455 Tenth Avenue, East Village
(No longer in business.)
Frankie the pit bull watches me, closely.
One step closer, my man, and…
“Don’t worry,” says Carly. “She’s used to people.”
Just as well, ’cause there are three or four guys who are also coming in here, just to check it out.
It’s dusk, and Carly and her friend Austin sit at one of two outside tables beside the jacaranda trees here on Tenth. They’re chewing “tartines” — toasted, open-faced baguette sandwiches. Carly’s loaded her plate with a goat cheese and tuna melt and pigs in blankets. Austin says his are prosciutto and Black Forest ham. The tartines look small but tasty. ’Specially with the glasses of red wine they’re glugging.
Carly and Austin both live in the neighborhood. “We’ve been waiting for this place to open,” Carly says. But if it weren’t for these two sitting and supping outside, you might walk right past.
Then I see the signs in the window: “Café Paris. Café. Wine bar. French cuisine.”
French! I head in, hoping it won’t be too expensive, because, well, it is French. Inside’s browny-gray and white and orange. There’s a small bar on the right with two three-light chandeliers hanging above it. Tables line the left wall underneath a big graffiti painting. It’s kinda hard to read — I think it spells out “Loris.” But the decor looks plain Danish–style rather than florid French. And, hey, no TVs. Here, people talk to each other. I like it.
So, ready to chow. Got a couple of Jacksons in ye olde pocket. Could probably go for a glass of vino, too.
I sit at one of the little tables toward the back, while the owner, Loris, goes to the windows and pulls down the blinds to block the setting sun where it’s flashing in. He comes back with a menu. Loris is a compact, compressed-energy type of guy. Looks like he and Jack the cook are making this place happen.
Hmm…menu has things like “amuse-bouches,” “tartines,” and “baguettes.” Where do I start? The tartines (“open-face toasted sandwiches with melted cheese”)? For eight bucks you get “two of your choice, served on arugula salad.” The choices are prosciutto, Black Forest ham, turkey, a “cheesy” combo of mozzarella, brie, and blue, with walnuts and cranberries — that sounds good — and roasted veggie (with eggplant, zucchini, and goat cheese).
Salads, like the Parisienne (romaine, ham, gruyère) and the Niçoise (corn, red beans, olives, and tuna), go for $9. Amuse-bouche (“amuse-mouth”) snacks are $3.50 each, things like marinated artichoke and melted cheese, or three pigs in a blanket with aioli, curry, or spice.
I’m too late for the lunch combo (one tartine, one salad, and wedge potatoes for $10; the same combo but with two tartines is $11). That runs from 11:00 a.m.–4:00 p.m. But, oh, wow. I see they have a $12 cheese plate and a $6 fondue with brie, parmesan, “curry mozzarella” cheese, and caramelized onions — plus garlic-and-parsley bread.
I start off with the $3.50 potatoes while I mull over a main dish.
“A glass of wine?” Loris asks.
Why not? I’m thinking rosé, this being summer and all. Loris has two. One’s French, a Côte de Provence (not that cheap at $9.50), the other’s a California pinot rosé for $8.50. I go for that.
“I’ll bring you over a taste of the Côte de Provence later, so you can see the difference,” Loris says. I see he’s been bringing samples to other customers. Looks like he’s genuinely interested in talking wine.
“This is what’s happening in Paris,” he tells me. “Wine bars. Small, but with very good food, and especially wine. I think San Diego’s ready for this.”
Then he’s back with my spuds and an apology. “We ran out of potatoes, so the chef also put in some garlic-curry mussels. I hope that’s okay with you.”
It sure is. Potato wedges are roasted and garlicky. The mussels taste similar, but, being mussels, they’re more interesting. It helps to mix in the arugula they’re sitting on.
But the plate of the night has to be the Niçoise salad. Lots of corn, red beans, olives, and tuna. I pay $1 more for a hard-boiled egg. ’Course, I would’ve liked anchovies, too. With this combo, adding their fishy saltiness would really do it for me.
Even sans anchovies, though, this is a tasty salad. I ask for bread. Soaking up the juices between slurps from the wine has you expecting Woody Allen to turn up, maybe in the time of “The Little Sparrow,” Edith Piaf. (Ya gotta see Midnight in Paris…)
“The difference between French and California wines,” Loris tells Bill and Jeri, two customers who live here in East Village, “is that Californians drink wine by itself, like a cocktail. That’s how they judge the wine. In France, we drink it always with food. So it’s the interaction that counts.”
He says that’s why California wines are more floral, fruity. French wines are earthier.
This is when he brings me over a sample of the French rosé. Oh, yeah. Drier, herbier, earthier. What the heck. I decide to ask for a French red. He pours me a glass of Les Violettes Côtes du Rhône ($10.33), which does give a whiff of violets.
I’ve gone way, way over the top — about $35, plus tip. Dunno how I’m going to explain this to the Carla. Probably end up offering a bribe.
“Next payday, Sweetheart, we’ll go together?”