news on the horizon, as chef Lalita Kaewsawang of Thai pop-up restaurant Hanloh seeks a permanent home for her new restaurant, Jealous Chicken.
As we approach spring, the calendar fills with gastronomic events. Check out my picks below, including the return of an in-person Clam Chowder Cook-Off this weekend.
Sad news for the Santa Cruz restaurant community: Greek restaurant Vasili, a Mission Street staple since the early 1990s, will be closing its doors this weekend after 31 years. Owner Julie White bought the restaurant from the eponymous owner in 2003 and has been offering traditional Greek recipes like keftethakia meatballs, moussaka and spanakopita for 19 years.
“It was a dream come true for me when I bought Vasili 19 years ago and had a great time carrying on the legacy. Now is the time for me to change,” White says in a Facebook post. A waiter at the restaurant told me that Vasili’s had been for sale for a while, and a new restaurateur recently arrived with a generous offer. “The best way anyone said it to me was ‘Congratulations and condolences,'” the waiter said, adding that the new owners plan to open an Indian restaurant in the space next month.
White hasn’t returned my calls at press time to confirm these details, but she has publicly stated that she retains ownership of the name and her recipes, so maybe fans will once again be ruined with their dishes. preferred in the future. I know I would buy gallons of his creamy garlicky tzatziki sauce from the back of a car if needed.
The last days of Vasili follow the recent closures of So if, Mutari and Your place. The restaurant is open until Sunday if you want to stop by to say goodbye to White and enjoy one last roast lamb gyro or a plate of chicken souvlaki.
Chief Lalita Kaewsawang plans to expand his popular Thai food pop-up and restaurant business to a physical space in Santa Cruz, and is actively looking for the right spot. She has already chosen a name: Jealous Chicken. The name comes from a northern Thai dish, and Kaewsawang feels the quirky image resonates with her own personality and the playful energy she infuses into her recipes. It will be the first restaurant for the Manresa alum, who also apprenticed at the now-closed Grace in Chicago, which at one point also boasted three Michelin stars.
At Jealous Chicken, Kaewsawang plans to expand its menu of traditional Thai dishes like kao soi, laab and som tum, to include additions from across Southeast Asia. She envisions a sit-down restaurant that offers exceptional lunch and dinner, complete with a colorful cocktail bar. I’ve been an avid fan of Kaewsawang ever since it started appearing in local breweries in 2017. Every dish on its seasonal menu of vibrant Thai dishes is a feast for the senses. At the start of the pandemic, it turned to ready meals and meal kits, which I also liked. I am thrilled to soon be able to enjoy his food on a regular basis. If you know of a space that might be suitable for this vision, contact Kaewsawang at hanloh.com.
Ever since the temperature dropped, I’ve been craving soup dumplings from Shun Feng, my go-to Chinese restaurant on River Street. I still smile when I remember explaining soup dumplings to a friend a few years ago. “Soup dumplings, like dumplings in soup?” she guessed innocently. I laughed. “No, it’s the opposite.” The dumplings are, somewhat magically, filled with soup, and when lifted from their bamboo steamer basket with chopsticks, balanced on a spoon, you can bite into the dumpling and suck up the delicious broth from within. Or eat them all at once. So satisfying and fun.
Cruz Kitchen & Taps, one of the newest restaurants in town, is having a grand opening party Saturday from 4-9 p.m. Since opening last month in the downtown space that was once the Saturn Café, the establishment has generated considerable buzz for the two chefs Dameon DeworkenHigh-end island-inspired dishes feature comfort food, like fish sauce and chili-infused chicken wings and blackened basa with red pepper and yuzu sauce, and its Santa Cruz-inspired renovations that feature artwork by more than a dozen local artists. Saturday, the Santa Cruz Mustang Club will spruce up the parking lot with at least a half-dozen new and vintage cars, and costumed characters from Telegrams and Party Jams will “add a lively party vibe,” says the Cruz Kitchen co-owner Mia Thorn. Food and drink specials will be held throughout the day and music will be provided by a band or DJ to be determined. Said Thorn, “We’re so excited to have a great time and serve great food in Santa Cruz.” More info on cruzkitchenandtaps.com.
Local chefs and home cooks are sharpening their knives, gathering their secret ingredients and putting on their game faces as they prepare for this weekend’s Clam Chowder Cook-Off at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. This friendly competition has been an annual tradition for 40 years and is an important fundraiser for Santa Cruz Parks & Recreation. On Saturdays, “amateur” cooks – that is, non-professionals – compete against each other, and restaurant-supported professional cooks compete against each other on Sundays. Pick up a tasting kit with six $12 tasting tickets and vote for the best strains in Manhattan or Boston. More information at beachboardwalk.com.
Santa Cruz Burger Week started on Wednesday and will continue through Tuesday. This event is the little brother of Santa Cruz Restaurant Week and follows a similar format. Twenty-six participating restaurants are offering special burgers for $10-$15 and showcasing either good value, an exceptional limited-time creation worth seeking out, or both. I have my eye on the burgers at Crepe Place, all of which are wrapped in one of their signature crepes, and I’m intrigued by Solaire at the Peanut Butter Burger at the Paradox Hotel. Zachary’s Monte Cristo Burger, built on salty French toast with bacon, cheddar, grilled onions and barbecue sauce, looks like it could kill me, but I’m willing to take the risk. Read all the menus on santacruzrestaurantweek.com.
Whiskey lovers, mark your calendars for a special collaboration dinner and tasting event at Alderwood Restaurant in Santa Cruz on March 9. Jeffrey Wall partners with House of Suntory Whiskey to create a special four-course menu that showcases the craftsmanship of Japan’s premier whiskey brand and our region’s coastal cuisine. Throughout the meal, Jonathan Armstrong, House of Suntory brand ambassador, will guide guests through a tasting of four whiskies. This event, priced at $250 per person, is limited to 40 guests. Buy your ticket at explorestock.com.