Tuesday, May 27, 2008
Veg Out: Cafe Estelle
Not many coffeeshops try to be restaurants by adding dinner service. That's usually due to lack of space and the missing kitchen. The new-ish Cafe Estelle doesn't seem to have that problem, with a cavernous dining room and spacious kitchen in the back. Bread, cheese, meat, and soda are all made on-site. They even do their own home-brewing, and offered me complimentary scotch ale. Props, props, and more props. They have a large parking lot at their disposal, and a built-in customer base of the loft dwellers who reside in their building. All systems go, right?
I want to say yes.
While still in the early stages (they've hardly been open a week), Estelle is a genuine effort. Service is attentive and pleasant. The room itself is too open to be intimate or cozy, like an art museum cafeteria, but the decor is thoughtful. The menu is small enough that it could be fatiguing, especially if you live in the building. They plan on rotating it regularly, and I strongly suggest that the first dish to go away should be the Vegan Barley Risotto.
The $17 plate should be knocked down to $12 if they do plan on keeping it, because it tastes like something I would make at home. It could also do with a second round of seasoning. There was a single leek hidden under my maple glazed tofu, and it was impossible to cut. Normally I bring a power saw with me for dinner, but not that night. I made a show of trying, looked helplessly at the servers, and then tried again. I gave up, rather than trouble them for a sharper knife for a solitary leek. The tofu was like the pre-packaged kind that is already marinated. The risotto, too, tasted like it came from the Whole Foods rice aisle (Near East, anyone?). If I had cooked this myself, I would have been fine with it. I am no chef.
Desserts held more promise. Given Estelle's baking talents (the bread was warm and house-made), I expected my Strawberry Rhubarb Pie to be a hit. I'm a pie purist, and what they gave me was not a slice of pie. It was presented beautifully, sure, with a scoop of berry sorbet and a drizzle of vanilla syrup. The round tart had a mushy filling that was cobbler-esque. It was passable as a tart, but they need to call it that. Pie people will be put off.
There's a review over at the Clog, and it appears that the omni plates went over much better. The Triple Cream Crepe looks pretty special.
Cafe Estelle, 444 N 4th St