I once read an MFK Fisher story in the Art of Eating about a young girl who slipped away for a day, later revealing to the author that she’d gone into town and sat at a cafe the entire time, spending her week’s allowance on a four hour meal of Viennese coffee, salami, pickles and pastries while she watched the world go by. Fisher called it dining with yourself, and rather than it being a sorrowful state for lack of company, it’s a moment of unapologetic indulgence. The girl also brought back a nice pastry for her mother. I got a similar vibe when I visited the cafe in Nordstrom, which is located on the top floor of the department store. It had an elegant indoor seating area, and a tiled patio area with a view of the downtown skyline. The atmosphere is casual; nobody dining there seemed to be in a rush. It seemed an ideal meeting spot for friends to catch up over lunch, or for a mother-daughter shopping break. It wasn’t very crowded, and I grabbed a great spot out on the patio.
Not one, not two, but three co-workers went out of their way to tell me in the past couple months how much they like the Cafe Nordstrom. The soup was given high marks. This indicates several possibilities. One, this Cafe is very girlie girl to go to. Two, maybe they have a business women’s lunch special, for business women, Romi and Michelle style. Three, they have good food and good soup!
Ordering is done at the front counter, where you pay and then find a seat. Dishes are staged up at the front counter, but a waiter will bring it out for you. My friend and I shared a French Dip sandwich and a cup of the soup du jour.
The sandwich was great, amply portioned and the jus to dip it in was flavorful without being salty. Sandwiches come with an option of kettle chips or a small salad, and I got the salad with creamy champagne vinaigrette. It cost $10, and we split it and shared. Everything tasted fresh, and was nicely plated. In fact, all the dishes coming out of the kitchen looked good.
The daily soup varies, with no predictable schedule. There’s a tomato and basil soup that’s always on the menu, but the artichoke and parmesan soup one co-worker raved about was nowhere in sight the day I was there, so I had a southwestern style chicken and vegetable soup, topped with one of the nicest crostini I’d ever eaten. Crisp on the outside, soft and chewy inside, I didn’t even think that was possible for crostini. A cup of soup cost $3.50.
To confirm that impulse shopping does work, the Cafe displays its desserts right by the cashier where you order your food, and I got suckered in by a large snickerdoodle. All the cakes and pies are brought in from an LA bakery, but the cookies and bars are baked on site, costing in the $2-3 range. My snickerdoodle was $2, large and delicious – a balance of crisp, sweet and chewy. I’d go back there just to have a cookie and a coffee and indulge in a little time with myself. Maybe I’d bring back a sweet for my mother, too!
Cafe Nordstrom, 3rd floor
I grabbed a $5 cobb salad from the workplace cafeteria, and the boys and I went for a walk at Haskell’s Beach. Gorgeous day!
Then we took a walk along the beach, and threw some rocks.
Btw, I always thought the building at the public entrance to Haskell’s was kind of neat. A bit like a bath house, and also a snack shack, although I never saw the snack shack open. I posed a question about the building on City2 and got some good responses.
This is a nice way to wrap up the Saturday marketing: zip across the street to Shalhoob’s and get a BLT, with avocado, on untoasted bread.
Simple and comforting. And if you’ve sampled sufficiently at the market, this order will feed two a sensible portion.
Today was a planned business lunch, and we decided to check out Olio Pizzeria, the latest eatery from the folks of Olio e Limone downtown. It’s located where Video Schmideo once was (*sniff* R.I.P.) and redecorated with detailed stone and woodwork. It’s designed to be a casual atmosphere, but is suitable for business lunches or after work meet-ups.
We ordered several appetizers to share, and a pizza or calzone for each at the table. The appetizers included a trio of olives, an order of spicy olives, baked beets with crushed pistachios and shaved cheese, and asparagus with a poached egg. We enjoyed all of these very much, especially the asparagus with oozy yolk that became a dipping sauce.
As for the pizza, two were variations of tomato, mozzarella, basil and anchovies, and since they didn’t look different, I’m only showing one photo to represent both. A third pizza was carbonara, and I thought it looked lovely, with another oozy yolk egg right in the middle. We also ordered a calzone, which was very rustic looking, with a blistered and scorched top. They were all around $15 each.
In checking out other reviews of the new restaurant, folks have noted that the pizza was often doughy in the center, and ours were similar. The carbonara pizza, being creamy to begin with, had the most structural difficulties and was best eaten with knife and fork.
One unexpected treat, of which I was the lucky recipient, was being served the pizza on the “brown plate” out of a random stack of mostly white plates. That meant my pizza was free!
With that discount, the bill for four people at lunch was over $100, including maybe a couple sodas and water as beverages. Not a bargain, but in retrospect, a pizza was generous for one person and we boxed up at least a third of the pizzas to take home. In the future, just one pizza can serve two people, and then more indulgences can be made with the appetizer menu – which we enjoyed more for this lunch – and that will cut down a little of a price.
When we were there during the workweek, the whole restaurant was packed. Arriving at the beginning of the food service is recommended!
I’ll admit it – I haven’t been a huge fan of Fresco. Even when it was just the one deli in Five Points, it always seemed busy, which is a good sign for a restaurant, but I sometimes get overwhelmed by crowds. Many of my girlfriends absolutely love the place.
This week, a co-worker who’d transferred out of state was in the office and suggested that Fresco was a place she’d like to revisit for a lunch. She got the quiche and the Greek side salad. It cost around $10. And we got a table without resorting to fisticuffs! However, she ended up being underwhelmed with the quiche and thought it was bland. Sometimes, memory is better than reality. But we tried.
I ordered off the Specials menu, which was offering a bbq pork sandwich, and choice of side salad, and it cost about $12.50, including tax. The pork slices were grilled, and served with a bbq sauce, cheese, and a high pile of finely shaved fried onion rings. It came open face, with the hot components on one side, and the lettuce, tomato and pickles on the other.
What I should have done was eat the salad and half the sandwich, and taken the other half home for dinner. Instead I crammed all of it in and lolled around in a food coma for the rest of the afternoon. In other words, it was tasty enough for me to accept the consequences.
Fresco does offer a selection of their sandwiches in a half portion, and the salad or soup for a couple dollars less. Also, upon sitting down, a waiter brings out a small basket of complimentary bread and butter. It’s a nice touch, considering the diner orders and pays at a front counter.
Fresco Cafe North
It’s a remote work afternoon, and the other gals and I met up at Muddy Waters Cafe, as it was a good place for 3+ people to work, it had free wifi and Rebecca was really missing the tuna sandwiches from there.
Left: tuna sandwich on wheat bread with a side of tortilla chips.
I got the toast and avocado, I think it was a great deal.
This is the best restaurant in town for diners with any multitude of dietary restrictions. But that does not mean the menu is drab and limited. And that does not mean you must have a multitude of dietary restrictions in order to eat here happily.
The menu identifies which items are vegetarian, vegan, egg free, gluten free, soy free, dairy free, or raw. I have enough ovo-lacto, celiac, raw-cleansing pescadarian friends that having a restaurant like this in town is a blessing. Also, the interior is clean and lovely.
I did not feel any air of uber-healthy pretension that exists in hippie enclaves in other cities, i.e. no menu items called “I Am Manifesting Abundance” when it’s really a caesar salad.
That said, I am here to talk about the seasonal lunch special they recently rolled out. It sure did manifest my abundance, and it *wasn’t* a caesar salad!
The lunches are bento boxes, each containing a healthy starch (like buckwheat soba, roasted yams, brown and wild rice, or quinoa), protein (tofu, tempeh, seitan, chicken or salmon), and sauce. Plus seasonal vegetables.
The set boxes are $9 each. You can swap around the protein, with a $1 supplement for chicken and a $2 supplement for the wild salmon, but the supplement only applies where they weren’t originally offered in the bento. You get the salmon for the standard $9 in one of the set boxes.
I had the curry bento, which was tempeh, coconut curry sauce and roasted yams. The seasonal vegetables included crisp-tender zucchini, carrots, broccoli and “dragon beans” from the local farmers market, which I’d had before from the market and loved them.
I had a cup of raw vegetable juice, ($2 for 4 oz) containing juiced carrots, tomatoes, apples, leafy greens (kale, chard, or beet greens, depending on the season), beets, lemon juice, ginger, garlic, a touch of cayenne pepper, & olive oil. Wow, a little garlic and ginger goes a long way, and the olive oil was new to me for being in a juice. It’s certainly not a mainstream corporate chain smoothie, but it felt good to drink it. Also, that’s an outstanding price.
Regardless whether you eat in, or order takeaway, the bentos come in biodegradable boxes, and compostable birch eating utensils. It may seem a little awkward to be eating out of these lunch boxes while sitting at their dining tables, but I imagine the focus is more on providing a very healthy meal to someone on the go, and we all need this!
So, honestly, the birch utensils don’t provide all the sturdiness necessary to stab the vegetables or slice up the tempeh, but I didn’t have much issue with this, for two reasons.
1. I like eating with my fingers. :)
2. I keep my own reusable plates, forks and knives at work, so if I’d taken my lunch to go, I would have declined the disposable utensils altogether. Remember: reuse is better than recycle!
Final notes: the vibrant colors of the food! None of these pale yellow starches of mass produced buns and fries. And…AND!..no food coma.
Going on the recommendation of Phil and some of his breakfast club friends, we checked out Princi in Soho for its pastries.
We got the millefoglie mixed berries slice and a cannaolicini to share.
The ambiance is hip and contemporary: a large open space with rows upon rows of baked goods spanning the length of the restaurant under a glass table. People can work their way down the line, picking out items while the staff behind the table collect them together on a plate or box.
It’s communal style dining, with long tables. Groups naturally sit across from each other, and wall is lined with a countertop. Surrounding all this is a longer trough-like water feature with a gentle cascade bubbling out of copper taps. It turns the dining experience into a little zen space – which is a blessed bit of calculated calm when London outside keeps bustling along and even the restaurant itself might be very busy.
Bonus: free wifi!
Princi (Soho / West End)
Aside from attending Mac’s wedding, I used this trip to England to catch up with a few friends from my Kew days.
We headed down to South Ken to meet up with him and let him pick the lunch spot. He brought us to Raison d’Etre, down a street lined with French restaurants and cafes. Turns out the French Embassy is just at the end of the road and the businesses there were bursting with French folk. That suits Raphael just fine, as he is French himself!
The sandwich offerings were mouthwatering, with so many flavorful concoctions, and I have to say that while American sandwiches certainly are filling, there is often so much of the same stuff in them – mustard, mayo, pickle, lettuce, tomato, plain cheese – that they all start to taste the same. But the sandwiches here are like tasteful dishes, bundled into a crusty baguette.
Raphael had the bacon, chicken and avocado baguette. The filling was finely chopped, which was different to what I would expect, but apparently still good to eat. There were only a few places in England that I could order an avocado dish from with confidence that I would get decent avocado, so I was likewise suspicious of the avocado here. Raphael pointed out the healthy, green, fat avocado halves in the deli case and I felt better.
My only regret was not getting a panino. My first introduction to panini was in Morocco and France, where it is always done with a parbaked baguette, which then flattens into a crisp but chewy hot sandwich. I had full intentions of eating one if not several of those on this trip and I’d just passed up my first opportunity.
Over lunch we got caught up on our lives, then walked back to the Science Museum where we had a grand old time exploring the Launchpad interactive exhibit, then pottered around the Victoria and Albert Museum until closing time. Of course, in this heat, we dunked our feet into the shallow pool in the V&A courtyard along with half the other visitors.
Raison d’Etre (South Kensington)
Opal has been around for a long time, although not always known by this name, but definitely in the same location.
I was here for a business lunch, and one diner and his family have been longtime patrons of the restaurant. He provided some good recommendations.
To start, the group shared the crab cakes, and the seared ahi salad/nachos.
Some nice looking items elsewhere on the table included a housemade basil fettuccine with prawns, a scallop and spinach salad, and housemade tomato linguine with seafood. As for myself, I had fat sea scallops with green salad and small boiled purple potatoes.
Just look at those colors. How festive! It’s almost like mardi gras. But it’s not, it’s Opal.