We’ve been fans of the plush and well-seasoned Indian cookery at Ambrosia India Bistro in Aptos since it opened. On the site of the former Bleu Spoon (and before that a locally beloved pancake house), Ambrosia offers a long list of tandoori classics, a wide range of naans and plenty of curries—vegan and vegetarian as well as lamb, chicken and beef. But I had never sampled the popular lunch buffet until I met my lovely Capricorn buddy Meri for a joint birthday feast that ranged from salads and exotic toppings to classic tandoori, curry and masala specialties. And all for $8 each! The restaurant calls its fare “Indian Frontier Cuisine,” involving a blend of authentic regional dishes from the Mughal north to the southern Indian seacoast. Meri led the way to the long buffet table laden with copper dishes and incredible aromas. The salads are terrific, she assured me, as she helped herself to mixed baby greens and a minty vinaigrette. I loved mine with the tamarind sauce and especially an incredible relish of pickled carrots. Meri told me I would love this carrot relish, and she was right. So bright and piquant, it made everything zing. And then it was on to the huge cauldron piled high with steaming tandoori potatoes tossed with slabs of bell pepper, cloves of garlic and broccoli. Along with the addition of fragrant basmati rice and some creamy Baigan masala eggplant, I could have stopped right there. But then I wouldn’t have sampled the rest of the dishes. A generous portion of warm soft naan arrived just as we sat down. After the first plates, which we joined with tall glass tumblers of hot black tea, we moved onto a fine chicken curry, and an even finer Tandoori chicken. Glistening with red garam masala, ginger and garlic tandoori spices, the chicken was succulent and tender inside. And yes, I did add more of that incredible pickled carrot relish to this, too. We ate and talked and ate some more, and ended up happily full for $24 total. That’s multiple trips to the buffet, plus mega-sized black tea, for $12 each, including tax. And Ambrosia is a perfect dining pitstop for a wet winter day. It’s located at 207 Sea Ridge Road in Aptos—a block away from Manuel’s and just up the hill from Seacliff State Beach. For reservations, call (831) 685-0610.
On a Roll: I love a well-made sandwich as much as the next ravenous lunchtime diner, and in my ongoing quest I have gathered a few favorites. Let me share: The Buttery Bakery on the Eastside makes many colossal sandwiches to order, but it also has a nice array of pre-made sandwiches you can just snap up without waiting. Our favorite is the well-packed Joe’s Favorite, loaded with black forest ham, pickled red onions, provolone and tomatoes on an onion roll. Another winner is the Rue Sandwich at Kelly’s, composed of swiss cheese and ham on a very chewy, very slender, buttered baguette roll. The baguette, as every Kelly’s fan knows, offers an addictive exercise in chewiness, like singing “Aida” with your jaws wired shut. Also utterly wonderful is the tuna salad sandwich custom made by the team at New Leaf Market on Fair on the Westside. I love the tiny grated carrots, celery and mini-scallions dotting the tuna, which is added along with heaps of sunflower sprouts, pepperoncini and anything else you can think of. We like ours on 9-grain bread. Of course, Gayle’s is practically a sandwich Valhalla unto itself, with its chicken tarragon croissant and its turkey on crunchy roll, and everything in between. We’re devoted to the fabulous tri-tip rosti filled with chive cream cheese and tomatoes. All of these great sandwiches run between $4.25 and $7. Living in Santa Cruz has its rewards.