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Room With a View

[whitespace] Sea Cloud
George Sakkestad

Elb Tide: Steve Elb, executive chef at the Municipal Wharf's Sea Cloud restaurant, adds high-quality seafood to the already stunning seaside spot.

Moonlight on the water, flickering lights of the Boardwalk, a wharfside perch over the waves--an evening at Sea Cloud

By Christina Waters

HAVING LOGGED more than my fair share of happy hours and delicious dinners at Sea Cloud, I love having an excuse to slide into one of those enormous padded booths and peruse the menu. Actually, I knew in advance what one of us would have at our recent dinner: Jack loves tuna. And the menu obliged by providing blackened ahi, sashimi-style ($11.95). My eyes were firmly fixed on the Asian glazed scallop salad ($10.95), while Jack decided on the ahi appetizer as his main dish and ordered the smoked salmon salad ($11.95) as a starter. For variety, I ordered the duxelle-wrapped filet mignon ($22.95) that would go nicely with a bottle of Renwood Old Vine Zinfandel 1995 ($26), one of my favorite zins that shows up all too rarely on wine lists.

How nice of the Seaside Company to leave the roller-coaster lights on, we agreed, mesmerized by the undulating curves of the flickering white lights from our cozy booth. The soothing view never fails to work its magic, and we toasted the outstanding house sourdough bread with goblets of spicy zinfandel.

It took quite a while, but finally our huge appetizer salads arrived. My skewer of grilled sea scallops on a bed of baby lettuces and cucumber slices was excellent, moist on the inside, crisp with a soy- and sesame oil-based glaze. A bracing wasabi vinaigrette covered the greens, as well as diced ripe mango and tiny squares of oranges. Really lovely, but so abundant that it was difficult to keep everything on the plate.

Jack's central island of smoked salmon had been shaped into a rose with a bed of garlicky cannellini beans and lettuce underneath. The beans and a wonderfully ripe tomato had been tossed with balsamic vinegar, while--mysteriously--a tasteless, not-so-ripe tomato had been sliced and added to the vast quantity of items on the plate. Even edible flowers were part of this very busy, but very delicious package.

Our entrees continued the tradition of overflowing plates. Jack's ahi was a textbook version of very thin squares of perfect ahi bordered with peppery spices and a dusting of toasted sesame seeds. Served with a tangy Asian slaw full of rice vinegar and sesame oil, it also sported wasabi vinaigrette and yet more of the cucumber slices, decorative parsley sprigs and tiny squares of orange and grapefruit. Hey, kitchen people: Calm down! This is decorator-intensive food, a riot for the eyes as well as tastebuds. The wonderful zinfandel tasted one-dimensional by comparison.

With all of this seafood, we both looked forward to the filet mignon, which arrived surrounded by a thick moat of mashed potatoes and a fist-sized dollop of horseradish cream. An oversized branch of parsley was waving from the center of the beef castle, access to which was denied by the potatoes, a thick coating of mushroom duxelle and a wrapper of prosciutto. Somewhere in the middle of all this was a lovely filet awaiting liberation.

It's clear that something isn't quite understood by the kitchen when simply cutting into the steak sends shock waves of mashed potatoes and horseradish sauce out over the edge of the plate--this had a rich red wine reduction sauce that flowed onto the table top with each movement of the fork. The entire dish was precarious, overwrought and messy. But the beef tasted great--perhaps the challenge of liberating my quarry sharpened my appetite. Simplifying this dish would greatly benefit everyone involved. Just a nice filet, maybe on a thin glaze of duxelle, with some mashed potatoes--some, not an entire tribe--would be great.

The cheesecake dessert ($4.50) --made at the downtown sister restaurant Clouds--was studded with strawberries on a crust of almonds and coconut, and was very, very good.

Sea Cloud Restaurant
Address: 650 Municipal Wharf, Santa Cruz
Phone: 458-9393
Hours: Lunch Tue-Sat. 11:30-2:30; light menu daily 2:30-5pm; dinner daily 5-11pm.
Entrees: Moderately expensive
Service: *** Attentive, helpful and serious about pleasing the patron
Ambiance: *** Terrific views and attractive woodwork make this a cozy and stylish port in a storm
Cuisine: ** 1/2 Overly decorative presentation mars some fine flavors
Overall: Sea Cloud offers high-quality seafood appetizers and is one of the most inviting rendezvous spots around.

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From the November 12-18, 1998 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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