Saturday, September 22, 2007

A Date at Cafe Presse

I do love a new restaurant. It’s pretty rare that I try the new restaurant while it is actually still new (say, Lark. Just went to this past summer. And Crush… tried in early spring), but now and then, I get it together and give a place a try while it is still in its first few months (or year, but for me, that’s doing pretty well). Part of the reason I wait so long is that we just don’t eat out as often as we used to. And then when we do, I am sometimes reluctant to pass on old favorites to try somewhere new.
But Wednesday night, our babysitter came, and I didn’t have hockey practice, so we decided to go on A Date (it’s been a while since we’ve had a chance for that, too), and try Caffe Presse. It felt like quite a while since I’ve actually gone on a date with my husband, so I went ahead and dolled up. I put on the spectacular boots he gave me for my birthday last year, a black dress, earrings from him, and grabbed my kitschy gold handbag. And a wrap (black. Nothing to write home about, but toasty), because it has not been warm around here. I swiped on some mascara, eyeliner and lipgloss and was (finally) all set. I even put on a little perfume, Jo Malone’s Fig & Cassis, which is my favorite, hands down, in part because it was a gift (with financial assistance from the husband) from the kids, and mostly because it smells absolutely fantastic. For all that it may not count as a high maintenance beauty routine, it was substantially more involved than my normal beauty routine. Which is, um… to try and shower regularly?

Café Presse is very clearly enjoying It status right now. Every paper and blog in town has reviewed and discussed the place (it seems that way, at least). I love me a steak frites, and I hadn’t quite remembered to eat at all that day (unless you count having three lattes as eating. Crazy neighbor court stuff is presently rather distressing and distracting), and I was ready to stuff my face. Dainty date habits, I know, but in case you were worried about the impression I might make on my date (kidding), the New York Times had that revolting article suggesting that women might do well to be themselves and eat what they want (although it seemed that way, it wasn’t a reprinted article from the fifties).
Anyway, Café Presse. It was packed. The hostess estimated a fifteen minute wait but seated us in five. I love when the person at the front overestimates the wait instead of underestimates, because I hate cooling my heels thirty minutes into a “five minute” wait. Also, apropos of nothing, I loved her cardigan, which was plain black but had some reasonably subtle beading where it closed, giving a tuxedo-ish but feminine air to an otherwise understated sweater. The service was good, but the food, I have to say, could use some improvement.
I enjoyed the tomatoes tapenade, which was pretty much what it sounds like: a tomato salad topped with tapenade. Delicious, and I plan on making it at home. However, I don’t know that I would go out for it, since it is so simple to make. My husband ordered the arugula chevre salad, which was pleasant (if a little too mustardy on the dressing). I ordered the steak frites, as I’d planned and longed for. We should have just asked them to fry up the soles of my boots (except... I love my boots). I don’t know that I have ever eaten a tougher steak (in a restaurant, anyway. I have made shoe-leather steak at home more than once, but I am not, in any way, a pro). It was chewy to the point of absurdity. The sauce? Tasty. The frites? Quite enjoyable. The steak itself? Well, lousy. The salade nicoise my husband ordered was not much better. I should say that I have an internal bar for nicoise salads: I expect a restaurant to be able to turn out a nicoise salad that is as good or better than what I can make at home, and Café Presse did not pass that test. It was a middling to crappy nicoise, with cold, undercooked garbanzo beans (which I like, but not cold, and not hyper-al dente, thanks) and cold potatoes. I’m not a big believer in salads being dead-cold. By contrast, Curly and I went to Cremant (we don't usually go out so often) last night. The steak frites was perfect, her brandade rocked the house, and, well, altogether the food far outshone Café Presse’s. The bill was also noticeably higher than Café Presse's.

You’d think I would write the place off, but I can’t quite do it. It’s charming, reasonably priced (an asset not to be underestimated), and their lunch menu looks tasty and simple. Overall the misses on the menu feel more as if the place still has kinks to work out than just being over-hyped (I hope, anyway). I suspect I’ll like it better as a lunch-light dinner sort of place than a appetizer-entrée-dessert sort of place. And for the time being, when I have a steak frites craving (and a babysitter. and a budget for it), I’ll probably go to Cremant or Café Campagne.


chris said...

I just realized I'm starving. And of course, I have an even worse case of Pacific Northwest envy than I usually have. Of course, I console myself with the fact that you have terrible barbeque out there.

Ahem. Okay, not consoled.

Meg said...

The BBQ scene is, indeed, terrible (although I'm told there are a few places that are okay). But as we head towards the dark gray soup that passes for daylight in November, I'm glad that good steak frites and cassoulet are easily available.