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No Way Bouquets

White Magnolia
Robert Scheer

Flower Powerless: White Magnolia is the Bayview Hotel's most recent stab at culinary respectibility.

Bayview Hotel's latest restaurant
aims too high

By Christina Waters

THE NEWLY OPENED White Magnolia had already attracted local diners by the time we began our visits several weeks ago. The smart white-on-white decor goes a long way toward eradicating any Victorian stuffiness, and an accessible menu of robust American cookery promises something for every taste.

A young pinot noir (1995/96) from Au Bon Climat ($4.50/glass) kept us company along with francese and focaccia breads--served with a wonderful purée of roasted garlic. We also found a menu full of interesting seafood dishes, ambitious salad constructions and plenty of attention to fresh vegetables. But exciting menu descriptions do not a successful dinner make.

Squinting at the high price, we ordered an appetizer of rock shrimp cakes ($9.95), which turned out to be a huge plate of orange food. Three gigantic, doughy rounds sat like rogue sponges upon a chaos of unripe tomatoes, blood orange slices, jicama salsa (that was at least zippy), cubed persimmon and some flavorless flash-fried ribbons of unidentifiable fruit (or vegetable).

The tendency toward triadism must be a pet device here, because an entrée of mercilessly overcooked lamb loin chops also arrived with three peeled Roma tomatoes, framed by three spears of asparagus and three hard polenta triangles ($18.95). Another entrée of broiled halibut ($16.95) similarly sported the three huge sponges, only this time they were called "rice cakes." Attended by a haphazard halo of tiny lettuces, a grapefruit salsa fresca and a ginger vinaigrette that lacked any suggestion of ginger, the halibut without the plush, sweet moistness of the very freshest local catch.

On another evening, we began with tall pilsner glasses of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, a cup of the evening soup, plus a roasted duck breast salad ($8.95). The flavorless soup tasted like canned cream of generic vegetable, perhaps some weak hybrid of mushroom and onion. It was harmless, yet gratuitous. The salad was almost guilty of fraud. Tiny green-brown nuggets of thrice-cooked something masqueraded as roasted duck breast. Tough and tasting of leather, they were breathtakingly bad. "Maybe the replicator is on the fritz," my companion quipped. Some cannellini beans had been placed on the lettuce without even a suggestion of seasoning. Not even salt. Nothing.

Entrées here can be wearying to the eye as well as the palate. An order of pork loin, which arrived cooked medium-rare as requested, was smothered by a sea of yellow/orange-toned vegetables. Undercooked baby turnips and mushy, overcooked baby carrots joined tired roasted potatoes that had been topped with baked apple rings ($15.95).

I enjoyed my evening special of grilled tombo ($16.95), which was succulent and moist but was again trivialized by a mess of tiny, not-yet-ripe tomatoes--some warmed and mashed, some cool and whole--plus more of the good old reliable potatoes. Potato abuse is rampant at White Magnolia.

And so is edible flower petal abuse. Our dessert, gorgeously named Champagne-poached Pear Napoleon ($5.95), not only featured un-crisp pastry crusts but also a watery pastry cream filling. The entire construction sort of collapsed upon impact, and what remained worth eating were fat ripe raspberries bobbing here and there amidst a thick strew of flower petals. A Cointreau crème brûlée had no detectable Cointreau flavor and a burnt sugar topping as soft as the creamy center ($5.95). It was, however, served with an excellent almond brittle that went nicely with our espressos ($1.95).

Our recent experiences at White Magnolia cause us to wonder--should design really be a chef's main mission? Is anybody in the kitchen bothering to taste the foods--to check and see if what sounded good on paper actually makes flavor sense on the plate? And, finally, is the old Bayview really a cursed restaurant location?

White Magnolia

Address: 8041 Soquel Drive, Aptos
Phone: 662-1890
Hours: Lunch 11:30am­2:30pm Tue.­Sat., dinner 5­10pm nightly
Price: Moderate to expensive
Chef: Michael J. Rosenow
Ambiance: ** Casual elegance
Service: * Unprepared, leisurely
Cuisine: * Over-conceptualized and overly ambitious, the food promises more than it delivers and needs to be drastically streamlined, clarified, simplified.
Overall: Needs a kitchen willing to get deeply involved with the foods being presented and management willing to take the entire enterprise seriously.

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

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From the June 5-11, 1997 issue of Metro Santa Cruz

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