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Mar 5, 2007 03:07 PM

Cafe One-Three

Well, after driving by a few times I finally tried Cafe One-Three last night. My experience was okay. I am going to give them another try. DD mentioned she ate brunch there last week and she had a favorable experience.

The dinner was off to a weird start with the service. The tweeker spazoid server greeted me with a loud, freakish, HIIIYEEEE! HOW ARE YOU DOING????? This type of greeting just makes me want to bolt out the door. I ordered a non-alcoholic bottled beverage. The waitress brought the bottle and a glass, then placed it on my table and left. The bottle was still sealed, so I had to open and pour it myself. This is not a complete disaster, but for heavens sakes, she should have poured the beverage.

I started with the soup of the evening, which was Black Bean and Pumpkin. The soup was not served side by side, and was more akin to an overly creamy Black Bean soup. I did not taste any pumpkin in the soup. The soup was not awful, just...well... like a boring Black Bean soup.

I am a Caesar salad fanatic, so I ordered the Caesar, which I could have sworn was supposed to be prepared tableside. The salad arrived already made. The salad was fine, nothing to write home about. I know a caesar is a caesar, but in a restaurant that bills itself as "eclectic", I expected a new twist.

I may have screwed myself over with my dinner choice. I ordered the Mac and Cheese with Tasso ham, drizzled with Truffle Oil. Again, I know I probably made a basic choice, but I LOVE Truffle Oil, and Tasso ham is always good; so I thought, this could be a left field wham bam of flavor. New twist on an old favorite, etc.. The dish was just, well, bland. As I took each bite, I kept searching for the velvety, sexy flavor of Truffle, and it was sadly absent from my palate. The Tasso was so tucked in the corners of the pasta that I kept looking for evidence of ham in the dish. It was not necessarily a bad dish, but I could have thrown the same thing together at home.

The desserts are in a deli case, so you have to actually get up from your table to go look at them. I found this a bit annoying, as I was crammed between a table of diners, the counter, and the server. She proceeded to stumble through the dessert descriptions, occasionally consulting a co-worker to confirm the ingrediants. I ordered a piece of chocolate cherry cake. Again, completely forgettable. The flavors were bland and boring, nothing exploded onto to my palate and screamed the rich pas de deux of chocolate and cherry. It was like a layer cake from the grocery store.

I think this is my most grouchy sounding post. This place just confused me. The sign out front states "Cafe One-Three an Eclectic Eatery". The menu, however, includes such pedestrian choices as Tortilla soup, Chicken Piccata, and Penne pasta. I will give them another try. I really want to hear other opinions. Right now, I am going through pre-written mental script of "well, maybe I chose silly dishes, maybe it was an off night", blah blah...

DD- I respect your opinion, so I would love to read your review of Cafe One-Three.

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  1. Well, sometimes I think that "eclectic" is restaurant code for "we don't really have a focus, but, golly gee whiz, we're just so passionate about food we have to call pir fppd something". In other words, an old Judy Garland/Mickey Rooney lets-put-on-a-show routine except the venue is a restaurant instead of a stage. Cafe One-Three has only been open a couple of weeks and think they're still in that phase, i.e. we're short on experience but, wow, do we have heart, and they do. BTW, did you know the Chef de Cuisine (rather a pretenious designation for a hole-in-the-wall eatery next to a laundromat) is named John Kennedy?

    Brunch is different than dinner - less opportunity to screw it up - and after our really good experience on Saturday, my trusty dining companion and Pilates sidekick and I decided to try it this Thursday night for dinner. I was going to wait to post my impressions until after I had the chance to have dinner because, well, that's a whole 'nuther ball game.

    That said, the food at brunch was actually pretty good, so was the service. The brunch menu is short, sweet and to the point. There is a muselix martini that's served in a really cool glass that's shaped like the bowl of a martini glass, but it rests in a spiral stand. We didn't try this because after doing Pilates on a gravity machine muselix and yogurt just isn't going to cut it. But it looked cute so I gave them points for creativity in presentation.

    Several people around us had ordered the Fried Egg Sandwich. Frankly, I can't recall the last time I saw a fried egg sandwich on a breakfast menu anywhere. I happen to love fried egg sandwiches (with cheese and Valentina salsa stuffed into a telera roll....yum), my grandfather used to make them for me all the time. I didn't order it but it looked good. The guy at the table next to me did have it and I asked him how it was. He said it was good and was surprised by the avocado in the middle of the sandwich, which wasn't listed on the menu. Seems there was also some undisclosed horseradish on the sandwich too.

    There is the usual 2 eggs any style with choice of breakfast meats, breakfast potatoes and wheat toast. I didn't order this either.

    Because it was such a weird sounding thing, I ended up ordering the Meatloaf Scramble with fresh tomatoes, onions and pepper jack cheese. It came with breakfast potatoes and wheat toast. The breakfast potatoes are forgettable and I think they need to rework the recipe. They needed salt and could have benefited from some additional seasonings or even some onion or bell pepper, not to mention a little added fat. But the scramble was delicious. My mother was a pretty good cook, but her meatloaf was terrible, so I'm always a little leery of anything meatloaf. I loved this scramble. First the eggs were scrambled soft, not tight and rubbery. The meatloaf was flavorful and meaty and worked surprisingly well with the eggs. I also liked that it was a sane portion and not overload a la Hash House a Go-Go.

    My dining companion - Chef Vinny - had the Banana French Toast that is served with a warm banana compote, Vermont maple syrup, breakfast potatoes and choice of breakfast meats. We both liked this dish quite a bit since it was *not* cloyingly sweet. But the real star on his plate was the Yankee sage sausage. The menu says it's house-made and it tasted like it. It was fabulous.

    Also on the breakfast menu are some whole wheat pancakes w/Blackberry syrup - way to healthy for my blood, and a machaca scramble. And, they serve (house-made) Biscuits with sausage gravy using the Yankee sausage. The woman at the next table had biscuits with her eggs and said they were excellent. Based on the quality of the sauasge I'd be tempted to try their biscuits & gravy.

    We opted to try some of the sweets. I had the Boston Cream Pie and Vince had the Apple Cheesecake. My Boston Cream was really pretty good, though it could have used more pastry cream. I liked that the chocolate part was more like ganache rather than Hershey's Chocolate Sauce. Cheesecake is Chef Vinny's favorite dessert and he can be very critical. He liked the cheesecake filling because it was creamy and silken. The cinnamon apples at the bottom were okay, but cut too fine to make any kind of apple statement. The crust was neither good nor bad, it was merely a vehicle for the cheesecake filling ;-).

    The coffee was good and they kept my cup full, always an important thing for me. Our server was decent, but I think all their servers need more training and more experience. We asked questions about the menu and our server was able to answer them. They guy at the next table asked if there was horesradish in his fried egg sandwich. The server didn't know, but she went and got an answer.

    At brunch our food and server were both good. We talked to everyone around us and a bunch of people inside working. What both Chef Vinny and I liked was the vibe of the place. I think it was Kermit the Frog who sang "It's Hard to be Green". Well, Cafe One-Three used to be a purple, sugar-free bakery. I think that must have been very hard. But the current crop of culinaires have transformed a previously unattractive very purple space into a pleasant, attractive, relaxed (and perhaps to casual) cafe. I loved the new color, I loved the new furniture, I loved the raised platform sidewalk seating (where we sat). Everyone we talked to from servers to the baker and everyone was uniformly friendly, readily answered questions and really seemed like they wanted to make a go of this place. I loved that it was dog-friendly. They say people resemble their dogs, you can imagine what the two guys with the Chinese Crested probably looked like!

    According to the menu, yes, your ceasar should have been made tableside, that's what the to go menu I'm looking at says. And I think the "twist" should have been the cilantro lime dressing. And, yeah, I think some of the dessert line is kinda strange. They're pushing these things called "cakey pies" which is, I think, a caked baked in a pie shell. They also mentioned something about eventually bringing back some of the Sweet Indulgence line of sugar free baked good. Me? I'm fully committed to fully leaded desserts complete with the appropriate amount of sugar and fat, which is why I'll torture my body doing Pilates, cardio and the gravity machine.

    Chef Vinny and I had a great time there on Saturday. The food was good, but not spectacular. The server was good, but still needs work, but we were treated really well. The space was W-A-Y more inviting and pleasant that before. There was an earnestness and desire to please and to have us like them (kind of like the Sally Fields comment "you like me, you really like me" when she accepted her 2nd Oscar). But brunch - which is only served Sat/Sun from 10 AM - 2 PM is not dinner, which is a tougher meal to handle.

    From the dinner menu, the things that caught my eye were the Molasses Grill Shrimp with Cheese Grits, the Oven Roasted Chicken Breast, the Mustard Rubbed Grilled Tri-Tip and the Meatloaf. I saw the Mac & Cheese with Tasso and Truffle Oil, but invariably, whenever I order turbo charge Mac & Cheese when dining out, I am disappointed. I think this is one of those dishes that we all have such preconceived ideas of that it's hard for anything else to live up to those expectations. But missing tasso and missing truffle oil would certainly be a problem. Also from the dinner menu, I really like that they were several vegetarian options available, and at least 1 vegan choice.

    Anyone who has every gone through the opening of a restaurant can tell you it's an exercise in Murphy's Law. If something can go wrong, it will, at the worst possible moment. My experience and Dagney's experience is a perfect illustration of that. Until the kitchen and front house staff find their rhythm and a way to work in sync, the dining experience will be inconsistent.

    I think Cafe One-Three has loads of charm and potential. It would seem that the question is, can it live up to it's potential. The restaurant business is tough and the margins can be small. It's in an area that is undersevered, I hope they can pull it together and make it work.

    1. I assume another definition of eclectic is that you are so important that it is not necessary to identify your geographical location? ; >P

      2 Replies
      1. re: PolarBear

        San Diego; Park Blvd at El Cajon in University Heights, to be exact.

        1. re: PolarBear

          Well, if we'd ever get our own board it wouldn't matter ;-}

        2. The opening of this thread is, IMNSHO, Chowhound at its best: Two thoughtful, well-written and contrasting reviews that can really help the reader to know what to expect and which choices might be most sensible. Thanks Dagney and Dining Diva! You piqued both my curiosity and my appetite.
          . . . jim strain in san diego.

          1. "well, maybe I chose silly dishes, maybe it was an off night"

            Why should you have to ask yourself this? You should be able to sit down, order whatever you want, and get good food.

            1 Reply
            1. re: mangiatore

              Finally one issue we agree. If a dish is one the menu it has to be made well by the kitchen. (If the kitchen is not able to do it professional it shouldn't be on the menu (and most likely the cooks looking for a different job)). There should never be a question if I chose silly dishes in a restaurant. The kitchen might give it a new twist you don't like tastewise (that is always a risk at any restaurant) but the dish should always prepared professionally.

            2. After doing a little bit more research I've decided that I was wrong when I said in another thread that the actual name of this place was Cafe One - Three with the hyphen acting as a silent "to". I think the original poster was correct, and it should be Cafe One Three. Personally, I think my version makes more sense and is infinitely more entertaining, but perhaps One Three means something to the owners.