Jeff Smith 4 p.m., Dec. 20
Café Sabina: The room upstairs
Little literary hideaway in Tijuana delivers world's best panini?
Tijuana: I come out of La Tasquita (see La Tasquita yesterday’s blog), the world’s smallest pub, and head left up Miguel Aleman street. Maybe 9:30 p.m.
Come upon this pretty nice-looking eatery almost straight away. Called Caza Club. (It means "Hunt Club.") Three doormen outside the entrance. I check the menu. Oh no. Too expensive.
“You could go upstairs,” says one of the doormen. “Different place, different prices.”
So up I go, climbing circular stairs. Halfway up, a sign says “Cafe Sabina. Art, library. Second level.”
Arrive up at this…living room...
...Comfy chairs, cloth, leather, fifties moderne, cozy table lamps, a back wall that looks like a piece of modern art in itself, people, talking lowly, with café lattes in front of them.
Some of the little tables look like beautiful antiques. And in the middle is what looks like a really old steamer trunk.
Trunk with a history: Pics inside are probably from the Roaring Twenties
And music. A gravely folk singer on the sound system sounds like a Spanish Leonard Cohen.
“It’s Joaquin Sabina,” says this gal, in English. “He’s very loved in the Spanish-speaking world. He’s partly why we called this Café Sabina. But also the name has this Bohemian feel that anyone, from Lima to Madrid would recognize.”
Her name’s Valeria. She’s the manager. They’ve been open a whole month. Just a wild idealistic try to create a place to hold literary and artistic events in.
“So far we have some musicians coming, and people speaking monologues on Thursday nights,” she says.
Not sure about the food part, but the whole room’s so inviting, I order an Americano, the nearest thing to drip coffee (20 pesos, say $1.50), jes’ so I can take it and sink into one of the chairs.
The two guys working with Valeria, Jorge and Gil, get that cawfee lickety-split. Because I asked for milk in it, they carve out a little heart on top.
My Cafe Americano (after I spilled it on the way to a chair)
“That’s my first, ever,” I tell Valeria as I’m paying.
“Something to eat too?” she says.
It’s only now I notice the bottom right hand corner of the big chalkboard menu up behind them talks about a soup of the day (35 pesos, say $2.50), paninis for 65 ($5), quiches ($5), plus things like galletas, little pastries for 15 ($1).
“Maybe a panini?” I say, kinda tentatively.
“We have a vegan one, or a ham and cheese, with pesto,” says Valeria.
“Guess the ham and cheese,” I say.
And man, I’ve never made a better decision. Jorge slams on that pesto which Valery says they make right here, and toasts the whole thing.
Maybe it’s being out here tonight, but I swear this panini sandwich is extra soft, squidgy, rich with flavor, and specially with that pesto, packs a flavor punch I’d walk a mile for. Plus, it comes with a macaroni salad with peas and avocado.
That’s the thing about TJ. It’s packed with unlikely treats, if you’re up to sticking your nose in, here and there.
But by now it’s past ten. Got to go, before the trolley stops running on the other side. Have to pack most of the panini and run.
First thing when I get back to the ranch: share this with Carla. She wolfs it down.
"Not too fast," I say. "There ain't no seconds."
Then I look up Joaquin Sabina online. See if I can download his music.