Just Fabulous 4116 Adams AvenueKensington619-584-2929
Maybe my innate grumpiness has something to do with my black-on-black color scheme. My wardrobe and apartment look like typical Photo 101 assignments, black and white with the occasional clumsy splash of color thrown in. You know, for artistic effect.
So I could not have felt more out of place at the Just Fabulous café, a wall-to-wall explosion of pastel yellows and oranges worthy of Baby Van Gogh. If there is any merit to color therapy, where yellow equals cheery, this place must be generating more smiles than the SUV tax-credit in the Exxon board room. I cringed when our bowl of pale orange butternut bisque arrived: color-coordinated food, too?
Moments before, on the sidewalk, we hadn't been sure what the inconspicuous sandwich board sign meant ("Now Open Serving Sips Savories Sweets"). Was it a coffee shop? A bakery? Curiosity drew us inside. Once our eyes adjusted to the color scheme, we found, sandwiched between the coffee menu ("sips") and the dessert menu ("sweets"), a graciously short and reasonably priced "savories" menu, featuring dishes such as pork tenderloin and mai tai curried chicken. Shortly afterward, we found ourselves staring at our color-coordinated bowl of bisque, crisscrossed with mint oil and crème fraiche, which gave just enough contrast and variety to the richly subtle soup.
The rare ahi collection (by far the priciest non-dessert entry, $15.95) was a sampling of a spicy tuna roll with just the slightest touch of tempura breading; a few slices of seared ahi over a seaweed salad; and an ahi stack, diced tuna over red pepper, cucumber, mango and an intriguingly toothy, slightly sweet rice.
"We're keeping that one," the waitress said, noticing our enthusiasm.
"Keeping"? Turns out the ambitious café is already planning the first of frequent menu shuffles, and by the time this review finds its way to print, most of the entrées will have been replaced. Fortunately, we did get a chance to try the incredibly moist mu shu duck confit, nested in a scallion crepe, the meat tasting like it had been slow-roasted since my last birthday. And the salad was worth the price of admission just for the mellow bitter goat cheese flan, wrapped in a thin pastry crust.
I have to interrupt my canary yellow-colored love-in for one big fat complaint: our medium-rare to rare Kobe Beef burger-a fleeting opportunity, in these downed-cattle times, to indulge in some seriously undercooked beef-arrived browned all the way through. Yes, the toppers, roasted vegetables with cheese and pesto, were delicious. Yes, the accompanying rosemary fries were thin and crispy. Yes, the meat was tender and buttery, but I was left to imagine the flavor that might have been.
I had three reasons to forgive them: one, Just Fabulous is but 3 months old, and already, nearly everything we tried was wonderful. Two, they are of the "we're open until we close" school, 11 a.m. until everyone is done eating, every day. Three, there is a serving plate stationed next to the register, permanently doling out free dessert samples.
Oh, did I not mention desserts? Make that four reasons. The restaurant is actually a spin-off of a successful dessert kitchen, giving the menu an embarrassing wealth of good endings. Just Fabulous ended my search for authentically hard biscotti, and the chocolate box provided more than just fodder for an infinite number of Beavis and Butthead jokes. For $9, a dessert had better deliver on a lot of levels, and this was worth the price of admission, a delicate combination of textures and flavors, raspberries and diced passion fruit swimming in a white-chocolate mousse, topped with a dollop of whipped cream, all ensconced in a thin milk-chocolate box.
I have to admit I have no idea what the new food menu will feature, beyond the three most popular current entrees (along with the Kobe burger and the Ahi, they will also keep the roasted vegetable panini). I was a little unsettled that they would keep the three most popular entrees rather than the three best, democracy being no way to run a kitchen. But if the replacements are as good as the originals, Just Fabulous will continue to be well worth the effort it takes to find. Or maybe all this happy-happy-joy-joy color therapy has just gone to my head.
Blow a little happiness up cityeat@SDcitybeat.com.