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Blast From the Past

Robert Scheer

Tower of Power: Quick-rising culinartist and present Shadowbrook sous chef David Halley (left) and executive chef Tom Grego handle a vegetable highrise of eggplant and polenta.

Shadowbrook shows why it's still a special place

By Christina Waters

THE HILLSIDE LANDSCAPING offered us an Eden of ferns, waterfalls and blossoms last week as we made our way down to the Shadowbrook's multileveled dining rooms. From our table practically at water level, we could watch white geese floating on Soquel Creek as the sunset filtered through skylights overhead.

This spot is always lovely--even if my companion wanted to express her disapproval of the pop Muzak the restaurant plays on its automated reservation system. "Very not Shadowbrook," Katya protested, murmuring something about classical music being more appropriate as she sampled our bottle of David Bruce Estate Pinot Noir 1995 ($28.50). The wine enhanced Katya's mood--as did the excellent Francese bread and a listing of evening specials that included lots of fresh seafoods.

We began our leisurely dinner in league with a gifted waiter--he gave us suggestions, plenty of time and, when he saw that we had more than a passing interest in the wine list, revealed a depth of education and sensitivity. Invariably, I come away from a Shadowbrook dinner impressed with the service. Tonight was no exception.

Our opening courses paid tribute to the season, especially a Caprese salad opulent with heirloom green-striped tomatoes, orange vine-ripened romas, the heady perfume of whole fresh basil leaves and earthy mozzarella rounds, the whole glistening with balsamic and extra virgin olive oil ($5.95). Another plate came with sweet and spicy grilled prawns whose glaze of teriyaki--happily non-clichéd--played nicely off a salsa fresca of mango, pineapple, red peppers and cilantro ($7.95). It was a fine appetizer that partnered the spice and plums of the young pinot just beautifully.

We had been cautioned that the evening's Eastern scallop dish was distinctly on the zippy side. And it was--provocatively so. Tender scallops had been rubbed with a Caribbean-meets-Morocco blend of spices, long on coriander and ground peppers, and then grilled just to the point of full succulent moistness. They were arranged on a bed of spiced apples, peanuts, golden raisins and curried cabbages--an unusual assemblage that showed the chef's flair and willingness to take some risks. Katya found it a bit too intensely spiced, though after a few bites I found myself practically addicted to its exotic appeal. Perhaps it was because I softened the kick of the peppers with a side order of creamy buttermilk mashed potatoes ($1.95).

My companion's order of New York steak with garlic butter ($19.75) proved underwhelming. The steak was huge and perfectly cooked--just tasteless, though the accompanying baked potato was a classic of its genre. No matter. We both finished everything but the steak, and turned our attention to the serious business of desserts.

Almost at a single stroke, we both agreed on the frozen lemon soufflé ($5.50) and espresso ($1.75). Pretty as a ruffled collar of pale yellow silk, the dessert rose high out of its white baking dish into a crown of barely sweetened whipped cream encircled with fresh mint leaves. Sensuously tart and flecked throughout with the bite of lemon zest, it was utterly refreshing--singing some ancient Italian love song along with our espressos.

How nice to find the menu updated, the cooking confident and the atmosphere as durable as ever. Yes, it's true everybody thinks of the Shadowbrook for anniversaries or prom night, or when their parents come to visit. And that's completely appropriate for such a large, gracious restaurant. But lots of us know that this place is really made for something even more obvious--dinner for two. Anytime.

Shadowbrook Restaurant

Address: 1750 Wharf Road, Capitola
Phone: 475-1511
Hours: Mon.-Thu. 5:30-9pm, Fri. 5-9:45pm, Sat. 4-10:45pm, Sun. 4-9pm, Sun. brunch 10am-2:15pm
Price: Moderately expensive
Chef: David Halley
Ambiance: *** Rustic mountain lodge meets coastal retreat, with fab gardens to spare
Service: ***1/2 Staff is warm, impeccable, knowledgeable, with flawless timing
Cuisine: *** Some classics, some walks on the wild side, always quality ingredients to make flavors sing
Overall: Shadowbrook continues to defy the years, updating itself without forgetting its unpretentious roots.

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

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From the August 14-20, 1997 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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