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[whitespace] Wharf House
Ship-Shape: At the end ot the Capitola pier, the Wharf House offers a bounty of good fare.

Sunset Destination

Seafood and sailboats make for a winning combination at the Wharf House

By Selene Latigo

My first apartment after college was in Capitola, and on my daily walks around the neighborhood I would always stop to enjoy the view over the colorful village and along the vast coastline. At the time, I wondered what that one building was at the end of the wharf, but didn't venture down to explore all it had to offer. Last week when we experienced some bizarre hurricane-influenced thundershowers, I looked up into the clearing cloud formations and decided we needed to go somewhere to watch the sure-to-be-amazing sunset. We also needed to eat food, and what better place to combine the two than at the Wharf House?

We raced the sun out to Capitola and made it just in time to witness its slow sink, lighting the clouds with neon pinks and purples, as we began the prerequisite stroll down the pedestrian-only pier, passing fishermen and seagulls. We entered this smaller-than-expected restaurant full of decorative nets, buoys and other various sea paraphernalia, all tangled up with festive holiday lights. Our table, one of only a dozen or so, was right next to a window, providing glowing light and a romantic view of the ocean. A blackboard at the full bar touted incredible bloody marys and mimosas, something for which I will definitely return, along with the tempting breakfast options such as the crab florentine or the alderwood-smoked salmon omelette. Instead, we decided to share a glass of the Samantha Star Pinot Noir from Monterey ($6), one selection from the short, mostly local wine list. We were both happy with our choice, finding it full of spice and levels of dried fruit and strawberry, but like many California pinots its boldness is unbecoming to such an elegant grape.

A basket of warmed thick slices of somewhat dry white bread arrived, which we slathered with the feather-light whipped butter while gazing out the window, as the last surfer of the day paddled in. Thoroughly enjoying the view and the cozy space, we perused the dinner menu, which featured all of the expected seafood restaurant selections such as fried calamari, clams and prawns, shrimp cocktail, chowder, scallops and linguine and shrimp scampi, with additions of some Mexican-themed items like the grilled quesadilla, black bean nachos, Mexican prawns and snapper with salsa fresca. There are a few salads to choose from as well and several opportunities to add shrimp, crab or chicken to many of the appetizers.

Of the three evening specials our server recited, Dave chose the cioppini over linguine ($19.95) with a cup of New England-style chowder. The soup was creamy and full of finely chopped clams, potatoes and seasonings. Dave was already sopping up the last of his soup as I took my first bite of green salad that accompanied the fish and chips ($13.95). A colorful variety of vegetables were splayed over the mixed baby greens, with a vibrant red wine and shallot vinaigrette.

Our entrees arrived swiftly and piping hot. Dave's special was packed with a large selection of seafood: clams, scallops, salmon, shrimp and tuna on top of the steaming bowl of pasta. The thin tomato sauce was zesty and infused with garlic, mushrooms, parsley and melted Parmesan cheese. Although the tuna was overcooked and chewy, the rest of the items were just right. His favorite of the mix was the tender and delicate scallops, which completely captured the essence of this classic dish.

My fish and chips, with huge dark golden fried pieces of pure white cod and crunchy, spiced potato wedges, was the best I've had in a long while. The fish, not soggy in the least, was flaky and tender, and if not for the crispy coating, with its flecks of savory seasonings, would surely have melted in my mouth. Lemon wedges and little bowls of rich tartar sauce and tangy cocktail sauce graced the large plate.

We lingered at the table, watching sailboats and the twinkling lights of the Esplanade. I would love to come check out a weekend jazz show up on their upstairs deck. It took me a while to finally experience the Wharf House's ambience, but now I'm hooked.

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From the October 5-12, 2005 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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