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Santa Cruz Wharf: Riva vs. Gilda’s

Melanie Wong Jun 21, 2013 11:46 PM

Flashback to autumn 2011 . . . our family spent two weeks in a Santa Cruz beach house. A friend who grew up here recommended that we check out the daily specials at Gilda’s especially the Wednesday prime rib and the Friday cioppino.

Gilda’s menu of day of the week specials

I did call in an order of cioppino to-go that came back to the house to be enjoyed by the sea. Prepared to order, the generous amount of seafood, each cooked to the right doneness, was pretty impressive. The tomato saucing, spiked with plenty of garlic and dried herbs, sported a float of rich olive oil on the top of the container.

At the end of our stay, we headed to Riva for our last meal in town so that we could see the wharf. Here’s the view toward Steamer Lane from our table.

Mom tried the Seafood Santa Fe, $14.95. This was a big bowl of overcooked shellfish and huge pieces of undercooked red potato in a medium-spiced chile based broth. The cottony crab was a crime against Dungeness.

After our waiter said it was one of the most popular selections, I ordered the Snapper Charro, $12.95. Bad in so many ways, I don't know where to start. Maybe with the lukewarm and tasteless filet of overcooked snapper buried under all that crap. But maybe it could be considered an improvement to hide the seafood under a mess o’ mushy beans, canned artichokes, and near-raw carrots. The limp phallic-object on top was the soggy deep-fried zucchini spear that appeared unannounced as garnish.

I returned my snapper dish, explaining why it was inedible, once I was able to get the waiter’s attention again. He declined to remove it from our bill.

After the disaster at Riva Fish House, I walked over to Gilda's to get the Wednesday special, $8.95 prime rib, to go. This made a nice dinner for Mom’s first night back at home. Here’s the menu board posted outside,

Now updating to the present, last month we returned to Gilda’s on a Friday. This was actually our first time eating-in. We were seated in a window booth on the side facing the parking lot and looking toward the Boardwalk. The complimentary ciabatta bread’s served warm.

William had the Scallop basket, $12.95. The fries and coleslaw were only so-so. The scallops suffered from overly thick breading though they were still juicy and not overdone.

For me, the Friday special, Cioppino, $13.95. The pieces of fish were a bit too firm, but otherwise, another good job on hitting the right doneness. Generously packed, this had half a Dungeness crab, medium size shrimp, scallops, previously frozen calamari (the rubbery low point of the dish), clams, and rock cod. Not as garlicky as my recollection, but still plenty tasty. Mom and I split this with a small dinner salad (topped with bay shrimp), and we still couldn’t finish it. I took the remains home and used the tasty sauce to top some pasta.

My brother brought Mom back on a recent Wednesday for the prime rib special, $8.95. This came with a cup of clam chowder, a baked potato, a side of veggies, and bread and butter. He was satisfied and would get this again.

Gilda’s food is not fancy and none of these dishes count as the best I’ve ever had. Gilda’s does deliver solid value at its price point, plus an ocean view. And after being let down at too many Santa Cruz eateries, I can be happy with that.