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Published: Friday, 8/4/2000

SeaGate Restaurant: Limited menu, gorgeous view

Looking out on the downtown riverscape and the O-I Plaza, two walls of windows define the handsome dining room of the SeaGate Dinner Theatre and Restaurant, deep in the heart of One SeaGate. Toledo-made Libbey goblets and crisp white tablecloths and napkins on a scattering of tables and booths, some open and some intimately cozy, bespeak hospitality, and the warmth of a minimal staff belies the sobriety of understated, uniform black and white.

There is a full bar, itself inviting, gracefully separated from the dining room. However, before the lone busboy tops up your water glass or the server returns with a cocktail, you can easily settle on appetizer and entree, for the menu is very short. Apart from soup - french onion or the day's special, made in this kitchen - there are just four appetizers: an expensive shrimp cocktail ($7.95), buffalo-style wings, calamari in a marinara sauce, and a baking dish of spinach and artichoke au gratin that's finished in a nicely seasoned white sauce.

"Fabulous," the server said, in unmistakably sincere tones, when I ordered the spinach-artichoke dish one evening, and she was right. It could pass for a thick, tasty soup, and in place of crackers it is served with a generous helping of small, plain pastries.

Soup, though, is not a bad choice; one day the special was a rich, meaty ham and bean soup, the kind you'll rarely if ever find in a can. At noon you can pair a cup of soup with salad or sandwich, and inasmuch as the soups are nearly full meals by themselves, a combination will carry most sedentary folks through to a late, light dinner.

Where a guest feels somewhat constrained is in picking an entree. There are only six: a Black Angus burger, with or without a slab of one-kind-only blah yellow cheese; filet mignon; London broil flank steak; fusille (a pasta) tossed with mushrooms and bites of chicken; breast of chicken marsala, and broiled yellow-fin tuna steak, which is the one I chose.

In retrospect, I probably would have fared better with the chicken. The tuna - not fresh but from the freezer, like the bundle of asparagus was either a darker meat than I'm used to or it perhaps had been frozen too long. In any event, it was dry and tasteless. The vegetable and the fresh, coarse-cut potatoes kept the dinner from being a total disappointment.

On Friday and Saturday evenings a buffet supper is offered, but it is part of a dinner and theater package that costs $42.50 per person. However, people who come to dinner but not the play are welcome to table service up to 11 p.m. Wheelchair access is available from the building security personnel, who if asked at the lobby desk will take an elevator down to and up from the restaurant level.

Many Toledoans associate this dining room and kitchen with Ricardo's, run by one of the area's most astute, competent, and gracious hosts, Dick Skaff. When he retired, his successor, Christopher Felix, himself an experienced restaurateur, operated the restaurant under two or three different names for a number of years, trying with declining success to recapture the magic of the Ricardo's years. But the city and the market had perhaps changed, and Felix's final effort, the Aztec Grill, moved into its new incarnation, run by Jim Bassett.

The only thing missing from this imposing dining room on any midweek evening is customers. Once, later than usual, I was one of just three tables being used, and once earlier, sitting at the bar for dinner lest I have the whole restaurant to myself, I was one of some half-dozen people. Staffing is minimal, and service except at the bar is somnolent.

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