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[whitespace] Katie Loggins
All Decked Out: Palapas server Katie Loggins shows off some of the restaurant's favorite dishes on the sunny deck.

View From Palapas

Sailing deliciously into an endless sunset, Palapas in Seascape Village specializes in tropical temptations

By Christina Waters

DINNER AT PALAPAS always feels to me like a cruise down to Zihuatanejo. Seafood is treated with style, and the sensuous rhythms of the Mexican riviera filter through California coastal attitudes. The Palapas terrace was filled with convivial diners, backlit attractively by the setting sun as we took a table last week.

It's impossible not to feel pampered in this setting. Lush tropical plants, adobe and tile wraparound booths and a menu designed to plunge you into the Pacific Rim's finest flavors--everybody seems to feel welcome here, from the upscale weekend crowd to families with children.

A hardworking staff does a great job accommodating every need. A basket of fresh, crisp chips was instantly produced, joined by a spicy, well-made salsa. There are ample wines and beers to chose from at Palapas, but few tequila lovers can get past the restaurant's astonishing inventory of agave elixir.

Sauza, Patron, Herradura, Minero--all your favorites plus scores you've never heard of are available. Jack went for a mango margarita cocktail ($6.25), while I ordered a Maria Rita ($6.25), one of the classiest cocktails on the planet. Lime juice, Cointreau and tequila blend elegantly in this drink, which is first shaken with ice and then poured through a strainer into a salt-rimmed wine goblet. It is the absolutely definitive margarita, made the way God first invented it down in Juarez. Prepared with a light hand this appetizing drink allowed the subtle smokiness and peppery finish of the tequila to shimmer through.

Jack's supple mango and tequila potion--blended into an adult smoothie--was gorgeously refreshing, and perfect at the end of a sultry day.

Struggling not to inhale the excellent salsa and chips, we waited for a huge party to be served and were rewarded with our appetizers of guacamole ($7.95) and Camarones de Golfo a la Parrilla ($10.95). One of the stars of the Palapas menu, the sensational grilled camarones arrived in a blue glazed bowl, filled with a bewitching sauce loaded with guajillo chiles, orange juice and fresh garlic.

Lemon wedges kept the quartet of enormous Gulf prawns company, and a dusting of salsa fresca and crisp shredded cabbage added to the texture and complex flavor trip. Prawns rarely receive such distinctive treatment anywhere, and frankly, I'd drive through all that traffic between the West Side and Seascape just to get to this appetizer. So good is the sauce that we had the remaining traces of it boxed to go home. And the rich guacamole wasn't bad either.

Entrees practically overwhelmed us both with size and presentation. Jack had ordered the grilled yellowfin tuna--atun en salsa pasilla--which arrived fanned out in an enormous half moon of lovely rose-colored, lightly seared tuna slices ($22.95). A delicious tomatillo sauce and hints of chile-cilantro butter enhanced this creation, which also arrived with wasabi and soy sauce, for those who like to mix their culinary metaphors.

A side of creamy, cheese-topped refried beans joined tasty Spanish rice and a generous garnish of salsa fresca. As they used to say back in the non-PC days, "What a dish!" Staying soft and warm inside a napkin were delicious masa tortillas, perfect for tearing into shreds and topping with refried beans and guacamole. Or for making mini-tuna tacos.

Meanwhile, I just sat back and enjoyed my larger-than-life Carne Asada ($17.95) of rib-eye steak, done just the way I like it, embraced by a fine tomatillo sauce.

In addition to a substantial garnish of fresh avocado, salsa fresca and more of those unbelievable earthy refried beans, the steak had been marinated in a blend of garlic, fresh lime juice and olive oil. These classic seasonings of Mexico worked their magic on the charbroiled steak. The sensational Maria Rita cocktail did the rest. Unlike our summer visitors, those of us who live here get to visit the tropical Palapas all year long.

Palapas Restaurant
Address: Seascape Village, Aptos
Phone: 831.662-9000
Hours: Lunch and dinner daily
Price: Moderate
Ambience: *** Casually elegant resort setting
Service: *** Friendly, intelligent, hardworking
Cuisine: *** Vibrant variations on creative Mexican seafood
Overall: Palapas continues to earn its spicy reputation among grateful summer crowds and lucky Seascape locals

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From the August 15-22, 2001 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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