Kirbie's Cravings

Cafe 21

I know I sometimes complain about how San Diego is not like LA when it comes to the food scene. But readers of this blog always remind me just how lucky I am to live in San Diego. San Diego may not be as glamorous as LA or NY or have as many famous chefs, but it is full of hidden gems. So many gems that there is always an endless list of places to try.

Cafe 21 is one example. It’s been on my to-do for quite a while, but it’s taken me more than a year to get around to it. While Cafe 21 is a popular brunch spot, DH and I recently dined their for dinner and had a very enjoyable time.

Cafe 21 focuses on using fresh, local ingredients, but what I was most impressed with was the creativity of their menu.  Eggplant fries, homemade fruit infused vodkas, were just some of the interesting items we sampled that night.

Sangria Flight

Cafe 21 is well known for their sangrias. There are quite a few flavors offered and since we hadn’t yet tried any, we decided to do a sample flight of them all. The sangrias were indeed delicious and I didn’t even miss the fruit that is usually floating around in them. I liked every single one I sampled, though I preferred the sweeter ones. They were also quite strong too.

Jalapeno Pear Margarita

This was one of their new seasonal offerings that the manager brought out for us to try. It wasn’t too sweet and had a little bit of a spicy kick at the end.

Fruit infused strawberry peach vodka

Another new item Cafe 21 is now offering is fruit infused vodkas made in-house. They muddle the vodka with fresh fruit creating a very natural fruit flavored vodka. We tried the strawberry peach one which was actually quite sweet. Not candy-sweet, but just sweet enough to take the bite off of the vodka.

Goat Cheese Stuffed Figs wrapped in Prosciutto

I love figs and prosciutto so I immediately knew I would enjoy this. The figs were sweet, the goat cheese creamy, and the prosciutto added a saltiness to it. I’ll have to recreate this one at home. Healthy greens accompanied the appetizer plate.

Eggplant fries

The current new menu offers a variety of different types of fries including avocado, mushroom and eggplant. DH and I are not big eggplant eaters, but we both really enjoyed this fried version. The eggplant is lightly coated in crunchy breadcrumbs and wasn’t too oily. I will have to make this one at home as well.

Masala Chai Shortribs

One of their most popular dishes. The shortribs were indeed tender though the couple bites I sampled, I didn’t really get taste too much of the spices. While we enjoyed this one, I think next time we’ll opt for another dish. There’s just been too many shortrib dishes showing up on restaurant menus lately.

Lamb Shank

Apricot braised lamb shank, apple roasted mashed potatoes and sauteed spinach. The lamb was soft and tender and fell off the bone easily, no knife was needed. The apricot added a touch of sweetness to the lamb. I couldn’t really taste the apple flavor in the potatoes though. The sauteed spinach added a needed salty element to balance out the dish.  I enjoyed my entree, though I did spy a quail dish that looked really good, and next time I think I’d like to try that.

Upside Down Peach Cake

There were quite a few desserts to choose from, but we ended up selecting the upside down peach cake mainly because we’ve never had it or even seen it offered before. The cake was a pretty generous portion, enough for two to share. Caramelized peaches sat on top of the warm, right-out-of-the-oven cake. Of course, no warm cake is completely without a scoop of ice cream.

We had a good meal here and service was really attentive. This is going on my list of places to take friends. It’s a great place to try new twists on familiar dishes and have a few drinks. There are currently two locations, and we went to the downtown one. I think the two have slightly different menus because someone mentioned not seeing the eggplant fries at the Adams location even though she visited only a few days after me.

Please note, my meal was complimentary, but I was not paid for this review and my opinions are my own.

Cafe 21
750 Fifth Ave,
San Diego, CA 92101

Cafe 21 on Urbanspoon

8 comments on “Cafe 21”

  1. i just stumbled upon your blog site and am THRILLED that you live in SD (like I do) so that I can live/eat vicariously through you! I have small children so trying out new restaurants, with the chance of not getting a good meal is too risky & costly for us; add in babysitting costs! Thank you for your reviews here and in L.A., where my family lives. I look forward to reading more of your reviews!

  2. Cafe 21 has some nice twists and unique dishes! I’m starting to think that the short ribs are getting a little played out, too. I see them on lots of menus. I’d like to go back and try those stuffed figs – those looks tasty.

    • I know what you mean about the shortribs. I’m actually getting a little sick of them because I feel like I’ve have so many versions lately. I need to go back for the quail and more sangrias

  3. i like the idea of that sangria flight. your food photos are gorgeous. if i didn’t hate downtown parking so much, i’d be there in a second! great write up of their offerings. i’m a bit excited about those eggplant fries. sounds good!

    • It’s really close to Horton plaza so you can park in there. That’s what we did. But I totally understand you. There’s so many restaurants downtown on my list that I take forever to get to because I don’t like parking downtown. Also downtown reminds me of work and I hate being reminded of work on my days off! I want to try the mushroom fries next time.

  4. Oh I loved the brunch here! It’s been a while though – looks like the dinner is also a must-try 🙂

    • I heard such good things about the brunch but I’m usually too lazy to go downtown for brunch. Must try it sometime though!

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