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[whitespace] Mainsail Restaurant
View to a Thrill: All people and food have been digitally edited out of this photo so that you, too, can enjoy the scenery. Amazing!

Room With a View

The glory of Santa Cruz's Main Beach unfolds from the cozy dining room of the Mainsail Restaurant

By Christina Waters

IT'S MUCH too easy for lucky locals to take our spectacular beaches and seascapes for granted. And I'm as guilty as anyone of not stopping often enough to admire the view from the main Santa Cruz beach. Until guests come from out of town. And when they do, the place to bring them for good seafood and a view that will knock them speechless, is the Mainsail Restaurant.

The Mainsail is the newest, sleekest version of the dining room of our only beachfront hotel--yes, that Mainsail. Once the Dream Inn, now the Westcoast Santa Cruz Hotel, this sprawling property occupies a priceless stretch of real estate between the Wharf and the best longboard surfing on earth. To this white cove of sand come serious swimmers, students on holiday and awed tourists from the world over to admire the waves dotted with sailboats and backlit by the blue mountains of Monterey. It was a treat to remind ourselves just why we live here--lunch at the Mainsail will do that. Beach-lovers were setting up umbrellas and slathering on sunscreen as we sipped our ice tea and checked out the new menu.

Here's a good place to remind you to save room for some of this kitchen's fine, house-made desserts. A Who's Who of seafood classics--from Crab Louie and linguine with white sauce to blackened salmon, cioppino and grilled ahi--line the lunch menu. I recommend a day trip to the Mainsail so that you can feast on the sparkling view of waves and beach action. But hey, you couldn't beat a sunset martini from the plushly upholstered banquette either.

Jack went for a grilled ahi sandwich ($10.95) served with pasta salad, while I thought I'd sample a cup of the house chowder ($2.75) and my childhood favorite, the Crab Louie ($14.95). Our attentive waitress brought a basket of excellent sourdough bread, rapidly followed by my chowder. After a few bites, I realized that this was one of the all-too-common flour-intensive versions of clam chowder. So I enjoyed the bread instead and saved room for what was to be an opulent Crab Louie the size of Big Sur. Make that Crab and Bay Shrimp Louie. Atop acres of hearts of romaine--Mainsail gets big points for rejecting the tasteless iceberg lettuce--perched a large island of tiny bay shrimp and another island of sweet, tender Dungeness crab. Fat spears of fresh asparagus, hard-boiled eggs, cucumbers, even organic cherry tomatoes joined an entire, ripe avocado as part of this one-dish seafood fantasy. From my silver pitcher I poured some of that thick Louie dressing that I loved as a kid. And still do.

Sure, bay shrimp don't have much flavor--but they never did. The whole point here is the crunch of lettuce, the sweet tartness of the dressing and the luxury of more shellfish than is prudent. But Jack's rare, seared ahi steak, sandwiched between two upscale onion buns, was even better. The wasabi-spiked mayo and tiny daikon sprouts added miles of glamour to what is my new favorite sandwich in Santa Cruz.

The pasta salad was fine, but nothing to get worked up about. Along with iced lattes ($3.25), we shared a slab of wonderful carrot cake ($5). Fresh and loaded with nutty texture, it was presented next to a pool of tart berry purée, studded with fresh raspberries. Deliciously spicy and chewy, the cake was replete with a generous amount of walnuts. We both found it the perfect palate-closing finish to the most scenic lunch in town. A volleyball game was in full stride by the time we left. Now if I could only remember where I put my bathing suit. ...

Mainsail Restaurant
(in the Westcoast Santa Cruz Hotel)
Address: 175 West Cliff Drive, Santa Cruz
Phone: 831.426.4330
Hours: 6:30am-10pm; 7am-10pm on weekends
Ambience: ** Attractive and comfortable, this room boasts a sensational view of the soothing blue Pacific.
Service: *** Helpful, friendly and expertly attentive
Cuisine: ** Well-made standards are given fresh spin.
Overall: Crisp and uncluttered, the Mainsail offers seafood classics in a you're-not-in-Kansas-anymore setting.
Full bar

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From the May 29-June 5, 2002 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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