Some years ago, Muriel Loubiere was building an enviable career around New York City as the creator of a menu that had received the New York Times's coveted "Excellent" rating. And though she uprooted everything to relocate to California, one can't really blame her—she was in search of warmer climes, and Aptos's location beside Soquel Cove was a welcome reminder of her upbringing on the French Riviera. It was there that she opened her own restaurant, Au Midi, where she prepares dishes that elegantly fuse French and Californian flavors.
Parts of Au Midi's menu are steadfastly French, including a cassoulet made from Toulouse sausage and duck confit. But other dishes balance Pacific and Mediterranean elements, such as Californian mussels cooked with fresh tomatoes, brandy, cream, and garlic. Many of the dishes are made with organic produce from local farmers. Naturally, the wine list is split between French and Californian varietals.
Even after swapping coasts, Muriel's hardly lost any steam. She's currently listed in the Best Chefs America directory, a list that's compiled from interviews with other chefs and nominations by various culinary professionals and the raccoons that eat from the restaurants' dumpsters.
Sweet Pea's Cafe & Catering specializes in crepes for breakfast and lunch, accenting their café food with coffee from North Coast Roasting Company. Breakfast stretches from open to close, boasting eggs benedict crepes and fluffy farm-fresh omelettes wrapped around avocado or apple sausage. Savory crepes enclose fillings of salmon or brie, while sweet crepes are stuffed with Nutella, strawberries, or a light combo of lemon and sugar. Gluten-averse patrons can comfortably enjoy both gluten-free crepes and gluten-free sandwiches stacked on Udi’s breads. At the Capitola location, paintings and other work from local artists populate the walls of the cozy café.
The brainchild of husband-and-wife tandem Mitchell Cutler, a Québécois, and Tracey Tate-Cutler, a fifth-generation Californian who lived in Germany for years, La Fondue pairs the traditions of the European delicacy with the spirit of American cuisine. Cauldrons of cheese comprise the bubbling centerpiece at most tables, into which guests dip victuals such as Kobe flat-iron steak, alligator tail, sea scallops, and tiger blue shrimp. The experience comes with an added twist: servers bring the raw ingredients, but it’s up to the diners to choose from one of six cooking methods to heat their meat or seafood morsels, such as dipping them in a rich tomato-basil bisque or roasting them over a European-style grill from Munich.
On any given night, you might see diners following one of fondue's most popular traditions: if someone drops their cube into the fondue, they must then buy the next round of drinks for the table or accept a kick in the shin from the table companion with the strongest calves. Luckily, La Fondue's drinks include wine from a well-rounded list that earned an Award of Excellence from Wine Spectator. But if it's Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday—BYOB nights—the table just might enforce the second punishment. Still, with cheese fondue such as pesto cognac and chocolate fondue enhanced with flavors such as mint or Irish cream, most diners do everything in their power to get their cubes into their mouths.
The whole fondue experience unfolds in an eccentric dining space that joins medieval motifs, zebra-print upholstery, and Andy Warhol wall-art in a vibrant, decorative pastiche. The restaurant offers multiple dining rooms, each with its own touches, such as ornate mirrors and leonine busts.
The expert crêpe-rollers at K's Crêpes & Café ladle organic batter onto the griddle, sizzle until golden brown, and adorn the ensuing concoction with savory toppings or house-made whipped cream. Delight a savory-toothed uncle with naturally gluten-free buckwheat crêpes such as the Chelsea, a delectable mound of chewy swiss cheese, sautéed zucchini, and crisp spinach ($6.95). Morning-time diners can wash down a whole-wheat sweet crêpe with a cup of Mr. Espresso and a dash of powdered sugar, or bite into the New England Revolution, which arrives laden with peaches, vanilla gelato, and chocolate sauce like a camel being ridden by Santa Claus ($6.75). Omelets ($4.50+), lunch-friendly sandwiches ($5.25+), and house-made soups ($3.50+) are also available throughout the day.