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Seacliff Sensitivity

Chef Ponch Farias
Robert Scheer

Koi Chef Pondering: Severino's chef Francisco 'Ponch' Farias sports a seafood and chipotle butter pasta in front of the restaurant's picturesque koi pond.

A positive dining experience proves that Severino's offers more than just great lounge action

By Christina Waters

THE SEACLIFF INN LOUNGE was filled with middle management guys in golf shirts wrapping up a long day of corporate conferencing. And that was just fine with my friend Dianne and me, who happily nursed glasses of wine while waiting for our table at Severino's. I was halfway into a goblet of spicy Soquel Vineyards pinot noir ($6), and Di was busy sipping a glass of Kendall-Jackson chardonnay 1995 ($5.50) and regaling me with a ribald episode from her past, when we were called for our table.

Huge hemispherical booths are one of the guilty pleasures of restaurant dining, I've decided. Nobody has these wraparound comfort zones in the privacy of their own home. They're incredibly spacious, yet somehow intimate.

Our hardworking waiter, who maintained his upbeat disposition despite an overload of tableside commitments, let us know about many evening specials as we munched francese bread slathered with butter (from those damned foil wrappers). And there was so much to like on the eclectic Severino's menu that I even forgave that typo that will not die--"Ceasar," on the Caesar salad entry.

I soothed my momentary pique over the misspelling with a Norwegian smoked salmon appetizer ($7.95) that Di and I both pounced upon like a pair of nocturnal predators. The appetizer platter groaned with succulent salmon anointed with little offerings of tartar sauce, cherry tomatoes, capers, red onions, cream cheese, lemon slices and mini-bagels.

Di's autobiography was up to the late '70s by the time we turned to a nice house green salad of mixed baby lettuces--to which we added our own splashes of oil and balsamic vinegar. We kept revisiting the very fresh- tasting, soft, sweet salmon in between bites of greens and managed to almost ignore the garnish of canned black olives.

My entrée of rack of lamb ($18.95) arrived with the tiny chops fanned out on a delicious sauce of mustard, wine and pan juices. The lamb was rare as requested and partnered by a baked potato that transcended its own cliché status, and a flavorful sauté of mixed summer vegetables. The pinot provided its own grace note.

Di's evening special of fresh grilled yellowtail tuna ($16.95) came with the same nice blend of veggies and a dry, fragrant rice pilaf (would someone kindly retire rice pilaf once and for all?!). The fish was great to look at, all nicely covered with those designer cross-hatchings from the grill the way Martha Stewart and God intended grilled fish to look. But Di, who can be picky or pliant depending upon mood and barometric pressure, pointed out that the fish was overcooked.

I tasted. Great taste. But yes, dry. A shame, actually, since this was a lovely piece of seafood that just got away from the cook in terms of execution.

My excellent lamb was a real star, though, and showed that this kitchen is capable of care and sensitivity.

Espresso seemed a good idea after such a lengthy dinner--Di's personal saga required well over two hours to recount, given the juicy details and all. The conference-goers had devoured most of the desserts, so we tried something called chocolate paté ($4.25), which looked like big geological slabs of frozen chocolate that had fallen apart under our forks. There was some whipped cream and a pool of crème Anglaise in the mix, but essentially it was a quick chocolate fix without much pizzazz. Di, who adores chocolate, found it just fine.

Address: 7500 Old Dominion Ct., Aptos
Phone: 688-8987
Hours: Breakfast 6:30­11am Mon.­Sat., lunch 11am­2pm Mon.­Sat., dinner 5­9pm nightly (till 10pm Fri.­Sat.), brunch 10am­2pm Sun.
Price: Moderate
Chef: Francisco Farias
Ambiance: **1/2 Tiered room offers non-threatening, white tablecloth setting
Service: *** A smart staff that works hard to be clear, attentive to needs and helpful about menu choices
Cuisine: **1/2 This is a menu that offers a lot to like, none of it wildly adventurous or trendy, most of it well-crafted of high-quality ingredients
Overall: Severino's offers pleasant dining in a pretty room, gives good value for the money and covers the drinking and dining waterfront with a friendly attitude.

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

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From the Aug. 28-Sept. 3, 1997 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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