Downtown's Cafe21 Now Has the Space to Complement the Food | New Location in San Diego's Gaslamp Almost As Lovely As Chef Leyla's Culinary Creations

May 7, 2014

Newcomer on the corner of 5th & E, but no newbie to the Gaslamp, Cafe21 recently took over Croce's former space and made it their own. The beautifully renovated location was already bustling on a Wednesday night visit less than two weeks after opening its new doors. Cafe21 offers a true farm to table experience, with nearly everything made from scratch from the finest local ingredients and each dish plated attractively with an evident mindfulness to the art of food service.

Cafe21 opened it's first location in 2007 in University Heights and four years later opened a second location downtown. Enter its new space and you'll immediately see that it is far more sprawling and open than the much quainter spot that Cafe21 had previously occupied just down the road at 750 5th Avenue (rumor has it they're holding onto the old space for possible overflow or for a completely new concept. Stay tuned.) Alex Javadov and his wife/partner, Chef Leyla, put nearly a half million dollars into converting the new location, which offers two stories of dining pleasure, including a long outdoor patio space on bustling 5th. The stylistic combination of the interior's exposed brick walls with white and blue furniture and decorative accents exude a blended charm - coastal, city sleek, farmhouse, a bit of country home elegance for a restaurant that truly melds culinary influences, resulting in something fresh, unique and exciting.

On top of a legitimate beer and wine list, Cafe21 also offers a variety of infused spirits which, in addition to their intricate use in craft cocktail creations, make for beautiful jarred decorations around the interior. There are numerous sangria options, including a strawberry rhubarb concoction made during our visit, which ferment for 72-plus hours before indulging. Although a flight of sagria piqued our interest, as you can probably guess, we ordered a pair of local beers.

Our sweet and attentive server began our eating journey with the "must-try" mixed fries ($12), a heaping serving of gluten-free, rice flour-dusted portobello mushroom, eggplant and avocado slices, lightly fried to a crisp and served with a goat cheese aioli and chipotle aioli upon a cutting board. We began dipping and truly adored this simple yet unique dish, especially the creamy avocado slices.
The Cristo crepes ($8) came to our table and it was love at first sight (and bite). Free range, house roasted chicken and melted mozzarella comes layered between handmade crepes, complemented by white wine and apricot puree, a berry gastrique and topped with a sprinkle of powdered sugar. Sweet and savory is the way of the future, and this dish does it harmoniously in a very value-oriented dish. We'll have a hard time passing up a pop in for Cristo crepes anytime we're in the Gaslamp!
Onto the mains, we were delighted with the curry seared scallops ($25) - four jumbo, sauteed scallops sat atop a potato leek puree surrounded by yellow curry yogurt sauce, and topped with walnut bread crumb crust, served in a hot cast iron skillet. We dredged each scallop through the surrounding flavors and before we knew it, the skillet was empty!
The masala chai tea braised beef short ribs were right on, delicious and soo tender! Boneless, free range beef rib is braised in red onion honey sauce, covered in a masala chai tea and fig sauce and served with curry potato galette and possibly the best, garlicky green beans we've ever eaten. Why are the green beans so damn good? They're pickled first to fill them with flavor. A very comforting dish!
A pair of after dinner delights ($8 each) came to our table and, like everything else, both were beautifully plated. Although we enjoyed the simplicity of the berry-topped bread pudding, it was the flourless chocolate cake, served with vanilla/berry ice cream that really put us over the top. This gluten-free cake came in a cast iron skillet, surrounded by a sweet and tart berry sauce, topped with mixed berries and infused grapes, and dusted with powder sugar for a blissfully rich dessert.
Each dish at Cafe21 caused excitement at first glance and we're eager to return to sample more options, including a daily tapas-centric happy hour, as well as their consistently-packed daily brunch.  The restaurant strives to adhere to it's ambitious moniker 'nature's kitchen,' and offers options for any diet type or preference. With a focus on fresh, local ingredients and world flavors, Cafe21 continues to impress in its brand new location.

802 Fifth Ave., Gaslamp
(619) 795-0721

Sun-Thu 8 am-11 pm
Fri-Sat 8 am-12 am
Happy Hour - Daily 3-6pm

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