My favorite restaurant in San Diego — Café Chloe

When a limousine presented itself for free on my birthday the first thing that crossed my mind was Café Chloe in the East Village section of downtown San Diego. I mean really, how could I stay local with a nice limo and driver at my disposal? 
I’ve been to Chloe probably a dozen times and if it were closer, I’d be there weekly. I can best describe Chloe as a cross of a French bistro and a brasserie. Between the attractive eclectic crowd, bustling bar and warm inviting atmosphere with a hint of big city sophistication, it’s my kind of place.  Let’s call it simple elegance. And the name just has a nice ring to it, Café Chloe. Their official tag line is “Where East Village meets Paris Chic.” I’ll stick with simple elegance.
Actually, Café Chloe could be in van down by the river and I’d eat there if they served their amazing food. The one-page menu is printed daily which translates into the proprietors really caring about what goes on that menu. I feel like I could copy the menu, dish by dish, and that would be enough to entice you to make the drive down.
The small bites portion of the menu is perfect. The special was a soft-shell crab flambéed in sherry. Asparagus and goat cheese tart, house marinated olives, pate, savory custard du-jour, and brandade de morue, which is a salt cod and potato puree on croutons. Add a cream of spinach soup du jour, pommes frites with a trio of dips and a house green salad and that pretty much rounded out the small bites. Every one of them is worth trying and there is nothing more than $11.
The entrées are what get me really excited. Simply put, Chloe puts out the best steak frites in town. The steak is served on top of the frites so the juices run down and, well, it makes me happy.  Despite my love affair with this dish, I felt compelled to try the California lamb chops with braised artichokes, fava bean-marjoram gratin with arugula and preserved lemon vinaigrette. Wow, this was truly an amazing dish. Every ingredient worked together and it will rival the steak frites moving forward as my selection. My companions did get the steak frites, and the mussels belgique, which is a broth of leeks, garlic, Belgian ale and cream with pommes frites. Of course there is a coq au vin blanc with pappardelle, white asparagus, peas, pea vines and house pancetta. Two specials included a seafood du jour of seared ahi with fried Mike and Son egg, avocado puree, Italian salsa verde and La Milpa lettuces with oro blanco grapefruit and Persian cucumber. Oh, and how could I forget the macaroni, pancetta and bleu d’auvergne gratin? Basically a fancy mac and cheese that will blow your mind. The entrées top out at $34 with most in the low $20 range.
Desert is simple with a choice between orange-olive ice cream, pineapple sorbet, pear tart, and their famous pots de crème.
Chloe sources its food from San Diego farms when possible, including Crows Pass and La Milpa. They also give a nice disclaimer at the bottom of the menu that states “dear guests … in order to provide you with the highest quality food possible, we prepare all of our menu items to order. Due to the small size of our kitchen, on occasion there may be a slight delay in all entrees arriving at the table. Thank you for your patience and understanding.” No, thank you proprietors Tami Ratliffe, John Clute and Alison McGrath for caring enough to state this on the menu. Also a tip of the hat to Chef Katie Grebow and Sous Chef Jacob Rodriguez. Everything was executed perfectly. Don’t go to Café Chloe in a hurry, it’s not that kind of place. They don’t take reservations for groups under four and even though we had our reservation, we had to wait 20 minutes for our table. The thing is, that did not matter. We got a glass of proscesso and soaked in the cool atmosphere. My suggestion for North County residents is to get a group of food lovers together, hire a car and indulge in an evening of food and wine. It’s so worth the trip downtown. Check Chloe out at www.cafechloe.net

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