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Beachy Keen

restaurant
Robert Scheer

Life of the Lido: Cafe Lido owner Carol Arutunian plays hostess to an upbeat empire of Capitola diners and beach aficionados who pack the seaside bistro on a regular basis.

Where the village meets the sea, Capitola's Cafe Lido earns its neighborhood reputation for a warm, welcoming attitude

By Christina Waters

A slow sweer sunset gathered along the Capitola horizon as picnic blankets unfurled on the little grassy park at the foot of the Esplanade. Vivacious Cajun rhythms swirled through the rosy salt air as the summer Sunset Concert hit full stride. We could see and hear it all from our corner window vantage point at Cafe Lido, as cozy a neighborhood restaurant as Capitola has ever devised.

My buddy Dianne and I have long been fans of Capitola's seaside charms--from its intimate scale to its energetic attitude--especially in the summertime. We launched this rare dinner together with a glass of Frog's Leap Chardonnay 1994 ($6.50--yikes!) and another of house Chianti Classico ($5.25) from the modest house listing, happy to have an excuse to cop a girl's night out.

Outside the action was all music, waves, sunset and dancers moved by the zydeco to break out in little spontaneous islands of Texas two-step. Inside, the cafe was beginning to fill with the hum of satisfied sipping.

Baked brie isn't at the top of my list of summer appetizers. But Dianne is a year-round cheesophile, and so we absolutely had to try Cafe Lido's version ($5.95) and a small Caesar salad ($3.95). Attacking a plate of fresh, fragrant francese, I was busily applying copious quantities of a light olive oil conveniently provided when we started checking out dinner possibilities in earnest. The chalkboard offered some fresh seafood ideas, but it was a grilled prawns with artichoke hearts ($8.50) number that stamped its little feet for attention.

Grilled seafood, good, now we needed something from the Lido's Mediterranean comfort food offerings. Possibilities were as long as that sunset, but I finally decided on pasta, a choice Dianne dubbed predictable in the extreme. Fettuccine with prawns Florentine ($13.95) sounded just pampering enough. It was going to involve spinach, prawns, red bell peppers and mushrooms--most of my favorite food groups--and nothing trendy or overly challenging. And that was just what the evening called for--something that wouldn't demand more attention than our conversation, but generous enough for us each to work away happily at the single dish.

We both loved the two-skewered appetizer (actually large enough to act as an entree), one row of expertly grilled prawns--all mesquite perfumed and moist inside--and another of tiny grilled artichokes, both on a bed of purple cabbage. A squeeze of lemon or two later, every trace had disappeared.

The baked brie cracked us up. Hand-delivered with considerable flourish from the kitchen by one of the cooking staff, a white, oven-proof casserole dish was filled with what looked like a shallow pool of melted butter. Here and there a pinenut surfaced in the viscous liquid. No problem. We can play whatever hand is dealt. So we tore off a few chunks of bread and dredged the yellow sea. Not bad, we both said at once, grabbing more bread and repeating the probe. Initially buttery, as the molten mass cooled, the brie-ness of the dish emerged, creating a really yummy effect.

The Caesar salad--nicely executed with crisp romaine, better-than-average croutons, a light, low-garlic dressing and a dusting of Parmesan--got better with every bite, probably because most of the dressing, and all of the anchovy flavor, seemed located toward the bottom of the lettuce pile.

A bit more wine was called for to accompany our shared platter of fettuccine--an attractive, accessible creation cooked with passion and skill and tasting even better than its all-star ingredients prophesied. The bed of fresh spinach was impeccable, the sensuous wide noodles just at the al dente point. Six very plump prawns, an entire colony of mushrooms, lots of garlic, white wine and red bell pepper strips danced throughout this excellent plate of pasta--the sort of entree that makes you glow and gives carbo-loading a good name.

We loved being in Cafe Lido, where we weren't rushed, but service was prompt. The vibes, as it is always appropriate to point out--in Capitola, in the summer--were terrific.


Cafe Lido

Address: 110 Monterey Ave., Capitola
Phone: 475-6544
Hours: dinner daily from 4pm; lunch Wed.­Sun. 11:30am­4pm
Cuisine: Seaside Mediterranean
Ambiance: Coastal cafe
Service: Friendly
Price: Moderate
Overall: ** 1/2 Does a nice job with an uncomplicated menu, and you just can't beat the location

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


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From the August 15-21, 1996 issue of Metro Santa Cruz

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