Luring in the Seafood Crowd at Sandabs - Kristin Brownstone, Press Banner

If you're looking for fresh, innovative seafood without driving down to the coast, look no further than Sandabs Seafood and Wine Bar. A small pearl in the heart of Scotts Valley, Sandabs offers friendly, professional service and creative delicacies from the sea in a casual, unpretentious environment.

While reservations are recommended, our family managed to slip in easily on a Saturday evening. The night we went, patrons ranged in age from babies to 80-year-old leather-clad bikers. And while servers are neatly dressed in white oxfords and ties, (complimenting the white tablecloths), the atmosphere is hardly stuffy. Corrugated tin adorns the roof, serving to accentuate the din of conversation inside.

Upon being seated, our kids were immediately handed children's menus with crayons (thankfully) and a basket of sourdough and housemade parmesan lavash. The latter is delicious. We were clearly hungry, but these crispy little treasures disappeared before we'd even perused the menu. Other diners clearly have the same experience, as bags of lavash are available for takeout for $5.00.

The interior of Sandabs is small, intimate. Less than 20 tables comprise the establishment's two petite dining rooms. Separating the dining rooms is an interesting central area comprised of the cooking domain and one restroom on the left, and the cashier station, wine bar and dishwashing area on the right. It's a funky layout, but so are those of some of the best restaurants in cramped metropolitan areas, so it hardly matters.

My husband Andrew and I shared the whole leaf salad with blue cheese dressing ($6.95). The menu says “crispy romaine”, but we actually received fresh red and green lettuces which I found preferable. Chef Mickey Phelps' blue cheese dressing is spectacular. The cheese was so fresh and mellow, it was impossible to overdo as is the case with many types of blue cheese. The salad came loaded with crumbles of the cheese and a hefty pile of creamy dressing on the side. We foraged the table for extra bread remnants to mop up the substantial leftovers. The salad is large enough to split, especially with the optional bacon, but I'd opt for my own next time as it was too good to share.

I'll pause here for a moment to comment on the restroom. Conveniently located in the center of the activity (or inconveniently, depending on your perspective), the bathroom is especially pretty. Clearly a recent remodel, it sports granite counters, bronze fixtures, heavy disposable towels, and a giant vase of fresh tiger lilies. Non-essential touches of class. Back to the food........

Our dinner took a fair amount of time to arrive – apparently the restaurant was slammed with guests at the same time we arrived. The kids ordered from the children's menu – housemade cheesy pasta ($5.25)  for one and chicken nuggets/fries ($5.75) for the other. Andrew chose the evening's special of macadamia-crusted ono which was served with mango salsa, mashed potatoes and lightly-sauteed vegetables. ($20.00). The zippy salsa offered a spicy kick, as it was peppered with fresh jalapenos and offered a nice contrast to the subtly-flavored fish. The fish was only the slightest bit dry, but this was tempered by the creamy mashed potatoes and citrusy-marinade.

I opted for the Fisherman's cioppino bowl ($15.50). The generously-portioned bowl came loaded with clams, mussels, scallops, white fish, and colossal shrimp nestled in a chunky tomato broth. Onions, celery, peppers, garlic and herbs combined to offer a wholesome, light and satisfying meal.

The friendly staff treated us well throughout the evening and were especially apologetic about the wait. The owner even paused his hectic activities at one point to scavenge for a blue crayon desperately required by my 8-year-old.

Typically demanding “something sweet” at the end of a meal, we were particularly fond of Sandabs' mini dessert options. In addition to traditional choices such as cheesecake, also available are mini portions of crème brulee and mousse. ($2.00 ea.) The night we were there, the choices were lavender or rosemary crème brulee and chocolate or lemon mousse. We chose all four. They're miniature after all! All four were delightful and afforded two good bites apiece for each member of the table. I particularly enjoyed the lavender crème brulee with the majority of its herbal kick in the glassy, burnt sugar on top. Underneath was a silky smooth custard. The chocolate mousse was also fabulous, offering up a dark, rich, cacao punch in such a small portion. The lemon mousse was equal in its tangy intensity.

Valley residents can happily boast a seafood establishment rivalling those elsewhere in the county. The question is, do we spread the word or keep it a secret? After all, sneaking in on a Saturday night without reservations is a pretty sweet deal. Chances are though, it won't last.

At A Glance

What: Sandabs Seafood and Wine Bar

Where: 11 Camp Evers, Scotts Valley, CA

When: Lunch Mon-Fri 11am-2pm; Dinner Mon-Sat 5pm-9pm