2540 Congress Street, San Diego
Pissaladière? I know. Sounds dodgy. But trust me, this $3 “snack” is sensational. It’s like a pizza, with a filling that looks like tomato, tastes tomato-ish, but ain’t got a single tomato in it. Or cheese. But it’s the crust, the bread dough, that is sensational. Delicate inside, crunchy outside, and no rubbery pulling contests with your teeth. It breaks off easy. Dang. What a pleasure.
I’m having this frisson at 25Forty Bistro. To be honest, 25Forty is kind of a shock — a black-and-white terraced island of modernity here in Old Town. Everything around it is Mexican-flavored: red tile, cactus, yellow stucco, old wagon wheels, purple bougainvillea drooping in the drowsy heat, while 25Forty has a glass barrier, gray marble tables, glinty metal chairs with black woven plastic backs. It looks like aliens abducted it from downtown’s East Village.
So first I thought: Your wallet’ll never be fat enough to feed this baby. Then I check the prices and, wow. They have “late breakfasts” — yes! — and they’re all seven buckeroos. Cheese omelet with spinach and balsamic vinaigrette; veggie hash with potato, pesto, cheese, and organic egg. Italian sausage with organic egg and roasted potatoes. Even french toast with peanut butter and strawberry.
But the one that gets my attention is the fried rice “with organic egg and sweet soy sauce.” Rice for breakfast? Huh. The Asian way to start your day. Done that before and liked it. Think I’ll have to go in and give this a try.
I also like the fact that this “modern” chowery is actually a li’l ol’ house that they’ve converted.
Up the steps I go, past a guy laptopping at a counter in the breezy shade of the porch. Inside’s just like outside: black and white...including the T-shirts of Federica and Vanessa, the two ladies behind the counter.
“Sit anywhere,” says Federica.
Guess I’ll join the laptopper outside. I take a tall counter seat in his shady patch. Name’s Steve. Says this is the third time this week he’s come here. “Everything’s excellent,” he says. “First time I had the tuna steak [$16], then it was the tuna sandwich [$8], and today I’m having the spinach salad [$8].”
Vanessa, the other server, comes up and leaves a menu card. It lists the “late breakfasts” ($7; they don’t open till 10:00, so there ain’t no “early breakfasts”) and sandwiches (all $8), like the beef, with avocado and tomato confit. There’s a roasted pork with homemade sauerkraut and Dijon mustard, a grilled cheese, a grilled veggie with cream cheese, and the white albacore, an open-faced melt.
Salads (also all $8) include the spinach one Steve’s munching on (with goat cheese, balsamic, mushroom, and garlic chips) and the rocket salad (Vanessa says “rocket” comes from “eruca,” or arugula, the peppery salad green), which has crabmeat with raspberry vinaigrette and poppy seeds.
’Course, I’m set on that fried-rice breakfast. Except, when Vanessa comes back, I have to ask about the $3 snacks. The pissaladière, turns out, doesn’t mean what it sounds like. It’s something about pisces, of course — fish — and usually it’s made with anchovies. “But not here,” Vanessa says. “Too many people don’t like them.” She says the dish originated in southern France and Italy. There’s also a $3 olive mix, a pane-Nutella, and tzatziki with fresh veggies. But, hey, real men can handle pissaladières. I ask for that and a cup of coffee.
And, man, for a $3 snack and $2 coffee? What a presentation! For starters, they’ve got solid knives and forks, a black paper napkin, all laid on a place mat that’s a reprint of page one of a 1785 Times of London. Then the coffee comes in a French press, with a cool-looking coffee cup, along with a tall ex–wine bottle of chilled water. Coffee’s excellent, and my pissaladière disappears like a minnow down a grouper’s throat. Olivey, oniony. Vanessa and her buddy Federica are super-attentive. I feel like a million bucks.
If I weren’t such a glutton I’d call it a day right here. But the Orient beckons. I order up the fried rice and egg, and when it comes, on a big, round, white plate, I puncture the fried egg and help it ooze through the orange rice. One mouthful and I’m getting that sweet soy flavor, plus garlic, chunks of pork, peas, and yellow and green bell peppers. Have to remind myself this is breakfast.
“The house was built in 1917,” says Mark, the chef, and also the owner. He’s come outside for a bit of cool breeze. I ask him about that pissaladière dough. “It has onions, capers, olives, no lard, and two kinds of flour, high-gluten, and pastry.”
Mark’s Italian family comes from New York, but he didn’t want this to be an “Italian” restaurant. Basta with the pasta. “I’m into fusion. The fried-rice breakfast is from seeing what people in Asia ate for breakfast.”
He says his highest-priced item is the “shoulder-briand” (like chateaubriand, but using the shoulder, and cooking it sous-vide — basically in a vacuum — to make it soft and tender). He serves it on a big board and slices it in front of you. Twenty bucks. Enough for two. I’m bringing Carla back for that. Meantime, I haul out the Times place mat, fold it, and jam it in my pocket. Yes, it’s yesterday’s news, but Carla won’t mind. She loves a good read. ■
The Place: 25Forty Bistro and Bakehouse, 2540 Congress Street, Old Town, 619-294-2540
Type of Food: American fusion
Prices: “Late breakfasts” ($7) include cheese omelet with spinach and balsamic vinaigrette; veggie hash with potato, pesto, cheese, organic egg; Italian sausage with organic egg and roasted potatoes; $3 snacks include pissaladière (cheese-free pizza); olive mix; pane-Nutella, tzatziki with fresh veggies; sandwiches ($8) include beef with avocado, tomato confit; pork with sauerkraut, mustard; grilled cheese; grilled veggie with cream cheese; white albacore; spinach salad with goat cheese, $8; rocket salad with crabmeat, $8; entrée specials, e.g. “shoulderbriand” steak, $20
Hours: 10:00 a.m.–5:00 p.m. (Monday, Wednesday, Thursday); 10:00 a.m.–10:00 p.m. (Friday–Sunday); closed Tuesday
Buses: 8, 9, 10, 14, 28, 30, 35, 44, 105, 150
Nearest Bus Stop: Old Town Transit Center
Trolleys: Blue Line, Green Line
Nearest trolley stop: Old Town Transit Center