11815 Sorrento Valley Road, San Diego
"It's a ways off," warns Officer Butts. He's shouting. We're trying to communicate across the railroad tracks at Sorrento Valley Coaster station. These tracks you don't cross. Amtrak trains hurtle through at, like, 80 mph.
I figured Officer Butts would know where the yellow farmhouse is. Hank and I spotted it when we were here last week, smack in the middle of San Diego's Silicon Valley.
"Yessir, I'd say a good mile," Officer Butts shouts, "but worth it. Gr-r-reat food. Good luck!"
Whew. He's right about the mile. Country mile, I'd say. I walk and walk, between glossy, glassy offices and the sanitized factories of Qualcommland. Then, time travel! From out of the ancient past, a clapboard farmhouse, yellow, two stories, in a large garden filled with pepper trees, fountains, tables, chairs, benches, old farm wagons -- and a red English phone box.
There's no inside eating. Just people lined up outside an order window.
"You walked all the way from the Coaster?" says this guy who's also talking into an ear-miked cell phone. "Try 'The Ironman' sandwich."
Think he's talking to me. I check the wall menu. Ooh. I see they have a $2.75 soup of the day. Today's is tomato bisque. "I'll start with that," I tell the woman in the window.
"Sorry. We're out," she says.
Okay. How about that Ironman sandwich? "Grilled chicken breast, fresh avocado, Swiss cheese, honey-mustard dressing, tomato, and sprouts on sourdough bread, $6.35." Sounds good. Actually, all 18 deli sandwiches do. On the other hand, a mandarin salad with grilled chicken is only 64 cents more. Or, hey: rotisserie chicken -- a half chicken with side salad, mashed potato, and garlic bread. Same price.
"Uh, I'll have the half chicken," I say.
"Sorry, out of that too," says the lady. Maryam. She and her husband own the place. "You need to come earlier, before the lunch-hour rush."
Ho-kay. Now we're looking at chicken strips and fries for $6.35. Or a chicken kebob with grilled tomato and white rice or a salad, also $6.50. I skip pizzas and look for pastas, like spaghetti with marinara or meat sauce for $5.35 -- that's a deal -- or with meatballs, or homemade lasagna for $6.35.
But it's the very last item that captures my heart and my dinero: the chicken tequila fettuccini. Probably top dollar on the menu at $7.50. But what the heck. In a mad moment I add some $1.60 fries on the side.
"To drink?" says Maryam.
"We don't do coffee, but if Lily has any at her place, I'll give you one free."
Wow. Turns out Lily has another piece of the house, Lily's Closet Café, where she sells smoothies and the like. (Around the other side, next to a small surf shop, is yet another eatery, Caliente Mexican Food. All sprouting out of this same old house.)
So I pays my money and head into the courtyard behind the red phone box. Nice. You sit under an arbor, among ferns. An artist has painted murals of plants and kids on the yellow walls. Birds twitter in the trees.
A woman roars up in her Mini Cooper, orders a "Sorrento's Choice" sandwich (turkey breast, cream cheese, sunflower seeds, tomato, sprouts, and mayo on whole wheat, $5.85), and roars off. Everybody who comes seems to be, well, highly caffeinated and Sorrento Valley cool.
Maryam brings out my tequila fettuccini and, yes! A tall coffee. The fettuccini comes in a round aluminum box, with a cardboard lid you lever off to a puff of steam. But the food's the real thing. Green pasta, red and green peppers, spinach, cilantro, grilled onions, and sinful golden creamy sauce. I honestly can't taste any tequila, and for me it needs a good shake of salt, but then, suddenly, this becomes a killer meal. The flavor kicks from the sautéed onions and peppers are beautiful. This ain't sandwich-shop stuff. It's sophisticated cooking.
And too much for me to handle, 'specially with the fries on the side. And the garlic bun. But I try, chowing away in this sweet little courtyard, marveling at how an old house could have survived the Sorrento Valley 'dozers.
Kiu, Maryam's husband, says the house was built in 1922. He doesn't know the history, but it had to have started off as a farmhouse. They took over four years ago, when the place was just a deli.
"Maryam and I come from a background of fine dining. We had Bollicine ("Little Bubbles") in La Jolla. An Italian restaurant. This is different. It's mainly lunches, but we insist on starting from scratch every day with fresh food, just as we did at Bollicine."
Kiu and Maryam arrived here from Iran 30 years ago. "We have Iranian friends tell us that this reminds them of the mountain resort cafés near Tehran," Kiu says. "You should see it here in summer. People eating all through these gardens, the fountain going, the lines at lunchtime. It's quite a scene."
I have to ask Maryam to pack up half the fettuccini. I'm full. Plus, got a Coaster to catch, and that country mile to walk.
And I gotta have time to thank Officer Butts.