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Aug 27, 2009 12:44 AM

Santa Cruz for a romantic getaway - any worthy destination restaurants?

Taking a quick getaway to a lovely hotel we found in Santa Cruz. Any restaurants we should seek out? The restaurant at the hotel is called Aquarius ( but I know nothing about it, so if anyone has eaten there and has opinions, that would be helpful as well!

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    1. Hubby & I and a friend went to Aquarius for lunch today and came away really pleased. It has a modern, slightly upscale vibe, the wall-sized windows bringing in lots of light and allowing a view from every table. The patrons (including us) were mostly casually dressed (it is at the beach after all). The service was nice and not the rushing around we seem to always see Wharf restaurants like they're rushing around but not actually doing much.

      On to the food. We went around 2 pm, and they were still serving the brunch menu:

      Two of us got the fish and chips, which today was mahi mahi. One of us opted for the house-made potato chips and the other the fries:

      I got the Clam "Chowda" which struck my interest because it's broth based, not cream based, with whole clams, coins of fingerling potatoes and bits of thick-cut bacon. It does have a little cream or half&half, but definitely not the thick creamy stuff you see everywhere else:

      I really enjoyed my chowder (think of it as soup not chowder), but it was a bit too salty (as if the Chef salted it normally without remembering the bacon adds a lot of salt as it cooks). I got to taste some of the fish, chips, and fries and they were expertly fried: crispy-crunchy and not greasy, with the batter the right thickness. I didn't taste the lemon-dill aioli but heard it was heavy-handed on the dill. The menu put emphasis on fresh, local, and seasonal, and with flavor combinations that are unique but still familiar. We were too full for dessert, but the dessert menu has a lot of tempting things, all housemade, that are a little strange but also strangely seem to go together, like the Devil's Food Chocolate Cake, with vahlrona chocolate mousse and pretzel-crusted guinness gelato (!!).

      This place is several notches above in food, service and ambiance over the other Wharf restaurants (though technically it's on land, not on the Wharf), and yet the prices are about the same (for breakfast & lunch that is). You even get free valet parking at the hotel's driveway, or free self-parking across the street. And it's nice enough to feel romantic at night. I'm not very familiar with the rest of the restaurant scene in Santa Cruz, but I think you'll enjoy it and you don't have to drive back anywhere after dinner!

      1 Reply
      1. re: Alice Patis

        I was there w/ Alice and her husband and agree completely with her assessment of Aquarius (nice photos, Alice!). I had the fish and chips with housemade potato chips. The mahi mahi was fresh and not overcooked. The batter was a little heavier than I prefer, but it was nicely seasoned and greaseless. The menu touts that they use beer from local Seabright Brewery for their batter. The lemon dill aioli was overwhelmed by dill (and I like dill), so next time I would see if they have a plain aioli or something along the lines of tartar sauce. Our waitress was accommodating and eager to please. I liked Alice's chowder but agree that it was a little too salty.

        The prices are pretty reasonable as you can see on their menu:

        As a local, I look forward to returning for happy hour from 3-6 and sitting in their bar/lounge area. It's also nice to have a solid place to take family or friends who are visiting that's close to the Boardwalk and wharf.

        Here's a dinner report from MSK: