Friday, January 9, 2009

It's What's Inside That Counts

Street appeal is over-rated. Toronto is filled with hole-in-the-wall looking joints that belie the culinary delights within. Case in point: Cafe California, at 538 Church Street. I'm sure I would have walked right by it had I been in charge of picking a lunch spot (even it's website has no photos of the exterior...). Turns out my friend is neighbours with the owner and has eaten there many times, so that's where we went.

Inside, we found a light-filled and colourful space with the pleasant scents of oregano, garlic and smoked paprika in the air. I had their "signature" Chicken Santa Barbara Salad, a delicious mixture of fresh greens with roasted pine nuts, raisins and mushrooms tossed in a sun-dried tomato and basil pesto vinaigrette and topped with a sliced grilled marinated chicken breast ($16). The generously sized portion could have easily fed two.

The owner stopped by to say hello and we chatted for a while. He moved from Spain and opened the restaurant 20 years ago and hopes to return to Spain in a few years when he retires. When we asked how the economic downturn was affecting the restaurant business, his take was that high-end spots would be hurt the most, but "good value" places like his would survive. Judging from Boba's recent closure and business on this mid-day afternoon, he could be right.

Cafe California, 538 Church Street, http://www.dine.to/cafecalifornia

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