Mercy Baron 8:10 a.m., May 24
The spot is on University Avenue between a smoke shop and an Ethiopian restaurant and, until recently, it was occupied by a Thai restaurant. Cafe Delano opened up there a few weeks back and already has a coupon out in the Uptown News mailer, which is like a passport to Hillcrest citizenship.
The small-ish dining room has been outfitted with enormous, borderline medieval tables. Each table could probably hold twice as many diners as there are chairs, which is kind of nice when it's time to share plates of food, but it does make you wonder about where the staff will seat the patrons on a busy night! Perhaps the building is only rated for such and such a capacity. The upshot is that you'll not be feeling crowded any time soon.
Sangria is the beverage of choice and it's particularly affordable on Thursdays when pitchers are just $12. Normally, glasses are $6-$7 and pitchers run $18 and up. The house white sangria was pleasant, though not very potent, and laced with fruit that had been carefully peeled so it was easy to eat at the end of a glass. A long menu of specialty sangria listed blueberry, passion fruit, mango, prickly pear, and "hottie tottie" to name a few.
The menu gave a rather long list of tapas and small plates. The selection ranged from humble dishes like meatballs in red sauce ($5) to a beef tenderloin with mashed potatoes and green beans for ($15). The remainder of the fare fell somewhere in between those two extremes. Tater tots were fluffy on the inside and light outside, which is all that really matters, and served with the typical duo of mayonnaise and ketchup. Green beans, which had been sauteed so lightly as to be more raw than cooked, came in a "Szechuan" sauce that did a remarkable job of tasting like Chinese food; sweet, garlicky, somewhat spicy, and a bit too salty.
Fish tacos included translucent filets of white fish, tomatoes, avocado, and gently wilted lettuce on soft, corn tortillas. The delicate preparation was a marked difference from the Baja fish taco of record, but tastefully composed nonetheless. Carne asada fries, another taco shop favorite, were heavy on the fries and reserved with the carnes and avocado. A beguiling combination of chipotle sour cream and herbed goat cheese gave the dish a heady complexity that, much like the tacos, put it outside of comparison to taco shop food.
A dish of Greek chicken made use of yogurt sauce, diced tomatoes, and a bed of lettuce. Of all the "world" cuisines, the chicken dish most closely resembled the cuisine it was designed to emulate and the chicken breast, the most flavorless part of a chicken, had been cooking with skill and allowed to remain juicy and flavorful. Bow-tie pasta carbonara with green beans and roughly diced bacon was served in a thick, cheesy sauce that might more rightly have been called "alfredo" but was otherwise very agreeable.
The pleasant decor and friendly service will do well for convivial evenings spent sharing food. Every dish showed promising technical know-how, even if some of the underlying ideas and their execution left room for improvement. With a little time and refinement, the restaurant can and will mature into something good. Portions were fairly generous and, in conjunction with daily specials like "buy two tapas, get one free" on Thursdays and $3 tapas on Fridays, Cafe Delano can come off as a more affordable trip than one might expect. Parking is a nightmare in the area, but the restaurant can validate parking in the garage.
540 University Avenue