Café Bleu

| July 9, 2016 | 0 Comments

Looking for a venue for an intimate dinner with a significant other, somewhere romantic to take a date? Or a nice neighborhood eatery where a fine meal can be enjoyed without breaking the bank?

If you’ve answered “yes” to any of the above, try Café Bleu in Mission Hills. It is located on Washington Street, in the center of restaurant activity. The street is busy and parking may be scarce but there is some parking behind the restaurant.

True to its name, the restaurant has a blue wall. The walls are painted a dark shade that absorbs light. It adds to the intimacy. There is a well stocked bar along the back wall and clear glass storefront facing the street. Small tables fill the interior, neatly spaced throughout. The restaurant is small, perhaps 20 tables in all, so service can be attentive and personal.

The cuisine is defined as French and New American. The chef, Manny Vargas, has been with the restaurant since it moved to Mission Hills from its former location, perhaps longer. I had a discussion with our server, Grady O’Brien Blumenthal, about the apparent popularity of French cuisine south of the border. Perhaps it goes back to when Mexico was ruled by Emperor Maximilian, who was Austrian but who was backed in power by Napoleon III.

An incredible warm fig and cranberry bread pudding is topped with Tahitian vanilla gelato.

An incredible warm fig and cranberry bread pudding is topped with Tahitian vanilla gelato.

Blumenthal stated that the concept behind Café Bleu is to provide tasty French cuisine in a casual, comfortable ambiance at affordable prices. True to his word, items on the menu were priced “low to moderate.” And then there’s the wine.

The wine list is not long, printed on the back of the food menu. But the selections are interesting, not the run of mill choices often found in other eateries. Most of the choices are from foreign countries, such as Slovenia, Greece and Hungary. The choices are described well, making it easy to select a wine to like. And, the servers are very helpful in choosing. To make wines even more palatable, there are several ways to enjoy and save. Wine flights are offered, as well as half-price bottle nights, and reasonable prix fixe deals for dinner for two plus wine. There is also a nightly prixe fixe menu – three courses – with a slight upcharge for wine pairings.

To start things off well, the chef sends out an “amuse bouche,” something to tease the palate and set it up for good stuff to come. This is a small piece of beef wrapped in puff pastry, like Beef Wellington, but infused with a Dijon sauce, that is delightfully piquant to wake up the mouth. And, pleasingly, this dish is complimentary.

So, what’s to order in a French themed bistro? Obviously, French onion soup is on the list. The dish is au gratin. The small tureen, full of steamy onions in a hearty broth that tastes like someone poured in a robust dry red wine when the chef wasn’t looking, is topped by melted, light brown, thick gruyere cheese that has bubbled over to coat the sides of the dish. The taste is amazing, well worth the calories

The restaurant’s signature dish is Coq Au Vin, wine braised chicken, roasted pork belly, mushrooms and onions over mashed potato. Another French dish, Crevettes Parisian, features jumbo shrimp and gnocchi, with sautéed spinach. There’s a traditional bouillabaisse, a saffron-fennel broth filled with poached fish, jumbo shrimp, scallops, mussel, tomato and whatever else the chef is in the mood to throw in. But the result — delicious.

The bone-in pork loin was a tasty 10 oz portion, pan seared, served with carrots and potato. It was as good as it looked. On the seafood side, the salmon filet was a large portion, enhanced by a smoked tomato sauce, served over an interesting grilled ratatouille polenta cake.

Desserts include crème brulee, dessert cheese selections, and an incredible warm fig and cranberry bread pudding topped with Tahitian vanilla gelato. Don’t pass these by.

The creativity and quality of the entrees could command higher prices but most of the dishes are priced under $20. The owners want to keep the opportunity to dine at Café Bleu very affordable.
Brunch is also served on both weekend days and offer traditional brunch items.

Café Bleu means fine dining, affordable prices, interesting wine selections and intimate setting. It should be on one’s “to go to” list.
The restaurant is located at 807 W. Washington St. between Highway 5 and Highway 163. Call (619) 291-1717 for reservations and information.

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