Owner and chef Ayoma Wilen took the reins at Pearl of the Ocean in 2010, and that year, the restaurant was named Best New Restaurant by both the Santa Cruz Weekly and Santa Cruz Good Times. Focusing on fresh, organic ingredients, Ayoma oversees the vegetarian-focused menus that outline delectable arrangements of locally sourced ingredients, including some culled from the area’s farmers markets, and Sri Lankan spices. These arrangements are manifested in dishes as colorful and complex as a 20-sided Rubik’s Cube. Pearl of the Ocean’s staff also pours a variety of libations and non-alcoholic beverages, such as the spicy chai tea, and their signature drink, Kiss of the Island Princess, is composed of Montresor Prosecco, hibiscus flower, and love potion.
Chef Bhupender Singh embraces centuries of Indian culinary traditions when penning recipes for Ambrosia India Bistro’s menu, filling the pages with dishes from the northern and southern extremes of the subcontinent. Although his cooks can adjust the heat by tailoring the number of fiery chili peppers they add and plate-sized sweaters they knit, Chef Singh ensures that ginger, turmeric, and cilantro still lend their distinctive flavors to the entrees. Lamb kebabs roast inside a clay tandoor oven and chicken simmers in aromatic curry sauces, but the chefs also commit to preparing a wide variety of vegan and vegetarian dishes, including slow-cooked yellow lentils and sautéed cottage cheese with onions and bell peppers.
Every day, the aroma of smoky spices wafts from the imported, wood-fired tandoor ovens at Tandoori Oven’s locations. To a soundtrack of upbeat techno, reggae, and bhangra music imported from UK clubs, servers deliver plates of lamb biryani loaded with basmati rice, bell peppers, cashews, and secret spices alongside mango lassis blended with housemade yogurt. The healthful signature wrap is stuffed with chicken or lamb that’s been marinated for 24 hours in yogurt and spices and then baked in the tandoor oven and wrapped in soft naan with mint chutney and tamarind. Local athletes dine at Tandoori Oven, a sponsor of the TRIbe Triathlon Club, after workouts for meals made to order with lean meats and served in participation trophies.
A stable of cooks inside Bombay Oven's kitchen synthesizes spices in authentic, finely crafted Indian dishes. While perusing the dinner menu, kick-start your appetite with the Jazzy chops, lamb chops marinated in ginger, garlic, and papaya and fired in a tandoor oven ($11). A plate of fresh tiger-prawn curry ($18) or chicken vindaloo ($13) can be cast in the leading role for carnivores, while veggie moile ($11) or aloo gobhi ($11) cater to herbivores and those with diets less meaty than a novel written by a kindergartner. Crisp, white linens serve as a blank canvas for artfully plated dishes that arrive in gourmet fashion, complemented by contemporary dinnerware and ornamental garnishes.
Wood- or charcoal-heated tandoors imbue traditional Indian dishes with smoky, yet succulent, flavor by roasting skewered meats and vegetables at temperatures as high as 750 degrees. At Emperor of India, the menu features a variety of tandoori entrees, including vegetable kebabs as well as yogurt-, herb-, and spice-marinated chicken.
Tandoori Bistro is an oasis off the Almaden Expressway that offers subtle spice syntheses to cylindrical oven groupies. After perusing the menu, set the naan-shaped stage for the main course with starters such as samosa chat ($4.95), which stuffs potatoes and peas into a dinner-appropriate pastry served with garbanzo beans and chutneys, or the tandoori chicken salad ($6.95), a citrus-dressed collection of sliced chicken tikka and organic greens. Tandoor dishes are served with rice and house salad, and include the tandoori chicken ($9.95) and the seekh kabab ($10.95), minced, spiced lamb meat cooked on skewers. Main courses like the punjabi chicken curry are also flanked by rice and house salad.