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The Inn-side Story

Robert Scheer

Peachy Keen: Peachwood chef Ken Kaderli entices diners with one of his meaty delicacies--a half rack of Australian lamb--which he displays on the restaurant's outdoor dining area.

At the gateway of Pasatiempo, Peachwood's Grill and Bar offers a long list of culinary throwbacks in a moderne, mauve package

By Christina Waters

STILL MAUVE, STILL COMFORTABLE and still occupying a desirable location just off the freeway north of Santa Cruz, Peachwood's updates a roadhouse tradition that extends back to the Pasatiempo Inn days and beyond into the deep Prohibition past. The deck overlooking woodlands offers a rustically elegant spot for leisurely brunching, and the intimate lounge plays host to professionals on their way home, as well as guests of the Inn at Pasatiempo's overnight accommodations.

Always a fan of this setting, I joined the intrepid Rosemary for dinner there last week, slid into a mauve padded booth large enough to hold six adults and took a first look at the menu. If there is a food group omitted in this lengthy listing of trusty crowd-pleasers, it probably hasn't been discovered. From Southern fried catfish and pasta primavera, the menu continued on toward London broil, prime rib, rack of lamb, various steaks and, amazingly enough, even chicken Cordon Bleu. This latter dish, not seen on most restaurant menus for decades, was surely a nod to the eclectic clientele the Inn enjoys. Peachwood's, like all restaurants housed within hotels or motels, has to be ready to appease a wide variety of taste buds.

Still, we were on the alert--even more so when our loquacious waiter actually sat down in the booth with us as he took our orders. We noticed that he was equally overly familiar and friendly with the other diners sharing our mid-week Peachwood's experience.

We chose glasses of David Bruce Pinot Noir 1994 ($7) and a Wente Chardonnay of unknown vintage ($5) for openers, and finally chose our meals. Some excellent, warm, crusty whole wheat sourdough kept us company, and we relaxed into the soothing stillness of the pretty room, where a dramatic sculpture of twisted branches dotted with silk flowers formed the central visual spectacle.

Though only two other tables were full at the time our appetizers arrived, the dishes were so cool--and, in the case of my grilled sea scallops with beurre blanc ($16.95), so congealed--that you'd have thought the room was filled with diners and the kitchen backed up with plates in holding patterns. Nonetheless, Rosemary's black bean soup ($4.95), for which Peachwood's has long been famed, was rich and quite tasty--lukewarm but laced with bits of smoked sirloin and topped with sour cream and salsa.

My grilled scallops were nice and smoky, accompanied by grilled scallions wrapped in bacon. The beurre blanc even offered a suspicion of wasabi--great idea, I thought, mourning the absence of heat in what was probably a fine dish.

Are We From Mars or Fresno?

NEXT CAME MY SALAD--all Peachwood's entrees come with a choice of soup or salad. Served with cruets of balsamic vinegar and olive oil--a nice option--the salad was essentially iceberg lettuce, stale croutons and a flavorless, out-of-season tomato. Rosemary and I both hated ourselves for thinking it but, frankly, this was Fresno food. The sort of food that inlanders far from the influence of progressive dining ideas might embrace. But this is Santa Cruz, an hour and a half from San Francisco. Had the kitchen just flown in from Mars?

For no apparent reason, a very long lull occurred between the first courses and the main dishes. Finally, with flourish, tiny cones topped with melon berry sorbet were produced for our enjoyment. Very nice, we thought, noticing that the Peachwood's kitchen--clearly visible from where we sat--was unusually quiet.

Eventually, a huge rack of baby back ribs arrived, slathered with barbecue sauce the texture of freshly mixed cement and sided by waffle-cut potatoes ($15.95). With it came my plate of four underdeveloped pork tenderloin medallions--cooked medium rare as I'd requested. They were delicious and, yes, room temperature. A peach chutney--too sweet, not zippy enough--pooled around the pork, while painfully overcooked mixed vegetables and a listless-but-huge mountain of rice pilaf sat by looking embarrassed.

The manager, who'd been chatting at the booth behind us for the past 15 minutes, swung by to ask how we liked everything.

We told him.

He immediately offered to re-cook, re-prepare and/or replace anything that failed to please us, but by that time we'd wasted over two hours and needed to get on with our lives.

Peachwood's Grill & Bar

Address: Highway 17 and Pasatiempo Drive, Santa Cruz
Phone: 426-6333
Hours: Lunch 11:30am­2pm Mon.­Fri., dinner 5­10pm nightly (till 9pm Sun.), Sunday brunch 10am­2pm
Price: Moderate
Chef: Ken Kaderli
Ambiance: * Mauve, coastal casual
Service: * Uneven; alternately doting and absent
Cuisine: * 1/2 Some nice work, thoughtlessly presented
Overall: With attention to details, Peachwood's might better live up to its pretty setting and broad ambitions

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

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From the April 3-9, 1997 issue of Metro Santa Cruz

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