Quickies: Sitar, at 1133 Pacific Avenue in downtown Santa Cruz, is flashy and it’s open. Malabar ditto, fresh and sparkling in its new Front Street location. I’ll let you know what I think in a week or two. . . Hula’s is still a good place for high-performance theme visuals and well-made mai tais. But after two more forgettable Hula’s appetizers, Katya and I went to Soif for an amazing dish of duck leg braised in red wine with collard greens and prunes. The duck cost the same as two appetizers at Hula’s, but the difference in the experience was, well, stunning. And since it was Tuesday at Soif we got to listen to some choice blues from the piano of Art Alm. .

Readers want to know: Who has the recipe for the original minestrone served at the old Santa Cruz Hotel? and where can I find a genuine pastrami sandwich in Santa Cruz county?

Nice to see jewelry czarina Kate Nolan back in the Many Hands store on Locust. Great for downtown, bad for my checkbook. I cannot resist Nolan’s ancient Roman-style earring designs. . . Don’t miss the atmospheric black & white photography by Katie Cater (who moonlights behind the wine bar at Avanti), now showing at Riva, on the Santa Cruz Wharf. . . and save the February 28, 4-6pm date to join radical filmies up at UCSC’s Bay Tree Building for a screening and talk by Saul Landau. With yet another incendiary political tome, “A Bush and Botox World,” and new film on the cultural impact of globalization, called “We Don’t Play Golf Here,” Landau is the busiest act in polit-biz. Reception afterwards. I’ll see you there!