Saturday, November 5, 2011

Malabar - An all-vegetarian restaurant in Santa Cruz

Santa Cruz, CA is a beautiful city in coastal California, home to the famous beach boardwalk and the University of California at Santa Cruz (UCSC). As V has been promising me for a while, we took off work on a beautiful fall day to explore UCSC. The campus is really quite unique, nestled among coastal redwoods and overlooking the Pacific ocean. There are several miles of walking trails in the redwoods where one can easily get lost. The campus also has famous arboretum which is where we started our day. We ate a packed picnic lunch at the arboretum, where the sun peeked out once in a while to warm us from the chilly ocean breeze.

After walking for a couple of hours, we started thinking about dinner. So from the campus, we drove to the downtown area where we walked around and got a "Pumpkin Spice Latte" (our favorite fall treat) at the Santa Cruz Roasting Company.

We had already picked out Malabar, an all-vegetarian restaurant, for our dinner. Other than being an all-vegetarian restaurant, it also had rave reviews both on yelp and Actually we tried to have lunch at Malabar the last time we were in Santa Cruz, but unfortunately they were not open. It seems that they might be open for lunch as well now. But just to be sure, it would be better to call them in advance to make sure they are open.

The first thing I noticed about Malabar is the pleasant ambience. The lighting is muted and the hand-painted Buddhist-themed murals on the walls are tasteful and zen, as are the big copper vessels with fresh flowers. We found out from our waiter (actually one of the owners) that the mural paintings are actually done by his wife.

The menu is extensive and surprisingly creative, deriving from Indian, and Southeast Asian cuisines. The owners are from Srilanka (or Ceylon as the British called this tear-shapedisland in the Indian Ocean to the south of India). Malabar seems to be entirely a family-run business with 3 brothers running around doing all the work, while the father (I assumed) taking care of the till. Other than the mother, no one even smiled, but that did not mean they were not helpful.

In fact, our waiter was very helpful in suggesting dishes that our spicy palate would enjoy. He recommended the Jalapeno Pakoras for starters, an excellent choice and we devoured every last bit of it with the delicious mint-coconut chutney.

For the main course, again with our waiter's help, we ordered the "Black Pumpkin curry" and the "Kofta India" with brown rice. Between the two, we definitely enjoyed the Kofta India much more than the curry which was on the sweeter side. The Kofta India had green pea and cashew koftas and other vegetables in a spicy coconut milk tomato curry sauce. With the cashews, peas and coconut milk being on the sweeter side, I was afraid the dish would be too sweet, but in fact it spiced just right, and the koftas were just delicious. The Black Pumpkin curry had huge pieces of kabocha squash (my favorite winter squash) in a curry sauce, garnished with delicious pieces of coconut grilled with ghee.

The portions were fairly generous and we actually brought back some leftovers, mostly the curry. They do not serve dessert unless you call ahead. The waiter said that his wife makes delicious homemade ice cream with honey. We promised him that we would be back with friends and definitely call ahead for the ice cream! We found the service to be fairly attentive and friendly.

The bill came out to around $36 with tips which is not too much if you consider what the other upscale exclusive vegetarian restaurants like "Cafe Millennium" in the City charge. We would have loved to try their interesting drinks (like the Banana Saffron Lassi and Hibiscus cooler), but were not in the mood after the full cups of pumpkin spice latte. We are so excited about our new all-vegetarian restaurant find that we are definitely going to be back soon with friends to try their other dishes... and their drinks!

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