Pleasure Point's new restaurant, Suda, has only been open since last Wednesday, and already it's showing great promise.
Co-owners Dan Vaskoboynikov (owner of Harbor Cafe) and Mike Pitt (owner of Castaways and Motiv) have transformed what was once the dimly-lit Mexican food joint, Rock of the Sea, into a different space entirely.
With a focus on healthy food, skillfully-mixed drinks and a good ambiance, Suda has the industrial feel of a Brooklyn loft: sleek cement floors, a full bar, and steel booths running the length of two walls. Lunch prices are modest, and surprisingly easier on the wallet than you would expect before cracking open the menu.
"We're trying to be casual in our price offering," said Pitt of the lunch fare, which runs around $8 - $15 and includes vibrant locally-sourced salads and soups, fish, beef or sweet potato tacos, a Suda burger and the "victory bowl" a quinoa bowl with mixed veggies, just to name a few.
On the third day Suda was open, the bar was a mix of hard-working types who shuffled in for a cold draft beer and a couple local girls wanting to catch the German soccer match on the flat screen above the bar, while the tables saw a smattering of families, old friends meeting for lunch and a couple curious tourists.
Starving, my friend and I decided immediately to order lettuce wraps, and we were happy we did. Crispy butter lettuce cups were filled with rice noodles, red onion, tofu, peanuts and ginger, and came with a side of peanut sauce to drizzle over the whole delicately-delicious concoction.
The Bombay Fish Tacos ($13) were three handmade corn tortillas filled with Indian spiced mahi mahi, black bean sour cream, shredded cabbage and mango chutney, (a unique spin on the ever-evolving fish tacos of California restaurants), and the Suda Salad ($9) was a mountain of fresh greens, grated beets, carrotsand sunflower sprouts served with a side of Greek yogurt-based jalapeno and tomatillo dressing. Both were generous lunch portions that left us with that guilt-free vibrancy you get after filling up on organic vegetables and lean organic proteins.
The vegetables at Suda are organic and sourced from local farms, and the fish and meats are line caught, sustainable, lean and hormone-free.
"All of the cards I collected at the Farmers Market I gave to my chef," said Pitt, who gives his chef, Anthony Diaz, free reign to choose what produce he orders from which farms. Diaz has worked at the Chaminade, and Lido on the Esplanade in Capitola (now closed), among other places.
"He's just really great to work with, good energy, knows everybody," Pitt said of Diaz.
Suda also recently got its own plot of land in Corralitos where they will be growing some of their own vegetables to put on the menu, and Pitt said they've already got a few different types of lettuce varieties thriving on their acre plot.
"Both Dan and myself like healthy food," said Pitt. "And of course we take inspiration from places like , but I eat out all of the time, and I've always wondered, 'Why isn't there a place like this in Santa Cruz?'"
"A place like this" embraces the healthy living food that Dharma's does, in a more upscale atmosphere. (And they don't mind if you whip out your cell phone or gaze at the TV during your time there.) It seems to fit right in with Pleasure Point's beloved hodgepodge of surf shops, pizza and tattoo parlors, cafes and gritty bars.
"Our town needs this," said Pitt. "That was kind of the whole idea, to have a new social hub on the Point," he said.
Pitt can be credited for remodeling Castaways in 2005, and then Motiv a few years later, both of which are doing (and looking) significantly better since he took over.
Vaskoboynikov and Pitt didn't meet until a few years ago at Burning Man. It was at that point that they realized two things: that they liked each others' businesses, and that they both dreamed of opening a healthy, affordable, restaurant and bar.
The cocktail list at Suda is tantilizing. A more social evening might find me back at Suda trying a "Chaos Theory" (crushed blackberries and mint, Hangar One Vodka, lychee and the floral notes of St. Germain) or the "Suda 75", (garden fresh basil and cucumber mixed with the herbal aromas of lavender and Blade Gin, and a bubbly topper of champagne and citrus).
On July 2, Suda will begin serving dinner, as well as breakfast and lunch. The dinner menu will be served from 5 p.m. until 9 p.m., and a late-night bar menu will be served until around 11 p.m., including classic bar grub, like burgers, mac and cheese and tacos.
"Then as long as there are people there we'll keep the bar open a little later," said Pitt.
Suda means "heart" in Estonian, but neither of the owners are Estonian, nor are they serving Estonian food. Estonia does happen to be the country in the middle of Vaskoboynikov's Russian background and Pitt's Swedish background, though, and the "heart" speaks to the passion the two owners share for healthy California Cuisine and drink mixology.