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CAPT. CAVIGLIA: Lou Caviglia (right) keeps Clouds on course.

Silver Linings at Clouds

Carefully nurtured by ace proprietor Lou Caviglia, Clouds continues to sail

By Christina Waters

LOU CAVIGLIA has done a great job over the years of knowing exactly who his clientele is, what his patrons want and how to sail safely through fashion trends and economic turbulence. Clouds does a fine job making the cocktail set feel right at home, and it has devised a surefire menu of crowd-pleasers loaded with seafoods, steaks and high-flavor small plates. Our dining quartet met at the bar last week and, with one eye on the NFL game above the bar, we started with glasses of Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard Petite Syrah ($10) and some wicked caramel appletinis ($8). Not that we need an excuse to stop by Lou's, but this was the Capricorn birthday dinner we always share, and the mezzanine table at Clouds gave us a good look at the bar action, tight ends on the tube and our fellow diners.

As usual there was a lot to like, especially the blackened ahi with Napa cabbage slaw appetizer ($15.95) and the wide-body Church Street burger with added bacon ($1) and a garden salad (the deal of the century for $10.95). The burger was solid gold, a quintessential creation of Creekstone Farms Black Angus, loaded with lots of lean bacon, slabs of tomatoes, pickles and lettuce. It came with a sparkling salad of baby greens in a well-made balsamic vinaigrette.

Susan's entree of panko-encrusted sashimi grade ahi was nicely done, if tamely flavored ($24.95). The ahi itself was exceptional, and the bed of sticky sushi-style rice was a great foil for plum sauce and slender baby carrots. I actually preferred Angie's huge "appetizer" portion of ahi, sliced along a bed of outrageous Napa cabbage slaw slathered with wasabi vinaigrette. Take note—this is a very generously portioned destination dish. Only an evening "special" of game hen with mushrooms and butternut squash failed to make the grade ($20.95). The squash was tasty, but the presentation—the little bird had been cut in two, with the halves placed awkwardly side by side on the plate—was not appealing. Small game birds are better left intact; it makes a more dramatic and attractive statement. Better roasting technique might have coaxed some flavor out of the bird and crisped the skin.

For dessert we showed some restraint and shared a single order of crème brûlée ($6.95), whose burnt sugar topping was classic, but whose creamy interior was almost cold. A luxurious Kahlua and coffee ($7) offered a very warming way to end a meal, as did a tumbler of Fernet Branca ($6.50), that most sophisticated of after-dinner digestifs loaded with bitter complexity.

Throughout our meal, a casual and overly familiar waiter came close to ruining the experience. But in this case, close was no cigar—we still loved our evening at Clouds.

Clouds Downtown

110 Church St., Santa Cruz


Open 11:30am–10pm Mon–Thu; 11:30am–11pm Fri–Sat; noon–10pm Sun.

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