Published on October 28th, 2012 | by James Miyazawa
Cafe Bleu – a French treasure in the arrondissement de Mission Hills
Cafe Bleu Review – Mission Hills
Atmosphere: A dimly-lit jewel box, packed to the gills on a Saturday night, the noise level is energetic but not oppressive. Behind the fifteen or so tables, a small bar serves a wide selection of beer and wine (bottles, glasses and half-glasses). At the Cafe Bleu bar, you can dine or cool your heels waiting for a table – and you will wait if you come without reservations during peak times (make Open Table your friend).
The menu: To some, French food inspires images of snails, tuxedoed waiters, and flaming desserts. Fear not. Cafe Bleu dishes out French comfort food: simple starters, approachable entrees of fish, poultry and meat, and a few homey desserts with not a flame in sight. The menu’s most striking feature is not the approachability of its food, but the modesty of its prices. With few exceptions, starters are below $8, and most entrees below (some well below) $20. Don’t let the price points fool you, though: quality is Cafe Bleu’s DNA.
Our meal: After an amuse bouche of mini Beef Wellingtons (seriously, how awesome to find a place that still does that) and crusty bread with butter and a bracing tomato relish, it’s time to get serious. One noteworthy starter is a simple plate of warm bacon-wrapped dates, Picholine olives and Marcona almonds. Though it sounds odd, and looks odder, this dish exceeds the sum of its parts. Thick, salty bacon counterbalances the dates’ sweetness, while the briny olives deliver an herby punch. Crunchy Marconas provide a welcome textural addition and tie the whole dish together. For $6, you’ll feel like you robbed a bank.
Steak frites, the bistro classic, is executed to near perfection: an eight-or-so ounce hangar steak with an earthy pan sauce, a pile of hot, crisp matchstick fries, and a few spears of grilled asparagus. Chew and flavor abound – so much so, the ramekin of horseradish crème fraiche is, like too much chrome on a car, an unnecessary adornment. You won’t believe it costs $14. I still don’t. (Warning: order the steak cooked one level cooler than you usually do, since it arrived a bit overcooked on each of our two visits). A special of perfectly cooked red snapper, nestled on a bed of creamy mashed potatoes and an avocado beurre blanc, was homey and satisfying. More ambitious, and equally successful, were the three large scallops (seared hard, sweet and tender inside) served with a revelatory coconut risotto cake: creamy risotto spiked with coconut milk, coated in Panko and fried to greaseless, shatteringly crisp perfection. True Francophiles may question the authenticity of risotto or coconut milk, let alone together, but honestly, I couldn’t care less. I just wanted to keep eating.
The Service: Servers at Cafe Bleu are universally friendly, eager to answer questions, and welcome first-timers and old-timers with equal warmth. During peak times, you may wait a while for your entrees, but don’t let that deter you. Relax, listen to the laughter around you, and imagine yourself in the bistro of your dreams.
The Bottom Line: An unfussy neighborhood bistro that takes its food seriously without taking itself too seriously. That’s a rare accomplishment, and we’re the better for it.
807 W. Washington St. (at Falcon)
San Diego, CA 92103
Monday-Friday 11:30 a.m. – 10:00 p.m.
Saturday 11:30 a.m. – 11: 00 p.m.
Sunday 10:00 a.m. – 10:00 p.m.