Anyone who doubts that San Diego has come a long way since the days when a sit-down lunch meant a burger at Denny's, should stop in at Cafe Chloe.
Attracted by a recent review in the local paper, we stopped in last Saturday for brunch (a hybrid breakfast/lunch menu). Improbably located in the east village (9th and G, northeast corner), it's a beautifully done space with small tables that nevertheless seemed able to accommodate plates, appetizers and wine without seeming too crowded.
The bar is beer and wine with a good selection of both, but there is also a nicely equipped coffe bar serving espresso, capuccino, coffees and tea.
We arrived near 1 p.m., and I hadn't eaten since before my morning workout, so I was starving and anxious to eat something quickly. We ordered some pommes frites and the crostini with three sauces. The sauces (actually three spreads for the lovely Italian toast) were kalamata tapenade, a spread based on watercress (but I think I detected a yummy umami undertone of really good anchovies), and a garlic-fennel spread. Every one of the three was absolutely wonderful. The fries were also delicious. I think they were actually Belgian fries, so Francophobes can breath easy. Long, thin and crispy, they were served in the traditional paper cone and were accompaned by a saffron aioli, a more mildly flavored mayonnaise, and what I believe was good old-fashioned Heinz catsup. The catsup was fine, but the aiolis were very, very nice.
For our main dishes, Di had the macaroni and cheese with pancetta. It was thickly creamy and oozing with good cheese. Never once did I think of the blue box stuff. She could only finish about half of it, and we took the rest home.
I had what was labeled a steak tartine. It was a big slice of grilled bread, topped with a wonderful salad (great, fresh greens, grape tomatoes, feta, and garnished with a slices of asian pear and a few fresh raspberries) and sliced strips of biftek. The whole thing was tossed with a discreetly seasoned vinaigrette that I wish I'd paid more attention to so I could better describe it. .
The dessert menu looked great, but they were out of some of the more interesting choices, so I opted for a cup of homemade vanilla ice cream. It came in a silver sherbet cup and may have been the best vanilla ice cream I've ever tasted in my life. Only a nearly forgotten Spanish restaurant near the Mexico City YWCA can compare.
If there was one bump in the road, I guess it was the service. There were plenty of folks taking care of tables, and the meal service was San Diego casual, but efficient. However, when we were finally ready for our check, our server was busy across the room s-l-o-w-l-y making a couple of very special coffee concoctions for another party. We twidled our thumbs for a good 10 minutes before she finally recovered. But with the overall success of the lunch, all is forgiven. We're going back for dinner very soon, and if I can get up early enough, we'll do breakfast sometime soon as well.
Cafe Chloe, 721 Ninth Ave., San Diego
. . jim strain in san diego.