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Bridge Work

[whitespace] Stockton Bridge Grill
Robert Scheer

Catch-of-the-Evening: Stockton Bridge Grill chefs Shannon McCormick (left) and Michelle Dey and co-owner Lee Walters surround young Cooper Walters bearing a plate of grilled shrimp.

Dangling over the Capitola estuary, Stockton Bridge Grille showcases freshly styled specialties and good attitude

By Christina Waters

FRANK IS A fanatic about food accessorizing. He believes that a main dish should live up to its name with complete confidence, that side dishes should enhance harmoniously without upstaging. Given these gastronomic metaphysics, he enjoyed our recent dinner at Capitola's Stockton Bridge Grille, where warm vibes are part of the welcome.

A tiny corner table overlooked the serpentine exit of Soquel Creek into the Monterey Bay. Seagulls and ducks gathered in the setting sun; wharf light twinkled in the distance. It was a lovely setting for what was to be a fine seafood dinner.

Fresh seafoods are the house specialty of Stockton Bridge, and two catches-of-the-evening immediately caught our attention--one a grilled yellowtail ($15), the other a fresh Chilean seabass topped with roasted red bell pepper puree ($16). At midweek, the cafe was filled with a loquacious throng of diners of mixed ages, families, couples and groups of business associates. The service--staffers willing to engage in some repartee with guests without sacrificing any attention to needs--helps set a tone. High-quality cuisine is only one of the reasons this place has kept its foothold in the heart of this resort village for so long.

Organic greens--tasty, tender and sprinkled with walnuts--filled my pretty green salad ($3.65). I loved the slight hint of tarragon in the very tart dressing--a dressing that pleased Frank, who loves an extra splash of vinegar to step up the boldness of sauces. He had ordered one of the house hits, the grilled salmon-cake appetizer ($8.95), which arrived lavishly topped with a zippy salsa of roasted corn and chiles. This dish really was quite wonderful--and huge, we observed, as we began to work our way through three large patties of herb-laced salmon.

Grilled and yet extremely pliant to the fork, the salmon cakes were anything but shy, the salsa leaving a pulsing vibration of spiciness on our lips. Definitely a great dish, and generous enough to serve as a light meal in itself.

With our appetizers we sipped glasses of a cherry-fragranced cabernet from Fountain Grove ($5) and an overly fruity chardonnay from Mark West ($6). A much more interesting glass of Pepperwood Pinot Noir 1993 ($5) accompanied our entrees.

That dinners are a good value at Stockton Bridge Grille was eloquently illustrated by our entrees. A fresh green vegetable--in this case perfect steamed broccoli--came with the main attraction. Frank's yellowtail was topped with caramelized onions and cilantro, and nestled against a thick cloud of garlic mashed potatoes that I found to be utter perfection. My mother would kill to produce mashed potatoes this comforting, with just the right sexy tension between smooth whippedness and occasional unmashed morsels of potato. Yes, there was butter here; there's butter in heaven, too. My fork wandered over to those mashed potatoes all throughout our dinner.

My fat wedge of very moist sea bass arrived squiggled with red pepper puree and another squiggle of pesto on top. A large meadow of wild rice pilaf invited grazing. "Now this is rice that truly accompanies its main dish," Frank pronounced.

And he was right that everything on the plate--the brilliant green broccoli, the plush rice--enhanced the central starring seafood. Even those incredible mashed potatoes didn't steal the thunder from the yellowtail, which we both loved for its slight crust of blackened grilling and its rich, succulent flesh.

Honest and freshly prepared, the appetizers and entrees here pleased us both. We were, however, a bit underwhelmed by the dessert choices, which once again displayed the tyranny of chocolate. Surely seafoods cry out for a citrusy--especially lemon--dessert. Lacking such an option, we split an unexciting apple crisp ($5) and sipped excellent decaf cappuccinos ($2.50).

Stockton Bridge Grille continues to reign in its pro-seafood agenda--as Capitolans already know full well.

Stockton Bridge Grille
Address: 231 Esplanade, Capitola
Phone: 462-1350
Entrees: Moderate
Cuisine: ** 1/2 Fresh, lively, simple foods prepared with care and served with integrity.
Ambiance: ** 1/2 The views outside the windows of this simple cafe are soothing as well as invigorating.
Service: *** Service with an upbeat attitude, as well as attention to patron needs, is consistent.
Overall: Capitola's abundance of culinary riches is upgraded by this charming cafe and its devotion to fine seafood dishes.
****Great, ***Excellent, **Good, *Okay

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From the March 26-April 1, 1998 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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