Cafe Cerise, San Diego: a winner, but don't wait
- Jim Strain
Having read all of the laudatory words here over the past several months, I decided it was time to give Cafe Cerise a try. I didnt take any notes, so my comments are kind of sketchy; suffice it to say, though, that the folks who have been singing the praises of Cafe Cerise are right on tune. It was really pretty wonderful. Jason Seibert is a skilled and imaginative chef, and there wasnt a single false note in the meal.
For openers, Diana had the soup, a creamy puree of apple, celery and fennel, topped with a dollop of creme fraiche. The dominant flavor was of the celery with the fennel as a lower note. There was no actual flavor of apple that I could discern, but there was a nice, understated sweetness that was probably contributed by the fruit. My salad, Farmers Market greens with heirloom radishes, was as good a salad as Ive had in a while. The peppery greens and sweet-hot radishes were moderated by baby green and wax beans that I think had been parboiled, as they were really tender. The dressing, which I believe was billed simply as Italian was more like a creamy Caesar, and it, too, was a best of breed.
For our entrees, Diana had a dish of pappardelle with mussels, tiny clams, a fantastic spicy sausage that must surely have been house-made, little mushrooms (cinnamon cap?) and tomatoes. It was just the kind of hearty meal that was perfect for a rainy night. I had Corvina that was served over risotto with spinach, and it was one of the best pure-play fish dishes Ive had in a while. The corvina had a lovely crust, and it was very firm without being overdone. Yummy.
For dessert, we shared two: an apple cinnamon cake and a dish that I dont know the name of. Okay, it looked like two big slices of tofu (but it wasnt) with the consistency of a rich ice cream (but it wasnt). It was anise flavored, and topped with thin strips of candied fennel. It was so different, but so good, I was kicking myself ten minutes after wed left that I didnt find out more about it.
Finally, my coffee was served in a French press and was the most fragrant and flavorful Ive tasted in years.
Now, then, if youre going to give this excellent chef a try, I recommend that you do it soon. We arrived for dinner at 6:45 and left about 8:15. During that time there may have been a total of about six parties in the place -- all couples. It may be that Cafe Cerise does a great lunch business, but for a Friday night, the number of diners made for a pretty forlorn atmosphere. Unfortunately the place is located away from most of the tourist/convention action -- about four blocks too far north. The closest neighbors are a low-cost pizzeria, a Mexican style chicken joint, and an -- um, budget hotel. After 6 p.m., all of the parking lots in the office buildings close their gates, and you pretty much have to find a place on the street.
Im really grateful that we finally gave these folks a try, and thanks to the Hounds who turned us on to it. Well be back, but I hope that others will be, too.
Cafe Cerise is located on Sixth Avenue, between B and C Streets.
. . jim strain in san diego.
re: Jim Strain
The "sliced from a loaf" description perfectly matches what I had.
Might she have said "pastis"? I only ask because that's an anise-flavored liqueur, which sounds like it would match the candied fennel.
If you make another visit, ask about charcuterie items - they make some tremendous pates. Oh, and you were likely right about the sausage - they make their own in-house.
I need to get back there soon. It's one of the few restaurants where I don't mind dropping some cash.