Among the many upscale restaurants along the Northern California coast, none is more classy or as distinct as the 66-year-old Shadowbrook in Capitola. Rarely does a restaurant survive long enough to evolve into a sum bigger than its parts, as is the case here. It’s a palace of intimate, world-class dining, an old friend to the many loyal patrons who claim a sentimental stake in its curation.
“I still feel more like its steward than its owner,” said Ted Burke, who with a business partner bought the landmark restaurant in 1978.
One facet of Shadowbrook is its identity as a special-occasion destination that has served generations of diners a menu of prime beef and fresh seafood in elegant surroundings attended by flawless service.
Another is its more recently forged identity as a happy-hour and after-hours gathering spot in the Rock Room lounge for a younger demographic and for those “who may not have time or inclination for a leisurely or romantic dinner, and who want to get in and out more quickly and less expensively,” said Burke, a graduate of Encina High in Sacramento.
The ski-lodge-looking lounge features specialty cocktails (the blood orange Manhattan is excellent), pizza and flatbread, and starters, sandwiches and small plates (wood-fired oysters, chicken pot pie, braised wild boar ribs). Entertainment is by veteran vocalist Joe Ferrara, who happens to own Atlantis Fantasyworld in Santa Cruz, specializing in comic books and sci-fi memorabilia.
Several promotions are aimed at attracting new customers and buzzing existing ones. Among them are two-for-one specials, winemaker dinners and bargain-priced prix fixe meals with wine pairings.
For fun, car aficionado Burke bought a restored 1950 Dodge and tricked it out to look like a vintage taxi. It will pick up and drop off diners for free, within a three-mile radius of the restaurant.
Shadowbrook’s seven themed dining rooms make it something of a labyrinth occupying five levels on a terraced hillside overlooking Soquel Creek. Over the decades, dining rooms have been built, transformed, added on to and taken away from. “It’s been an evolution,” Burke said.
To enter, diners can either walk downhill along a winding path that ambles through a strikingly landscaped garden, or ride down in a mini-cable car, known as the “hillavator.”
The interior is an oasis of well-blended textures and tones – slate floors, stone stairways, brick, metal, glass, gleaming woods and rich carpeting complemented by paintings, vintage photos and mementos, and by chandeliers, skylights and fireplaces. Flowering plants are everywhere.
One of the most striking dining areas is the Redwood Room, which literally glows from the rich paneling that was salvaged from old redwood wine barrels that were disassembled and remilled.
We dined one night in the Garden Room, twinkling with baby white lights and dominated by an 80-year-old cypress tree. That room was part of an extension built around the tree, which seems to grow out of the floor. For dinner: crab cakes in ginger sauce, fork-tender prime rib, and filet mignon brochettes with black–truffle gnocchi. Choosing a wine with dinner can be a challenge, as there are tens of thousands of bottles in the wine cellar, built into a hillside.
So, what’s the magic of the place? “It’s an intangible I can’t explain,” Burke said. “I sometimes liken it to a grand old lady – there’s the respect and affection that you have. Part of it is age and part of it is the uniqueness and grace. When you walk in, you enter an environment with a feeling like no other.”