Spring's warmer weather and longer days deliver an invitation, perhaps subliminally, to take a leisurely drive along the coast on Highway 1. If you're near Pacifica at mealtime, you might want to point your car toward Rockaway Beach and Moonraker, one of the few restaurants on this stretch of highway with great views of the Pacific and food to match.

Moonraker is located inside the Lighthouse Hotel, right on the beach. The original Moonraker closed about a decade ago; the current restaurant is Moonraker 2.0, so to speak. In between, another restaurant took over the space, according to new Moonraker owner Shawn McNamara. In 2011, when that place closed, Shawn, his brother Gary and Chef Jason Yeafoli set out to revive Moonraker and restore it to its former glory. That included a $250,000 overhaul, which refurbished the cozy booths facing floor-to-ceiling windows and removed large wood beams to further open up the view.

Sunset sips

Diners at tables behind the booths and in the open bar area are treated to the same vista as the booth diners, since the tables are on a higher level. Moonraker is an ideal spot to sip a drink and watch the sunset, crashing waves and, at the right season, maybe migrating whales.

On one visit, though, we'd hardly had time to slide into our booth before a server asked if we'd like a drink. How on earth would we know, since we'd had only 30 seconds with the cocktail menu and full-page wine list? I don't mean to single out Moonraker; other restaurants should take note, too.


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There's a decent choice of wines, including selections to accompany oysters and other cold seafood plates. Wines by the glass are available in both 3- and 6-ounce pours -- a nice option for those who change gears from a seafood starter to a steak or lamb main course. Moonraker also offers a dozen signature cocktails, some nonalcoholic.

Creative flourishes

Yeafoli was once a sous chef at the old Moonraker. Now in charge, he has created a classic fine-dining menu featuring plenty of seafood dishes, as well as steaks, lamb and pasta. He also employs some creative flourishes such as gorgonzola gnocchi, served with steak; and foams -- which, though a bit dated, work particularly well atop the delightful lobster cappuccino ($4 taste/$9 full). The intensely flavored lobster stock is topped with truffle foam, which lightens the texture and flavor of the silky stock. Just a taste, served in an espresso cup, was plenty.

The other starters were also very good. The texture of the clam chowder ($5 taste/$11 bowl) was just right, with a good balance of clams, potato and bacon. Crab cakes ($15) were crisp, light and well-seasoned. Beef tartare ($14) was a favorite, with the raw meat finely chopped and mixed with onions, capers and mustard, then topped with a hard-boiled quail egg.

As a rule, the main-course portions were generous. For $29, I expected the New York steak to be five or six slices; instead it was a 12-ounce cut. Instead of potato puree, it came with the gnocchi, which was flavored mildly with gorgonzola -- rich and delicious. It was topped with porcini butter, delivering almost too much of a good thing. The only disappointment was the fried onion strings -- soggy and not remotely warm.

Standout seafood

Four large scallops ($25) were seasoned and cooked nicely, still shimmering inside. Seared rare ahi tuna ($28) was two thick cuts served over lobster risotto with porcini foam. This time, the foam added visual appeal, but its subtle flavor was masked by the risotto's smoked paprika. The lovely artichoke ravioli ($19), made with fresh Half Moon Bay artichokes, came with a lemony beurre blanc that added great dimension. It was also the prettiest presentation, with bright pops of green fava bean and oven-roasted cherry tomatoes trailing across.

The desserts we tried, however, were disappointing. The maple crème brûlée ($8) was the runner-up to our first choice, the sold-out chocolate pavé ($8). The brûlée's custard wasn't completely smooth, and the mini gingerbread cinnamon-roll cookies were less tasty than they'd sounded. On another visit, the popular chocolate pavé turned out to be a Technicolor dream coat of flavors -- pistachio, espresso, chocolate, strawberry and what seemed to be cherry with a little cinnamon. Too much! Next time, I'd skip dessert and order a nightcap.

Service was mostly smooth, except for delivery of a nearly forgotten glass of wine by the server who had been overly eager to take our drink order as we sat down. Despite the restaurant's few shortcomings, our Moonraker meals were exceedingly pleasant.

While a coastal drive is usually more about the journey than the destination, Moonraker can make it both.

E-mail Jennifer Graue at features@mercurynews.com.

Moonraker

* * ½

105 Rockaway Beach Ave., Pacifica
650-557-7025, http://
moonrakerpacifica.com
The Dish: This once-popular coastal destination restaurant has been extensively remodeled to make its great views even better. With a classic fine-dining menu that leans heavily toward seafood, Moonraker has become a worthy special-occasion place once again.
Prices: Appetizers, $4-$16; chilled seafood, $3-$59. Main courses, $19-$48. Desserts, $8. Wines by the glass, $6-$15; by the bottle, $29-$350.
Details: Located in Pacifica's Lighthouse Hotel, Moonraker is familiar territory for Chef Jason Yeafoli, who was a sous chef here during its previous glory days. Yeafoli partnered with brothers Gary and Shawn McNamara who, until recently, also ran Pacifica's popular Barolo restaurant.
Pluses: Meals with a view of crashing waves, surfers, the occasional whale and colorful sunsets. Happy-hour specials make arriving for dinner early worth it.
Minuses: Service is fine, but more savoir-faire could make Moonraker even more special.
Hours: Dinner Monday-Thursday, 4:30 p.m.-9:30 p.m.; Friday-Saturday, 5-10 p.m.; and Sunday, 5-9 p.m. Breakfast Monday-Friday, 6:30-10 a.m.; Saturday-Sunday, 7-10:30 a.m. Sunday brunch, 10:30 a.m.-2 p.m.
Restaurant reviews are conducted anonymously. The Mercury News pays for all meals.