North County stalwart, Swami’s Cafe, must have been dreaming big when they moved into the cavernous space left behind by Casa de Luz following the macrobiotic restaurant’s swift shove-off from North Park. Swami’s Encinitas location serves to a packed house on the regular, especially during summer hours, when people queue up and survive a prolonged wait for sun-drenched breakfast foods, in exactly the manner that fuels the growing anti-brunch argument.
Now, having established their breakfast credentials (though not to the wild fanfare that the Encinitas iteration of Swami’s has grown accustomed), the cafe has rolled out a dinner menu. The menu’s hodge-podge style cherry-picks dishes from just about everywhere in an unequivocally North County style.
“Tampiquena” ($15.99) is a flank steak, grilled and smothered with cheese and peppers, served alongside rice and beans, with an entire tostada on the side. The odd dish allegedly hearkens to an early-twentieth-century heyday of Mexican cooking, but it sorely wants an update.
Blackened yellowtail ($14.99) makes use of the local superstar fish, dusting the generous fillets with pungent seasoning, and perching the whole atop a cake of undifferentiated risotto.
Panceta fries ($8.99) could be interesting, but aren’t because the whole dish doesn’t cohere properly in the manner of poutine or carne asada fries. The salty hunks of pancetta hiding in the huge pile of fries make for a nice surprise, but it’s too noncommittal for real gluttony.
Noncommittal turns out to be the perfect word for Swami’s dinner menu. In a neighborhood where there is a good, sometimes excellent, restaurant for any kind of food you want, it doesn’t make sense to try and cover all the bases. This isn't a question of good meal vs bad meal, it's conceptually ho-hum. All of Swami’s dinner plates are OK, but there’s better loaded fries, better steak, better tacos, and better fish; all within spitting distance. Swami’s pan-culinary homogeneity ends up more TGI Friday than the restaurant probably intends, but that’s the price of doing everything OK and nothing particularly well.