Run don't walk to Cantina Panaderia. You won't be sorry. After what amounted to pretty much the week from H*ll to which no one in the office was immune, Chilepm and I decided that the perfect antidote would be to treat ourselves to dinner. Which is how we came to end up at Cantina Panaderia.
Located in Pacific Beach on Feldspar just off Cass, Cantina Panaderia is a stylish reconditioned garage. The surfaces are hard - yes it gets a little noisy - the ceilings high, with floor to ceiling windows in front, all of which acts to create a very pleasant place to dine. A large Buddha statue graces one corner of the dining room, an artful tiled carved bar with carved wooden Quan Yin cupboards another corner. The name may conjure images of Mexican food and the design accents images of the Far East, but the food is neither, nor is it fusion. What the food is, however, is well though out, well prepared and well presented.
We started with 2 appetizers, one of which has probably become my new favorite app. Broad strips of crispy won ton skin are topped with avocado, wasabi cream and lightly seared Ahi, still plenty rare in the middle. 4 pieces to the app. plate, sprinkled with black and white sesame seeds, drizzled with more of the wasabi cream, a soy glaze and a tangle of shredded nori. Light, flavorful and truly delectable, it went down incredibly easily and left us both wanting more. And it is available in a larger portion as an entree accompanied by edamame and rice. $9 as an app, $18 for the entree
Our second appetizer was plantain coins that had been smashed, lightly battered and sauteed, then topped with a nice dollop of sour cream and then topped with a very generous spoonful of caviar and garnished with some shredded green onion. The plantains were remarkably greaseless and the four flavors on the plate well balanced. $7 for 4 large plantain coins.
There are 3 salads on the menu, none of which we tried, although the one that arrived at the table next to us was very large and looked very good. There are also 4 or 5 selections of what the menu terms "Big Bowls". These turned out to be large meal-in-a-bowl soups based on either noodles or rice. We didn't try these either, and the ones that arrived at tables around us looked really good. The Big Bowls were in the $8-12 range and appeared to be a very good value for the price.
What did we order? Chilepm had the flat iron steak and I the rotisserie chicken that had been marinated and rubbed with a good dose of Southwestern/Mexican spices. Both entrees were served with an herb roasted potato combination made up of Yukon Golds, yellow sweet potatoes and the orange sweet potatoes we call yams. My chicken quarter ($8) was a leg and breast portion. The leg was beautifully done and still tender and moist. The same could not be said for the breast. While flavorful, it *was* dry, very dry. The chicken comes with a side of chipotle crema (sour cream). It proved to be very handy in helping to get down the dry breast. The chicken is also available in a couple of flavor profiles other than southwestern. It is also available as a half-chicken portion ($12)
Chilepm's flat iron steak ($16) was a real winner. She requested it be cooked medium rare and that is exactly how it arrived. There was an accompanying mojo that appeared to be a parsley/cilantro mix that was a perfect match for the red meat. Since Chilepm is not usually a red meat eater, I managed to snag a couple of the last slices she couldn't finish. I am a confirmed old carnivore, and I loved her steak.
Two other menu selections that we saw going to a lot of other tables were the lettuce wraps and the salmon entree set atop a bed of edamame and garnished with a papaya/mint salsa. The one thing that impressed me about all the dishes, other than the outstanding presentation, was that the portion sizes were sane and not so huge that the plates were groaning under at the weight, nor were the portions overwhelming. We left feeling full, but not stuffed to the gills and beyond.
There are only 3 dessert offerings, a coconut flan, a variation of bananas foster and a flourless chocolate cake. We split the cake. If you are a choco-holic this is for you. A small wedge of a dense, rich chocolate cake arrived in a pool of even more rich chocolate sauce, squiggles of raspberry coulis and powdered sugar. Over the top good, but unless you really, really believe in death by chocolate, 1 dessert split between 2 people is probably adequate.
Service was attentive at the beginning, but as the dining room filled up it became more lax. One of the co-owners was working the front of the house and circulating through the room, which created a friendly and welcoming atmosphere. This is clearly a local place with folks wandering in and out and being warmly greeted.
Now, the REALLY good news is that Cantina Panaderia has finally acquired a liquor license!!! The SDPD has had an informal opposition to all new liquor licenses in Pacific Beach due to all the unruliness and drunken arrests. This is not the crowd that Cantina Panaderia attracts, but it has been their battle to fight. They finally won. The wine list is short, a couple of sparkling wines, 7 or 8 each whites and reds, and a short list of ports and sherrys. I had a glass of Albarino ($7), Chilepm doesn't drink.
The 2 of us had 2 appetizers, 2 entrees, 1 dessert, a glass of wine and a cup of coffe, plus tip, and we were out of there for a hair under $70. It would be much easier to eat there and spend less. Parking is not as bad as, say the Financial District in downtown San Francisco, but it isn't a piece of cake. There are 3 spots in front of the restaurant the rest is street parking (mostly unmetered) in a residencial beach community.
Cantina Panaderia is also open for breakfast and lunch. The food is very good with way more hits than misses. Chilepm and I give it 4 thumbs way-way up and are looking forward to going back soon and trying some of those seductively attractive Big Bowls.