Santa Cruz Good Times

Apr 19th
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Fresh Start

dining_coldwaterNew menu and seating sets the stage for fun at Coldwater Bar and Grill

The Coldwater Bar and Grill has replaced Hawg's Seafood, and although the ownership hasn't changed, the restaurant's interior and menu are substantially different.

Most of the booths have been replaced by tall, freestanding tables attaining a networking, neighborly ambiance. Eight booths remain for the benefit of people with little ones, those who'd like a more secluded, romantic experience, or me, to clandestinely take notes and snap photos. The front patio now holds a pingpong table, and with five flat screen televisions Coldwater is the local baseball clubhouse.

Prices have changed slightly, mostly downward, including signature drinks which have decreased a dollar. With another buck off during happy hour, the price is equivalent to what most places charge for a beer. The Hibiscus (regularly $7), which is now made with vodka instead of tequila, normally appears in a martini glass, but the bartender gladly served it in a pint on the rocks. The refreshing sweet-tart blend of hibiscus tea and lime juice with a touch of blackberry resembles pretty pink lemonade.

Appetizers still include baked oysters with Asagio cheese, popcorn shrimp, cheesy bread, and house-smoked salmon, but Chef Adam Becerra has tweaked a few original plates and added some exciting new ones. The garlic bread is now served with marinara sauce, and the Cajun seared ahi salad was replaced by a Thai version with marinated cucumbers, soy-sesame dressing, and peanut sauce.

New is the Ahi Poke ($13), a raw fish salad from Hawaiian cuisine. Coldwater's version, served with a little shrimp fork, contained crisp new moon slivers of spicy onion, black and white sesame seeds, green onion and cubes of tender ahi tuna. It was generously flavored with toasty sesame oil and chili flakes and served with four rectangles of crisply fried wonton wrappers.

Still on the menu is the pair of Fish Tacos ($12). Atop large, soft, open-face corn tortillas, lay strips of flaky white fish with fresh tomato and cilantro and tart tomatillo salsa, drizzled with a mildly sweet and spicy pink aioli-type sauce.

Another menu addition is Mac and Cheese Gratin ($10). Presented in an oval casserole, ridged rigatoni noodles were bathed in creamy aged white cheddar sauce and topped with a crust of crisply browned parmesan cheese. It was so addictive that I was tempted to shovel it down with the giant spoon it was served with.

The main menu has changed substantially with fewer entrée-type items. You'll find a new Shrimp Po-Boy ($12) with popcorn shrimp and Creole mustard, Gourmet Grilled Cheese ($12) featuring Brie, caramelized onion and jalapeño jelly, a Skirt Steak Sandwich ($15) with sautéed mushrooms and Gorgonzola sauce and Caprese Pasta with fresh mozzarella and roasted cherry tomatoes.

Still served is Paella ($18) at a reduced price. Loaded with lean protein, it included chunks of chicken breast, bay scallops, spiced linguiça, clams and fresh fish, which happened to be salmon. It was tossed with saffron rice and dotted with tomatoes, and red and green peppers.

Coldwater Bar and Grill, 1917 Mission St., Santa Cruz, 458-3474. Full bar. Open Sunday through Thursday 4 p.m. to 11 p.m., Friday and Saturday 4 p.m. to midnight.

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