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Resorting to Dinner

Chef Dwight Collins
Robert Scheer

Baaaa to the Bone: Sanderlings Executive Chef Dwight Collins displays one of the his Seascape Resort restaurant's elegant masterpieces, a semi-traditional California cuisine stuffed rack of lamb.

An evening at Sanderlings produces a memorable sunset in spacious surroundings and a few moments of culinary interest

By Christina Waters

THE COASTLINE WAS DOING ITS finest impression of a Hollywood sunset as we approached the Seascape Lodge compound last week. The water peeking through a scenic line of cypresses was turning to liquid bronze, and the fire was blazing as we entered the main lobby of the expansive new resort headquarters. The pampered feeling inspired us to spend some quality pre-dinner time over glasses of Honig Sauvignon Blanc 1994 ($4.75) and Calera Pinot Noir 1993 ($5.50) before asking to be seated for dinner.

Suddenly we were being led up a staircase to a mezzanine Siberia. Seated at a corner table at the furthest possible point from both the kitchen and the convivial conversations of the main dining room, it was the perfect spot for semi-private parties, but the isolation offered us nothing. There was no longer a view and it was so dark we could barely read the menus. We asked to join the rest of the world downstairs.

The white-on-white decor is punctuated by huge tropical trees draped with tiny white lights--a look so huge in the '80s. Tables, at least in the winter, are generously spaced and beautifully set with heavy flatware and tons of white linen. Service was languid and occasionally forgetful about things like replacing forks and bringing drinks. Excellent chewy sourdough helped put us in an upbeat mood for considering our options.

Like most resort restaurants, Sanderlings sticks to the classics. That means you'll find prawn cocktails, Caesar salads, a half-dozen pastas and main events from every possible meat and fish group, many of them stuffed with other meat and fish groups. No trends here, and probably few chances taken, we supposed, ordering Dungeness crab cakes ($8.95), the evening special of blackened ahi tuna ($18.50), and an entree of grilled breast of Muscovy duck with sun-dried cherry relish ($20.95).

A note: The Sanderlings wine list is a seductive document. Filled with accessibly priced premiums from all over California, it is especially strong in recent vintages (1993--1995) from Santa Cruz Mountains wineries. We decided to continue our democratic allegiance to both white and red wines, and ordered a Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon ($7) and an Anderson Vineyard Chardonnay ($6.50) by the glass to accompany our dinners.

The resulting dinner turned out to have some quite contemporary surprises. The crab-cake appetizer arrived on a pool of excellent red pepper coulis, along with a sensuous cake of black beans ($8.95). The crab was sweet and moist, and a homemade tartar boasted the secret weapon of tarragon--the entire dish was wonderful and completely erased my previous tape of boring, listless crab-cake encounters. A house salad of tiny lettuces came in the chosen honey mustard dressing with a dusting of crunchy glazed walnuts. The soup was a revelation. Anything but safe, it was a delicious blaze of spinach and cilantro, offering a peppery Southwest kick.

Although generously portioned, entrees seemed intent upon playing supporting roles. Ours arrived prettily decked with star cherimoya and a sautéed mix of pea pods and green beans. My Muscovy duck, rare as requested, was smothered with a zippy relish of plump cherries hinting at garlic. The topping struggled mightily but finally gave up trying to turn the duck into something tender enough to chew. My companion's ahi fared much better thanks to two crunchy rice cakes dusted with sesame seeds. The ahi itself was intensely blackened and desecrated by overcooking. The neighboring pool of mashed avocado tried to morph itself into something Asian, but, lacking wasabi, simply remained guacamole.

We finished up with cups of espresso and a shared order of bread pudding ($2.95)--the only dessert our waiter guessed to be made in-house--which was likable, even though technically too-sweet and overly moist.

Sanderlings is an attractive resort restaurant whose cooks clearly know a thing or two about creativity. A dinner of appetizers might be the way to go here.

Sanderlings at Seascape Resort

Address: 1 Seascape Resort Drive, Aptos
Phone: 662-7120
Hours: Breakfast 7am­10:30am (11:30am weekends), lunch 11:30am­2:30pm, dinner 5:30­9pm (5­9pm Sun.); Sun. brunch 8am­2pm
Price: Moderate to expensive.
Executive Chef: Dwight Collins
Ambiance: ** Coastal resort casual
Service: * 1/2 Uneven; missed details
Cuisine: **1/2 California classic
Overall: A resort setting offering leisurely dining, Sanderlings offers few fireworks but plenty of safe standard choices

****Great, ***Excellent, **Good, *Okay

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From the January 9-15, 1997 issue of Metro Santa Cruz

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