Gilda’s popular Friday night Cioppino celebrates our local Italian heritage
In a weekly ritual, seafood lovers seek traditional California sustenance. Braving snaking traffic on Municipal Wharf, they anticipate Gilda’s Friday night special Cioppino ($13.95).
A luscious aroma greeted us in Gilda’s foyer. Eyeing the practically packed house we headed to the cocktail lounge. It is fitting to enjoy this meal in a shared setting, after all: California Cioppino was invented as a potluck of sorts, as fishermen contributed their catch to a communal pot.
Although the views are magical at any table, southwestern-facing swivel-chairs look straight out from the bar upon Steamer Lane and the lighthouse. On the walls of the small room hang photos of the Cottardo Stagnaro family and historic hauls of fisherman from times past.
The bartender brought a basket of warm, crusty bread and a bowl of golden foil-wrapped butter, soft enough to spread. In short order he delivered steaming oval plates brimming with an assortment of seafood swimming in herb-flecked tomato sauce. A traditional accessory bowl contained a lemon fork for securing small morsels, a two-position nutcracker for the crab shells, and numerous napkins. I thought the plastic bib was cute but superfluous, until the first crack of a crab leg sent a shower of saucy droplets in every direction.
I saved the crab for last; not just because it’s my favorite, but because it’s more hands-on. I speared cockle clams from their gaping shells, sliced into tender white scallops, plump prawns and flaky cod, and savored chewy corkscrews of tenderized calamari. Then I grabbed the crab, cracking the shell and extracting succulent sweet meat. There was a substantial amount of zesty, seafood-flavored sauce remaining, too luscious to waste. It will soon be the basis of shrimp lasagna.
Gilda’s offers specials every weeknight, and at breakfast, the Construction Workers’ Special is old-school gratifying.
Gilda’s, Center of Municipal Wharf, Santa Cruz, 423-2010. Full Bar. Open at 7:30 a.m. weekdays and a.m. weekends. Serving dinner until approximately 9 p.m. nightly.