Hidden at the foot of the Santa Cruz Mountains, at the bottom of a steep garden slope, lays a meandering building that holds a restaurant by the name of Shadowbrook. Sounding less like a restaurant than a hidden shire in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, so much so that upon arrival one might expect ring wraiths and hobbits. Instead there is a refreshing ocean breeze and a parking lot at the top of a cliff.
Shadowbrook is a throwback to a simpler time. It is one of those peerless romantic getaways; it is the place young men want to take their prom date, the perfect setting for an idyllic Valentine’s day dinner, or the first place that comes to mind when a suitor seeks that special backdrop for a fairytale proposal. As a matter of fact, we witnessed just such an event in the dining room during our meal. It was precious, a breathless “yes,” followed by the applause of a roomful of empathetic strangers. Nice moment.
Shadowbrook is secluded, picturesque, and intriguingly laid out. A multitude of labyrinthian stairways lead to rooms, those rooms lead to other rooms, and after wandering behind the hostess on a journey much like Alice experienced after falling down the rabbit hole, diners are ultimately seated at their table. Every section of the restaurant is itself an Elysian setting. Most tables overlook either the lush gardens that majestically climb the rock wall to the upper parking lot, or provide a clear view of the small river creek that runs along the back of the building. Serenely surreal.
Last summer a large group of family and friends went to Shadowbrook to celebrate my husband’s birthday (or as you all know him my Better Half). We’d rented a communal beach house in Watsonville, and were close enough to check it out. So one Saturday night last July we drove the mountain roads over to Capitola, and made our way to this legendary restaurant. Having been once before, long before my days as a food writer, I was curious to see how it would hold up after so much time. The BH had taken me there for our wedding anniversary in the late nineties, and though I had fond memories, my standards for what constitutes fine dining have definitely changed. I admit to being more than a little curious.
with pickled ginger/daikon puree
The first appetizer we had was an order of Bacon-Wrapped Prawns, which despite their old-style appearance were delicious. It is hard to find anything wrong with a lovely bacon wrapping on a moist succulent prawn. The dish combined the flavors of a pickled ginger & daikon puree with sweetness of the shrimp and the fatty crunchy bacon. It was a combo I found mind-bendingly, surprisingly delicious. It may not have been inordinately pretty, but in terms of flavors, this was genius on a plate.
Along with the prawns, arrived an order of Baked Brie. It’s crusty delicious and flaky, it arrived as a light pastry blanket over a lovely melted brie. The dish, however, had a fairly bizarre appearance. It sat there in a glowing neon-green puddle of semi-melted jalapeno jelly. A shade of green that mimics absolutely nothing in nature. Tasty though, in spite of the awkward presentation. The little pile of crostini that came along with the melted cheese were well toasted and quite good. So far, a perfect meal for a blind person.
|Seriously, what comes in this COLOR?|
|Roasted Butternut Squash Soup|
I had the Rock Lobster Tail (theirs is from South Africa), and while it again wasn’t the prettiest dish, the lobster was sweet and creamy and certainly fresh. It was poached in a champagne beurre blanc and came with pleasantly seasoned vegetables, which in this case were asparagus. The asparagus looked color treated to me, they were almost too green, but I enjoyed the buttermilk mashed potatoes.
We shared our desserts, trying the Jack Daniels Mud Pie (a spectacularly rich dessert, and the ice cream itself is completely infused with the liquor); a Chocolate Meltdown (this is a standard molten chocolate cake); and a Creme Brulee. All of them were toothsome and decadent. The waitress also brought the BH a free birthday dessert, complete with a nice little candle. Thoughtful touches like that do add to the class of a place.
|Molten Chocolate Dessert|
I would sum this place up as something everyone should do at least once. It’s fun and unique, even if it isn’t quite the French Laundry. The food is somewhat pricy but it’s good and the portions are large. This isn’t exactly fine dining, as the plating lacks a good deal of artistry, but the chef is talented and the huge menu is solidly enjoyable. Pretty much everything here is tasty, but served with a decidedly dated style. I felt the entire time as though I had been transported back to some wonderful seventies time warp. But it is a time warp I would gladly do “again.” This is an old-fashioned steak & seafood joint with an extraordinarily pretty setting. But I think it’s fair to say Shadowbrook is not just another pretty face.
Check it out for yourself, and Bon Appetit! (The BH says walk down, Tram up. By the time our full-bellied party hit the top of the walkway, none of us was able to breath so well, as it is all UP hill)
1750 Wharf Rd
Capitola, CA 95010
The Downsides: This place is NOISY. And since it’s so popular, they really pack you in. We found the tables were so close together, that it made it almost impossible to get up to get to the bathroom. One had to move the parties on both sides in order to get out of our chairs, and as we said in the seventies, “That’s not cool, man.”