Gazing out a window from the lounge at the Dream Inn’s Aquarius restaurant on a sunny mid-afternoon, the wharf stretched out on sapphire water while seagulls had the Cowells Beach sand to themselves.
Over our heads, pendant white surfboards faced the incoming waves, surrounded by soft strains of jazzy big-band music.
The lounge’s nine-item Bar Menu ($8 to $15) ranges from clam chowder with bacon and fresh cream to Lagunitas IPA-battered fish and chips, and is available from 2:30 until 5:30 p.m.
Recently added to the lounge is a Tapas menu served daily from 3:30 until 10 p.m. During Happy Hour (5 p.m. until 8 p.m. daily except on holidays) both menus are discounted 25 percent, with specials on beer ($4) and well drinks or house wines ($6).
The Rancho Gordo Bean Salad ($6) was unlike any I’d encountered. Peppery leaves of tender arugula were tossed in neutral-flavored sherry vinaigrette with plenty of chewy chunks of salty pancetta bacon, acidic bites of pickled red onion, pencil-thin crisp green beans and meaty black and grey heirloom beans from Napa’s Rancho Gordo.
A single Pan-Seared Sea Scallop ($7), its top crisp and interior smooth and tender, was served over a bit of Greek yogurt with arugula leaves, shaved fennel and slivers of preserved lemon peel.
A bowl of Manilla Clams ($7) with wedges of artichoke hearts and sun-dried tomatoes rehydrated by the Chardonnay-infused broth, was well-herbed and spiced by chunks of chorizo sausage and minced garlic and topped with beautiful purple-stemmed green sprouts.
In the restaurant, on Sunday and Wednesday there are three-course dinners ($25) with a bottle of Big House wine ($15). Listen to live jazz on Thursdays from 6:30 p.m. Parking at the hotel’s lot across West Cliff drive is free with ticket validation by your server. | KP
Aquarius at the Dream Inn, 175 West Cliff Drive, Santa Cruz, 460-5012. Full bar. Open daily at 7 a.m. Restaurant closes at 9:30, or 10 p.m. weekends. Lounge food served until one hour prior to closing. Visit dreaminnsantacruz.com/restaurant.