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Was almost tempted.

A Starbucks, shining out from the second level of the new Von’s on West Washington.

So glad I didn’t. Because a block further up I hit this booky nook of a coffee-panini place with some kind of literary event going on inside. It's the Toma Sol Café (301 West Washington Street, Mission Hills/Hillcrest, 619-291-1159).

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Two half-circle rows of chairs with people listening to a lady talk away about a book she’s written. Other people are just doing their thing lap-topping away - novels in progress? - in comfy sofas, with a coffee and a cookie nearby.

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Have to come in. Just to see an actual author talk about her book. You kinda want to touch them to catch their karma. And find out How They Did It.

Besides, a Panini type thing would just fill the bill right now. It’s seven and I won’t be home for hours.

So inside, and it turns out it’s, wow, the One Book, One San Diego author, Zohreh Gharemani. People are calling her Zoë. The book, “Sky of Red Poppies,” has been on radio, TV… you see it everywhere. “It wasn’t that I wanted to write this,” she’s saying to the audience. “I had to write it.” Seems it’s about her as a young girl growing up in Tehran when the whole Shah-Ayatollah convulsion was happening.

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Zohreh Gharemani signing a book for reader Helen Bourne

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And posing for fans with banana bread she baked and brought

I sit down and gosh, see Kathi Diamant the TV personality is here too. And didn’t she write Kafka’s Last Love? That’s pretty ironic, because it sounds like things were pretty Kafkaesque in Zoë Gharemani’s Iran adolescence.

See? This is what happens when you jes’ wander, seeing what you can see.

So I listen, and then when question time comes, head back to the counter. “Those are Zoë’s paintings on the wall too,” says the gal, Renée. I see a bunch of paintings of red poppies, kinda like Monet. This lady. Some talent.

I get a coffee ($1.80), and then spot these Panini in the display cabinet. One’s a vegetarian, the other’s a roast beef. A good thing I notice here: everything possible seems to be sustainably grown, organic, local. Even the wines they sell have been grown without pesticides and produced “sustainably.”

Probably why a glass goes for $7. (Though happy hours, Monday-Wednesday, from five to seven, give you $2 off that, and $1 off beers, and “random food deals” that you have to find on Facebook.)

I take the roast beef Panini. Mainly because it comes with horseradish mayo and cheddar. It’s $6.25. Owner comes checking on customers. Seekey Cacciatore. “Seekey’s short for ‘Sarichia,’ ‘Little Sara,’” she says. “In Sicilian.”

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Seekey Cacciatore

She’s actually an environmental planner who decided to bust out. Started this place 13 months ago. “It’s amazing,” she says. “I’ve never done this before. But people have been patient. We’ve become a hangout. Some people drop in 2, 3 times a day. I’ve got two books being written in here. One’s Sci-Fi, the other’s an autobiography. I love that people come, like J. K. Rowling, and are relaxed enough to write their most intimate stuff here.”

The coffee (Fair Trade, from Café Moto) is beautiful, and at the last moment I decide to go for a soup too. Today’s is creamy cauliflower and fennel soup ($4.75 for the 12-ounce).

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Renée

And of course that goes great with the beef and horseradish Panini. Also, the Panini crust is nice and crispy.

It all comes to $12.80 plus tax, and quite an experience. The food, yes, but also the people. I swear my mind’s expanded by 50 percent.

By the time I get outa here, way after eight, the writers have gone, the place is closing. But heck, they open at 6:30 in the morning. Guess you could say Toma Sol will be back with the sun.

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Comments

Ian Pike Dec. 11, 2012 @ 8:13 a.m.

That's right in my neighborhood and I am kinda bummed I missed out on a chance to pick up a signed copy of Gahremani's book. I heard many excerpts of it on the radio when it was freshly nominated for One Book and I really enjoyed her prose style. It sounded really direct and beautiful.

Glad she had a cool book signing anyways!

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Ed Bedford Dec. 11, 2012 @ 3:33 p.m.

Yes, such writing. Plus she's a lovely lady with a pretty important story, in these confrontational times. She chose the perfect site with Toma Sol too. Even the arty lamp shades turned out to be tin food cans an artist had laser-carved. You come out feeling people are starting to get it, about Mother Earth and all, if only we're in time. You should turn your cheesesteak saga into a book and launch there!

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