425 Robinson Ave.
A couple resolutions for 2004:
(1) Be a smarter person
I said the Tom Kah soup at Amarin Thai was "peppered with flavor landmines like ginger root and bay leaf." Reader Blake Wilson pointed out that those bits are really galanga and kaffir lime leaves.
And in the Dec. 24 review, "Dropping the sake bomb," I described the craziest night I've ever had with raw fish in Kearny Mesa. But the restaurant is actually called "Kazra" sushi bar, not "Katzra," as I said, and their phone number is (858) 279-3430. I did manage to somehow include their correct address: 4229 Convoy St. Damned sake bombs.
(2) Be a nicer person
A few weeks ago, I wondered if the pastry chef at the Lamont Street Grill had been trained in a trailer park. A pastry chef for 13 years, Kitty Sullivan teaches local cooking classes; "did a couple stints" at Culinary Institute of America, Greystone; and has written for several food publications and placed recipes in two dessert cookbooks. But she has never trained at a trailer park. The personal affront was uncalled for, and furthermore, it wasn't even funny. My apologies.
(3) Stop hemorrhaging money
First, I traded my ridiculously overpriced hovel for a moderately overpriced one and spent the first weekend of 2004 parading down the sidewalk with my bachelor pad furnishings.
"Let's get a bite," I said, as my long-suffering girlfriend helped me lash my floor lamp ($10, Target, 1992) on top of my truck.
"But it's 10 o'clock," she said.
"Crest Café is open until midnight."
"Really?" she said. "We love Crest Café."
In the lobby, one of the reviews on the wall referred to the Crest Café as "comfort food." To me, comfort food is a trendy excuse for $20 turkey meatloaf. Crest Café is simply good food. But not necessarily simple food: the menu more often than not can surprise you as much as comfort you. Breakfast options, for instance, includes orange marmalade-stuffed French toast and lemon-ricotta pancakes. My favorite (of course) is the hangover omelette, a spicy jalapeño omelette topped with chimichurri sauce, a South American pesto. She likes the chicken cobb omelette, a sort of overstuffed sandwich with eggs for bread.
And the sandwiches with bread for bread are pretty tasty and unique, too. One of my favorites is the grilled vegetable sandwich with mushrooms, peppers and squash covered with melted cheese and topped with sliced avocado, all on a well-toasted bun. Another is the turkey spears sandwich with sliced turkey wrapped around asparagus and covered in melted cheese. Best of all, any sandwich can be combined with a cup of soup and a small but nice salad for $7.95. Crest Café features a different soup each day, along with a cheesy chicken soup with still-crispy tortilla strips. We have tried several of the daily soups, all satisfying, with deep, home-cooked flavors.
The burgers are another highlight. These days, we feel obliged to do our part to contribute to mass hysteria, but in the heady time before mad cows, we enjoyed the cheesy oui oui burger, topped with bleu cheese under melted Monterrey jack, and the butter burger, a decadent combination of spices, butter and cheese. The artery-hardening description on the menu:
"Half pound of fresh lean ground beef, stuffed with a garlic, tarragon, basil, parsley butter...... Then we broil the burger and top it with a little more of the butter...... Then we top it with some cheddar cheese and melt it...... Then we top the cheese with a garlic mayonnaise made with a dash of paprika, cayenne and cumin."
I am not usually a fan of jicama slaw, but at the Crest it makes a great side, pleasantly creamy and mixed with cabbage to give it bitter bite I need and expect from slaw.
The Crest Café succeeds by paying attention to little things like that. The tables are neat and clean, the coffee is always hot. The attentive servers who keep your mug full strike the right balance between chatty friendly and cloying.
The Crest has a reputation as a locals favorite, but the food is a lot better than many touristy Hillcrest restaurants nearby. Sure, there are no poodle skirts or cars hanging from the walls, but then again, you might save yourself a couple bucks. ©
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