Wednesday, July 29, 2009

A Piece of The City of Lights at the Edge of the Gaslamp - Cafe Chloe

Knowing I was going to be visiting my friends in San Diego again this year, I vowed to get away from the more touristy restaurants in the Gaslamp Quarter this time; to try places that have gotten local Hounds excited. Thanks to many SD Hounds' recommendations, I found a charming little French Bistro in the East Village, away from the din of the Gaslamp. :)

Cafe Chloe's quiet corner location and San Diego's mild temperatures year-round help to create a nice ambiance whether you're dining inside or out.
The interior design is clean and modern, with romantic low lighting. When we arrived a touch after 9 p.m. on a weeknight, the restaurant was nearly at capacity, but we were able to get one of the last remaining tables thankfully.

Perusing the menu, Chef de Cuisine Katie Grebow (formerly of W Hotel, San Diego and a graduate of Le Cordon Bleu, Pasadena) has put together a simple, easy-to-navigate, collection of classic French dishes, as well as new creations that fit the French Bistro theme.

I start with their Lavender Lemonade Mimosa (House-made Lavender infused Lemonade with Prosecco). It's so floral, spring-like and refreshing; slightly sweet with a light, tart finish. Excellent. :)

Our first dish arrives at this point: Charcuterie du Jour - Pork Rillette (served with Toasted Bread, Pickles, Chives, Pomegranate Mustard and Seed Mustard).

The house-made Pork Rillette is wonderful: Smooth, creamy and very fresh (no strange odor or funk), it's a great way to start a meal; then again, Pork slowly cooked in its own fat... how can you go wrong? :)

The Pickled Whole Chives are too astringent for my tastes, but the house-made Pomegranate Mustard and some fresh Frisee are good accompaniments with the Rillette and Toasted Bread.

Cafe Chloe's Bistro Salad with Poached Egg is their take on the classic French Frisee Lardon Salade: Fresh Frisee Greens topped with delicious, thick cut, crisped Pork Belly cubes, dressed with a Vinaigrette of Pork Belly Pan Drippings, Olive Oil and Vinegar, finished off with a warm Poached Egg. There were a few pieces of the crisped Pork that were overcooked (really dried out and dense), but otherwise it was a good version of the classic.

The first of our entrees arrive soon after, starting with: Roasted Wild Salmon with Dill-Mustard Sauce, Haricot Verts & Yellow Wax Beans, Fingerling Potatoes.

The Wild Salmon is only a touch overcooked, generally very moist and tender with a great crisped Salmon Skin on one side. Chef Grebow's Dill-Mustard Sauce works very well, surprisingly light, with subtle notes of Butter, White Wine and Dill coming through more than the Mustard.

The Haricot Verts and Fingerling Potatoes are both expertly executed as well, with the Haricot Verts still having a great snap and crispness with some tenderness.

The Pan-Roasted Golden Grouper with Piperade, Yukon Gold Potatoes, and Chile Oil is a little more of a Basque-influenced dish.

The Grouper itself is very meaty and juicy, but it's a bit too dense at times. The Piperade complements the Grouper nicely without overpowering the fish, a nice version with clean flavors of Tomatoes, Peppers, Onions and Garlic coming through, but maybe a bit too sweet perhaps.

Finally, their Alsatian-influenced Choucroute Garnie: Coriander Sausage, Cured Pork Loin, Caraway Pork Belly, Sauerkraut, Fingerling Potatoes arrives with a generous portion of food.

The Homemade Coriander Sausage is impressive: There's a very pure, lightly porky flavor, juicy with a good Coriander undertone. It matches their Sauerkraut very well and stands on its own just fine without being too salty.

The Cured Pork Loin is unfortunately, just too chewy, lean and dense. It's overcooked and it's a chore to finish it.

But the real star of this dish - and arguably of every dish we tried that night - is their Caraway Pork Belly. Perfectly cooked, buttery and absolutely *luscious* Pork Belly, lightly seasoned and nearly as good as the best Pork Belly dishes I've had in the last year or so. It may not topple Animal anytime soon, but it's pretty impressive. (^_^) I wish they had an appetizer with just this Caraway Pork Belly. :) And as with the previous dish, the Fingerling Potatoes are well-prepared, still very moist and fluffy.

Service reminded me of a couple casual French eateries I ate it while in Paris: It was very laid-back and relaxed. Our server seemed to take his time getting around to us and sometimes we had to try multiple times in vain to get anyone's attention for more drinks and other requests; they just seemed to be moving at a different pace of life. :) Prices range from $4 - $23.50. We averaged about ~$40 per person (including tax and tip).

Cafe Chloe represents a surprising find for an area that in the past would seem to have more touristy dining options: Market fresh ingredients, well-executed versions of French classics, and a charming ambiance all add up to a great little neighborhood French Bistro that's a refreshing break from the usual Gaslamp options.

Rating: 7.9 (out of 10.0)

Cafe Chloe
721 Ninth Avenue, No. 1
San Diego, CA 92101
Tel: (619) 232-3242

Hours: Mon - Fri, 7:30 a.m. - 10:30 p.m.
Sat, 8:30 a.m. - 10:30 p.m.
Sun, 8:30 a.m. - 9:30 p.m.


Anonymous said...

My b/f & I tried to eat there when we were at Comic-Con 2008. It was busy when we arrived and we knew there would be a wait. That was fine. Unfortunately, we left before we got our table because the staff was either rude or very poorly trained.

When we first arrived, we had to stand between tables in the small, cramped restaurant, awkwardly waiting 5-10 minutes before a waiter or host acknowledged us. We weren't waiting for a table, mind you. We were waiting to tell someone we were there. Waiters and the host walked past us several times without greeting us or asking if we had a reservation, would we like a table, etc.

After someone finally greeted us, we asked about a table. The host didn't have any estimate on how long it would take but said we were free to wait on the bench outside. There didn't seem to be any list. And we weren't the only ones treated that way. Another couple who showed up after us got the same treatment: left stranded in the middle of the restaurant, ignored, etc.

The place looked charming and the food looked tasty, but the staff permanently soured me on that place.

Exile Kiss said...

Hi Anon,

Thanks for the report back. :( My condolences to you. Wow, that sounds like a bad version of the slow, "leisurely" service we got (but at least we got our table first).

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