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[whitespace] Topside Secret

For a view to remember, go upstairs at Stagnaro's on the Municipal Wharf

By Janet Blaser

WANNA KNOW A SECRET? After 10 years of living here, I was just turned on to what has to be one of the most charming settings for a restaurant this town has to offer. I thought I'd seen it all--from the hillside charm of Shadowbrook to the redwood glens of Ciao Bella to the beachside luxury of the Crow's Nest and Paradise Grille.

But on a clear sunny day (like these last few weeks), I don't think anything can beat the ocean-top vista at Stagnaro's, on the far end of the Municipal Wharf. The trick is to head to the right, up the stairs, once you enter the restaurant. Take the switchback past the old black-and-white photos from the '40s showing the local fisherman in action (many of them Stagnaro brothers), and then--voila!--you're in a small rounded dining room surrounded by the ocean on every side. The ceiling overhead is painted like a blue sky, complete with tiny seagulls. If you're lucky, one of the window-side tables will be available. Otherwise, the spacious center bar is fine. Because it is built higher than the tables, you can still enjoy an unobstructed view of that gorgeous Pacific Ocean.

Now, this upstairs dining room is only permitted to serve a "lounge" menu, which means lots of appetizers, a big selection of fresh seafood Louie salads and sandwiches. There is also a full bar, making this a great spot to share a drink with a special friend while you enjoy the sunset or twinkling lights over the water. And if you're in the mood, you can walk outside "on deck," watch the surfers at the Lighthouse and reflect, again, on the beautiful place where we live. Manager Scott Dexel told me the upstairs lounge will only be three years old come Valentine's Day, and that, yes, it really is one of the best-kept secrets in Santa Cruz--that's even the staff nickname for it. You can't make reservations, and although in the summer it may be crowded with tourists, this time of year it's all about--ahem--locals.

To further attract the local populace, Stagnaro's also offers early-bird dinners Monday through Thursday from 4 to 6pm during the winter months. For only $7.95, you get a choice of four entrees (linguine with clams, chicken breast, snapper filet or shrimp Louie) served with soup or salad. With what you save on dinner, you can afford to go upstairs and have an appetizer beforehand, don't you think?

To find Stagnaro Brothers, head out onto the Municipal Wharf and keep going till you have to stop. Find a place to park near the open-front fish market, look up and go inside. To find out more, call 423.2180 or log on to www.stagnarobros.com.

The Costa Living

Too much of a good thing? Nahh--the more the merrier, I say. And that would be the general thought regarding the newest Costa Brava, which opened its cheery doors last week in Gateway Plaza in Santa Cruz. It is the third restaurant for owner Juan Valledor, whose two other locations have established themselves as valuable and delicious additions to the local culinary scene. This most recent venture is closer in character to the Seabright Avenue taqueria than to the downtown Latin American-menu-ed (is that even a word?) restaurant and promises to provide the same style of quick, basic Mexican food we love here in California: burritos, tacos, flautas (yum), quesadillas, etc.

The bright cafe offers ample indoor seating with about a dozen tables, and manager April Exner told me that booths will be put in any day now to add a little more ambiance and space. A veteran of both the Costa Brava family and the distinctly Santa Cruz restaurant scene (she managed Staff of Life's Cafe del Sol for a number of years), April has plans to add more salads and vegetarian offerings to the menu, as well as a beer and wine license. Basically, she said you'll find everything you love about the Seabright Avenue Costa Brava, and more--all conveniently located a stone's throw from downtown and a hop, skip and a jump from the freeway. And, yes, of course everything is available to go.

Ready for a breakfast burrito? Or is it lunch you're looking for? Whatever, head to Costa Brava at 420 River St., in Gateway Plaza, just inside the main entrance to the right. Hours are 8am to 9pm, and if you need to know more, just call 429.4204.

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From the January 5-12, 2000 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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