Welcome back to Rio

dining_caferioGood times are once again rolling at Cafe Rio

We couldn’t get a dinner reservation until 7:30 on a Tuesday night, demonstrating that Cafe Rio has opened with a bang. Laughter filled the air as families finished their meals, while the numerous servers and staff members buzzed around the large dining area.

I sipped house cabernet ($5) from Butterfield Station, full of ripe berries, while dipping pieces of soft-crusted baguette in olive oil which was gently seasoned with bits of garlic and herbs.

B. & B. Seared Ahi Tuna ($16) appears as an appetizer at dinner and also on the bar menu. Strips of fish with smoky charred surfaces and watermelon-pink interiors were served with searing soy mustard dressing on a bed of sautéed onions and multicolored bell peppers.

We then enjoyed a selection of first courses. The chunky Fishmonger Soup ($7) held fish, clams and shrimp with vegetables and potatoes in a seafood broth.

Caesar Salad ($9) was made traditionally with croutons, Reggiano Parmesan cheese and had a delectable hint of garlic in the dressing.

In the lunch-sized Beet Salad ($10) chunks of pink and purple beets, creamy goat cheese and crunchy candied pecans topped a mixed green salad with light honey-mustard dressing.

The extremely attentive bus boy kept the iced tea and water glass full and fastidiously replaced and arranged silverware for the main courses. Fish and Chips ($16.50) featured tender fish with a light Anchor Steam beer-battered crust, an excellent tartar-type sauce whose pickles tasted like the German deli variety, and a sweet, vinegary orange chili dip. The house cut, thick steak fries were cooked perfectly; crisp outside and tender in the centers.

Linguini with Clams ($17), dusted with parmesan, included mollusks in the shell and out, in a light white wine and seafood-flavored sauce.

The Broiled Salmon ($22.50) was cooked through and topped with a sweet and spicy glaze like red chili jelly. It was plated with my favorite starch, a cube of baked polenta.

As a finale, we ordered two desserts ($7). The Raspberry Cheesecake was soft and ultra-creamy with a thick, baked sour cream topping and a drizzling of fruit coulis.

The dense flourless chocolate torte, with bitter and sweet essences, was decorated with pretty beehives of airy crème chantilly.

The Bar Menu is available from 3 o’clock on weekdays and from noon on weekends in the lounge and outside, where the patio’s vegetation has been neatly simplified with succulents and tropical plants. I enjoyed a Rio Prawn Cocktail ($12) in the sun there with a glass of happy hour house wine ($3). Four fat prawns clung to the rim of a martini glass with slices of lemon and lime. The glass was filled with diced avocado and cucumber bathed in mildly spicy cocktail sauce which was refreshing and surprisingly filling.

Cafe Rio, 131 Esplanade, Aptos, 688-8917. Full bar. Patio and Lounge open Monday through Friday at 3 p.m., and weekends at noon. Serving dinner nightly in the restaurant at 5 p.m. Visit caferioaptos.com.

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