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A Very Mixed Grill

Robert Scheer

Clam Got Your Tongue? Chef Sean Haddon of the New Davenport Cash Store--who once showcased his skills in the kitchen of the White House--proudly displays his snappy clam linguine.

Coastal ambiance can not quite balance inconsistent service and culinary execution at the landmark New Davenport Cash Store

By Christina Waters

As much as any other dining room in California, the high-ceilinged New Davenport Cash Store restaurant holds a wealth of happy memories for just about everyone in the North Coast region. Chef Sean Hadden, formerly of the White House--yes, that White House--has been at the helm for almost a year now, so I had high hopes for the two meals I had recently in Davenport.

And this is very much a tale of two meals--one filled with memorable flavors, the other with disappointing cuisine. The one thing both dinners shared was appalling service.

One evening, I ordered a glass of Ahlgren Cabernet and was served (as I was told much later with a giggle) a Bargetto Merlot 1993 ($5). When we tried to flag down the waitress for glasses of David Bruce Chardonnay 1993 ($5) later in the meal, she glanced over, acknowledged us and then disappeared.

On a second occasion, we once again encountered the same waitress, who brought our ordered bottle of Ridge Pagani Ranch Zinfandel ($30) and whined, "Did you order this?" Yes, we had. With a pained expression she asked if we actually wanted to taste it first. Yes, we did.

Still, much is charmingly in place from the restaurant's early days--stoneware pottery accouterments, the old oak furniture, a few softly worn church pews, handwoven placemats in rich purple tones. But enough nostalgia, we were getting very hungry

It's easy to succumb to the fragrant, soft-textured whole wheat bread that has been the restaurant's signature for so many years. As we waited for appetizers to arrive, we did just that. Appetizers of Dungeness crab cake and seafood brochette finally arrived, no longer hot. On one plate sat a single Dungeness crab cake served with a champagne beurre blanc swirled through with plum sauce ($6.95). Utterly crisp without a trace of grease, it was delicious and moist, though the sauce had become sticky and cloying as it cooled.

On another plate, a skewer of three fat prawns threaded with mushrooms and bits of red bell pepper lay in a strident, one-note curry sauce ($7.95). There were attractive accents--a dice of ripe tomatoes, salted peanuts, and a gossamer swirl of spun scallions.

Having ordered the house's celebrated mixed greens, pear and toasted walnuts salad with raspberry vinaigrette ($6.50), I was surprised to be asked what sort of dressing I'd like, and then to be brought the house green salad bursting with alfalfa sprouts. When my waitress agreed to provide me with what I'd actually ordered, it turned out that the "kitchen didn't have any ripe pears" and would I mind if the salad came with avocado instead.

I won't even tell you what I thought of the pear situation, but it turned out that the substitution worked, and the gorgeous salad sang with crunchy sweet walnuts, creamy bits of goat cheese and wonderful, tender greens.

Empty plates sat there and sat there, until we had to clear them out of the way for our waitress to set down our entrees, two of which worked. A fabulous plate of linguine arrived lavishly topped with garlicky, basil-flecked baby clams (13.95), one of the best variations I'd ever tasted of this classic dish.

An order of fresh baked halibut ($14.95) came with a molasses reduction sauce so laced with tarragon as to be inedible. Another dish of bountiful penne was huge with fresh mushrooms, tomatoes and a bit of cream, but ruined by acrid-tasting Italian sausage ($11.95). No one in the kitchen had tasted this dish in advance.

Another order of perfectly grilled Black Angus New York steak ($16.95) presented a rich pink peppercorn sauce, wonderful garlic-bathed red potatoes and a fresh sauté of zucchinis--carnivore heaven at a fair price.

Ordering dessert was like pulling teeth, but we finally pulled it off and enjoyed a vivacious slab of pecan pie topped with milk chocolate ($3.75) with mugs of coffee.

This is a wake-up call to the restaurant manager at the New Davenport Cash Store: There is a chef in the house capable of preparing some appealing cuisine. Don't sabotage his efforts.

New Davenport Cash Store

Address: Highway 1, Davenport
Phone: 426-4122
Hours: 8am­9pm daily--dinner 5­9pm
Cuisine: California
Chef: Sean Hadden
Ambiance: Artistic and casual
Service: Weak
Price: Moderate
Overall: *1/2 A few bright spots, great ambiance

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

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From the July 3-10, 1996 issue of Metro Santa Cruz

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