By Abby Zeiser

Because so many people in the Santa Cruz community are concerned about sustainability and local farming, I was delighted to learn that my favorite restaurant in town focuses on just that — making the finest quality food from local ingredients.

Gabriella Café may not be as popular among the student population of Santa Cruz as it is with older locals, but it certainly deserves a mention and should be the next restaurant on your list if you are looking for an intimate spot for a date.

The menu centers on specialties from northern Italy, southern France, and northern California and features only the freshest ingredients available. The seasonal menu is about to switch over to the spring bill of fare.

Some dishes remain on the menu year-round due to their popularity. The restaurant is well known for its incredible and flavorful focaccia (Pan Amore — $9), served with olive tapenade, roasted garlic, and goat cheese. You may recognize the very same focaccia available for purchase at the Wednesday and Saturday farmer’s markets here in town ($2 for a pizza-sized slice).

Though the restaurant is also well known for its Cesar Salad ($9), I recommend the more inventive and seasonal salads or side dishes, as they are always creative and tantalizing to the palette.

Gabriella Café has six or seven main dishes on the menu, but the restaurant also features an interesting repertoire of constantly changing daily specials. There is something for everyone on the menu, including at least two vegetarian options. On a recent visit, I tried the Rotini Pasta served with wild mushrooms and authentic pecorino Romano cheese ($19). I also tried one of their daily specials — seared Ahi tuna served with a basil and olive tapenade as well as a selection of local roasted vegetables ($23).

For the wine lovers among us, you’ll be happy to know that the selection at Gabriella Café is one of the best I’ve seen in town. It features one of the largest collections of wines from the Santa Cruz Mountains, as well as imported Italian wines. Wines by the glass will run anywhere from $3 to $7.75.

Head Chef Rebecca King has worked on an organic farm and has learned from the finest in the industry after having completed an internship at Alice Waters’s Chez Panisse in Berkeley. UC Santa Cruz student Alex Douglas, who will start at the Culinary Institute of America next winter, is currently working in the Gabriella kitchen. He’s cooked there through all four seasons and values the creative leeway he is given at the restaurant. He appreciates the restaurant’s focus on sustainable agriculture, as it tends to be healthier and keeps money within the community.

Gabriella’s warm lighting and naturalistic décor provides a welcoming atmosphere. It is not an eat-and-leave restaurant, but is rather perfect for a long European-style night out of wining and dining with someone special. Though it may be more expensive than most students are willing to spend for lunch or dinner, consider it for the next time your parents are in town.

For those looking for an interesting night out, the restaurant is currently trying out a new idea, reminiscent of Wig Nights at Saturn Café. Anyone who shows up on Thursday nights and dines wearing pajamas will earn a free glass of Italian champagne. Though the idea has yet to take off, maybe enough proactive readers will get the concept rolling. On Friday nights, you can enjoy listening to live jazz as you dine.

Check the website or stop by the restaurant to see their new Spring Menu. I can guarantee you it will not disappoint!

_Reservations recommended. Gabriella Café is located at 910 Cedar Street. (831) 457-1677. Website: