Sunday, August 17, 2008
The Little Swiss Cafe: Good things do come in "little" packages
I'm not much of a gambler. Las Vegas holds about as much appeal to me as owning a rabid dog, I can't watch Who Wants to be a Millionaire? without breaking out in cold sweats, and I seem to be lacking the crucial gene that dictates levels of March Madness enthusiasm.
While maintaining the integrity of my bank account is the most discernible portrayal of my reluctance to put something of value "on the line," maintaining the integrity of my stomach is (almost) equally as important. Ordering a dish I've never tasted or dining in unfamiliar territory can often be nerve-racking experiences for me -- how am I to be assured that it will be good?
When I'm in Los Angeles, I heed the advice of LA Times food critic, Irene Virbila and LA Weekly's Pullitzer Prize-winning, Jonathan Gold, or turn to the restaurant reviews of my favorite Yelpers on the reviewing website Yelp.com. With their helpful hints and suggestions, I have been able to skate through the LA dining scene fairly unscathed by inadequately prepared meals. When I am traveling or on-the-go however, things start to get a little dark. In such unsavory circumstances, I am forced to conduct on-site research to make my dining decisions -- judging a restaurant or eatery by its name and outside appearance, and quizzing the server about the best or most popular items on the menu.
This past week, I took a business trip up to the Pebble Beach/Carmel/Monterey area for the Concours d'Elegance. As par the course with trips of the business variety, I had no idea when or where I would I have the opportunity to sniff out my own forms of sustenance, and I left the sunny skies of Southern California without an ounce of knowledge about the restaurants and eateries resting beneath the damp fog up north.
When a colleague and I were freed for lunch last Wednesday afternoon, we opted to explore downtown Carmel for a quaint place to relax our work-weary bones and quiet the rumbling noises in our bellies. We hit the small town with a map that notated the locations of various shops and restaurants, and upon reading the name of one eatery, the Little Swiss Cafe, we decided that any place with such an adorable name was destined to be simply wonderful.
I was slightly apprehensive as we entered the restaurant, but the little Dutch door, wood panel interior and cozy booths immediately silenced my inner Oscar the Grouch. It was everything the name portended it to be -- little, Swiss and judging by all the food on the tables, definitely a cafe. The eatery serves only breakfast and lunch, but items on the breakfast menu are always fair game, and it was this pivotal feature that sold the cafe on my colleague and I. After my usual line of questioning was completed, she ordered their specialty cheese blintzes with sour cream and homemade strawberry jam, and I settled on the crepe-like pancakes with fresh berries and a side of two scrambled eggs.
When I first spotted my pancakes, I was slightly dismayed by their somewhat ordinary appearance, but was immediately perked up by the sight of the abundant bowl of brightly-colored, perfectly ripe blackberries, blueberries, raspberries, and strawberries. I ladled some syrup over the thin 'cakes and took a tentative first bite (because apparently, I bite into things from time to time). Despite all my previous pronunciations that I am a thick buttermilk pancake kind of gal, the Little Swiss Cafe's thin version were a revelation to my tongue. I don't know how so much flavor can be packed into such a small package, but those Little Swiss folk made it happen. Even without the aid of the juicy berries, the pancakes were perfect. So perfect that I started to question my reluctance to make more gambles when dining out. If the results can turn out so delicious, maybe eating some place I know nothing about is worth the potential risk to my stomach and tongue.
The next day, we returned to Carmel for another midday noshfest with plans to mosey around to see if any other well-named eateries struck our fancy. After looking at two uninspiring menus, our pancake-hungry eyes met across the crowded street corner. Throwing caution to the wind is way overrated, but the Little Swiss Cafe's pancakes and scrambled eggs are not. They were just as good as they were the first time. As I'm sure they will be the next time I find myself with a hankering for carbs in Carmel.