Paradise Beach Grille Reviews Santa Cruz Sentinel

True ‘Paradise’ on Capitola Esplanade
Santa Cruz Sentinel
by Janet Blaser

I HAVE TO ADMIT my curiosity is piqued when something is self-titled “paradise.” Because in my mind, there’s no doubt what kind of images are conjured up by the word.

So, when the second restaurant in Capitola Village adopted that nomenclature (the first being Paradise Sushi), I knew I’d have to check it out.

My companion and I headed to the week-old Paradise Beach Grille late Friday night, thinking to just take a peek, maybe have a drink and check out this new kid on the block. Plus, I wanted to see if it could possibly measure up to my standards of paradise (harumph).

Well, I’m happy to report that owners Leslie and Gary Wetsel and manager Suzanne McLernon have fine-tuned their operation so well that it’s pretty dang close to paradise, thank you very much. It’s a treat just being there, much less eating and drinking.

To start with, aesthetic pleasures abound – spacious and expansive dining and bar areas; a courteous, well-trained waits staff with hip but professional uniforms; tables that are thankfully spaced with enough room between them (I hate eating elbow-to-elbow with people I don’t know); and a patio that’s a joy to behold as well as to relax on, with heat lamps to ward off the chill, a real working fireplace in one corner (with the bar winding around just an arm’s length away); and a contemporary design that situates you on the beach in classy, unrivaled style.

And we haven’t even gotten to the menu.

Given what he’s working with, it’s no wonder Chef Stephen Hanacek has created the wonderfully bold, modern menu. He’s fused a medley of ethnic traditions and techniques with distinctively California touches and ingredients, and come up with a full range of entrees, appetizers, lunch items, and weekly specials.

That means diners can choose from dishes as elegant as the Painted Sunset Swordfish ($19.95), a generous herbed filet topped with a roasted vegetable mousse and baked in parchment; or as basic as a burger – updated just a bit with gorgonzola, pancetta, and a Francese roll. Vegetarians’ option is probably the Ultimate Veggie ($10.95), house-made focaccia topped with assorted grilled vegetables and buttery smoked Gouda. You can also choose from a few kinds of pasta, some chicken dishes and lots of seafood, including salmon, ahi, crab, and swordfish. Weekly specials allow the kitchen even more creative freedom to play with Mother Nature’s goodies.

We also split a slice of Key Lime Pie ($4.95), the classic rich sweet and tart Southern dessert. Served with a dollop of whipped cream on the side, you can at least pretend to be counting calories by leaving a smidgen of cream on the plate.

It was hard to leave that night, and indeed, we returned the following day to sit on the patio and sip piña coladas ($6.50), while we shared an Ahi Tuna Salad ($13.95), an exquisite slab of almost-raw sushi-grade ahi, coated with Cajun spices and drizzled with a champagne wasabi vinaigrette. Wonderful doesn’t do this dish justice. One word of caution, though: the salad contains sliced avocado as well as a knob of fiery wasabi; I almost mistook one pale green clump for the other and would have been quite the worse for it, as I’m sure you can imagine.

Besides offering so much sensory titillation, Paradise Beach Grille provides a much-needed late-night place to eat. There aren’t that many places that serve food after 10 p.m. and even fewer that serve it with such style. There’s also a full bar and an extensive wine list.

Paradise Beach Grille has certainly changed the face of the Esplanade, offering a more elegant dining experience than what we’ve come to expect in that area. It captures the essence of Capitola’s beachfront spirit.

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Leslie and Gary Wetsel The couple bought the present building in 1998. Leslie and Gary Wetsel
The couple bought the present building in 1998.