14 May 2007

Kafé 421: Lunch in Dinkytown

Lunch with a friend, to find out how she likes retirement, provided a good excuse to try a new restaurant. I’ve been hearing some good things about Kafé 421. And it’s a good location – in Dinkytown, two doors down the street from Al’s Breakfast.

The restaurant is getting good reviews around town. Some of the on-line reviews I read gushed with enthusiasm, some calling Kafé 421 a ‘treasure.’ So I’ve been eager to give it a try.

It certainly is an appealing restaurant. When you pull up on the street, you’re greeted by a large, attractively-designed sign over the awning that shelters a half dozen tables for sidewalk dining. I thought about eating outside. But it was a very hot day, and there wasn’t quite enough shade for me to feel comfortable, so we went inside.

Inside, you are welcomed by several friendly staff people. I think the hostess who seated us was the owner, Georgia Sander, though she didn’t introduce herself. I noticed, however, that all during the hour we were there, she was bustling around, checking on guests and generally making sure that things went smoothly. If it wasn’t the owner, then she certainly was a dedicated and conscientious employee.

All of the staff members who we saw were very friendly. Everyone had a pleasant smile and a cordial greeting. Our server (India R., according to the receipt) was very efficient, and very attentive. Another staff member who brought our food to the table very enthusiastically agreed to take our photo, even stepping up on a chair to get a good angle. And when I asked the person who cleared our plates for a cup of coffee, he quickly brought it over, even though I assume it wasn’t his job. So Kafé 421 definitely gets an ‘A’ for service and friendly staff.

I also was impressed by the décor. There’s an attractive wall mural along the hall that leads from the entry to the main dining room. In one corner, there’s a piano. (Kafé 421 features live music on Wednesday and Friday evenings.) All of the walls feature interesting art – paintings and sculptures. So I’d also give it an ‘A’ for ambiance.

Then there’s the food. Based on our experience, here’s where I’d quibble with the enthusiastic reviews that I read. I had the Pescado sandwich, which was described as tuna mixed with olive oil, peppers, chopped olives and basil with Swiss cheese and tomato on grilled Vienna bread. When I read the description, I anticipated a fillet of tuna on the bread. Instead, the tuna was chopped and mixed with the other ingredients, like a tuna salad. The flavors were good, but it wasn’t what I expected. Lunches are served with a choice of salad, soup, or fries; I had the Caesar salad. It was an unusual Caesar. It had a good Caesar dressing, Parmesan cheese, and croutons. It also had tomatoes mixed in, which I thought was quite unusual for a Caesar. Not bad, but also not expected.

Bonnie ordered the tilapia sandwich, described as semolina-crusted fish with tomatoes, radishes, arugula, and cayenne remoulade also served on Vienna bread. This was more like we expected, only it wasn’t served on Vienna but on a grilled focaccia roll. She had the mixed green salad which she said was nice and crisp and fresh, but was dressed so lightly as to seem almost dry.

They do serve a basket of good bread. Unfortunately, the butter is Glenview Farms.

So how do I summarize the food? On the positive side, the lunch menu is creative and has a lot of variety. The food was well-prepared and very tasty. My negatives aren’t serious. It’s mostly a matter of not meeting expectations. But my overall reaction was, “This was good, and I would come back. But I certainly wouldn’t rave about it.”

By the way, as you can see in the photo, we both had a glass of wine. Kafé 421 has a nice wine list with a good selection of wines by the glass. I had a Greek red, Gai’a Notios. I picked it because I generally have good experience with Greek reds, and I considered it to be a reliable choice. It lived up to expectations and was a nice complement to the flavors in my sandwich. Bonnie had Harlow Ridge Pinot Noir. She said it was good, and I’ve had the Harlow Ridge before. It’s not an intense or a complicated wine, just a good accompaniment to a casual meal.

I liked Kafé 421 and I will try it for dinner sometime. I loved the décor, the overall ambiance, and the friendly staff. I thought the food was a good value, especially since it included the salad. Even though I can’t rave about our lunches, this restaurant deserves to be supported and encouraged.


Biby Cletus said...

Cool blog, i just randomly surfed in, but it sure was worth my time, will be back

Deep Regards from the other side of the Moon

Biby Cletus

Anonymous said...

I have not been to Kafe 421 for several years but it has a special place in my heart because this was where I was introduced to "slammable" wines and quite drinkable.

I believe it was the owner who, when we (my wife Kat, our friend Jen, and I) were hemming and hawing about what to drink, suggested a Greek wine. She said it was slammable, much like you might slam a beer. We were sufficiently intrigued that we ordered what she suggested. Much to our delight, it was slammable and quite drinkable!

That experience forever blew away any pretense I had about wine. I don't slam wine (nor beer) on a regular basis because of its deleterious effects upon me but I am not afraid to do so occasionally. :)