From your seat on the sidewalk patio of Café Chloe, you can see Petco Park, the open-air home of the San Diego Padres. You’ll have a front row view of a veritable cavalcade of motorized and foot-powered conveyances—from swanky Maseratis to sleek inline skates. Passers-by on foot include some of the city’s most downtrodden as well as its captains of industry. As you take in your surroundings in the cozy, urban neighborhood café and wine bar in San Diego’s chic East Village, you might occasionally be transported, perhaps more than fleetingly, to a quaint Parisian cafe of your past or your dreams.
More than any other French bistro we’ve visited, Café Chloe takes us back to leisurely spring days in small, homey bistros by the Seine where we sipped coffee as intense and spicy as the city in which it’s served. That’s the magic of Café Chloe, a culinary gem which may have the look and feel of Paris, but whose heart and soul belong to San Diego. In fact, Café Chloe has been recognized by Eater San Diego as one of the “38 essential San Diego restaurants,” a compilation of myriad restaurants across a gamut of cuisines. These are the restaurants Eater San Diego recommends most.
Launched in 2005, Café Chloe is the little slice of Parisian culture San Diego has embraced, consistently naming it on surveys as one of the city’s favorite French restaurants. Some guests prefer al fresco dining and the sidewalk café feel of old Paris. The sidewalks of the corner location are lined with iron tables and chairs which are more functional than comfortable. The interior is bright, airy, intimate and convivial with bistro tables in personal space proximity. You can also dine at the white marble bar and you’ll certain want to browse the retail shelves for Café Chloe’s private label gourmet gifts and locally crafted jewelry.
While virtually every bistro, restaurant and café in Paris welcomes dogs of all sizes, in San Diego just under 200 restaurants welcome dogs at their outdoor tables. Café Chloe earned an average rating of five bones from respondents to bringfido.com. The staff welcomes dogs with open arms, lavishing them with attention and a bowl of cool water. Best of all, there’s plenty of shade under which your dog can relax in cool comfort. During out week-long stay in San Diego, our four-legged children Tim and Callie dined with us at four pet friendly restaurants. They were on vacation, too.
Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner every day with a menu which changes frequently and features only the freshest local ingredients, sustainable seafood, all-natural meats and jidori poultry, Café Chloe is a café with a conscience. The menu touts “we believe in the value of supporting sustainability, regardless of cost, and hope you will invest in this belief with us.” To the cynic in us, that statement translated to “this is going to cost a fortune,” but that wasn’t the case at all. Every item on the menu is pleasantly priced.
Café Chloe inspires lingering. No one seems to be in a hurry and if you’re not either, you’ll appreciate the restaurant’s pace. It’s somewhere between relaxed and leisurely. You’ll also appreciate that the wait staff doesn’t rush you as you peruse the menu, an array of rightly portioned sensible dishes described very well. Cafe Chloe serves their popular brunch menu every day of the week now and you’ll be hard-pressed to decide what to order. Every item will inspire involuntary salivation.
As you peruse the menu, you’ll want to refresh yourself with Cafe Chloe’s lavender lemonade, the very best we’ve ever had. I pray the village people at Los Ranchos de Albuquerque who operate the village’s Lavender Festival forgive me for that blasphemous and disloyal statement, but if they don’t I’ll drown my sorrows in more of that lemonade. The lemonade is fresh-squeezed and will purse your lips with its tartness, but it’s the fresh herbaceousness of the lavender you’ll long remember. This beverage tastes like summer.
Finding butternut squash soup on the menu in the heart of summer is always a surprising treat. Butternut squash soup has been my solace and source of warmth and comfort on many a fall and winter day. As we found out, it’s just as soothing and delicious in summertime. Cafe Chloe’s rendition of this soup is relatively thin and isn’t adulterated with heavy creams but is redolent with flavor and has a very even texture. Served piping hot, the flavor profile is punctuated by the mildly astringent flavor of sage. Succulent squash is the prevalent soul-warming soup which I crave year-round and Café Chloe’s is among the best.
We gleaned an entirely different flavor profile from another starter which was no less magnificent than the butternut squash soup. The mushroom and Blue d’Auvergne tart is absolutely delightful. A flaky, buttery crust sheathes perfectly sautéed mushrooms and the rich, spicy flavors of Blue d’Auvergne, a French cheese made from sheep’s milk. A drizzle of Balsamic reduction on the plate lends a tangy-sweet flavor. What makes this tart special is balance—how every item contributes its unique properties to the flavor profile, creating a whole that is more delicious than its components.
With steak frites, you never know what cut of steak you’re going to get. Café Chloe serves a flank steak, a very flavorful and surprisingly tender steak despite being quite lean. It’s served in slices and prepared to your exacting specifications, but any more than medium and you’ll compromise some of the meat’s juiciness. At medium rare, the steak is charred on the outside and perfectly pink on the inside with plenty of flavor—and that’s even before you add the anchovy butter (which Bon Appetit refers to as a umami-rich compound butter). The steak is served on top of the frites which allows meaty juices to run down the fluffy double-fried frites.
In November, 2010, Haute Living.com put together its list of the best adult mac and cheese dishes in San Diego. The article concluded that Café Chloe’s version “will make you crave it for weeks to come,” calling it “an incredible take on the classic dish.” The three components of this gratin dish are macaroni, pancetta and Blue d’Auvergne. The Blue d’Auvergne cheese could easily overwhelm this dish with its pungency and strong aroma, but it’s used judiciously to create a rather thick sauce which goes well with the generous amount of pancetta (pork belly sized cubes) interspersed throughout the dish. Served in a casserole dish, this adult mac and cheese dish is perfectly baked, amazingly delicious and picture perfect with a golden top. I’m still craving!
Larry McGoldrick, the professor with the perspicacious palate, will have to make a trip to San Diego to try Café Chloe’s pistachio bread pudding, among the very best bread puddings I’ve ever had. A pool of caramel espresso sauce surrounds thick, hot, pistachio-infused bread pudding which is topped with a salted caramel topping and a scoop of vanilla ice cream. There is a lot going on with this bread pudding in flavors and textures that are both complementary and contrasting. It’s sweet, gooey, warm, cold, nutty, creamy, buttery, salty and absolutely memorable. It’s one of the things we’ll remember most about our visit to San Diego.
The one aspect about our delightful meal at Café Chloe most unlike Paris is the service. Café Chloe was a “best service” pick of San Diego Magazine. It’s perfectly paced to maximize your enjoyment of one of the city’s very best French bistros.
721 9th Avenue
San Diego, California
LATEST VISIT: 5 July 2013
# OF VISITS: 1
BEST BET: Pistachio Bread Pudding; Macaroni, pancetta, & Bleu d’Auvergne gratin; Steak Frites; Mushroom & Bleu d’Auvergne tart; Butternut Squash Soup with Sage