Cafe Chloe adorns the northwest corner of G Street and 9th Avenue in the East Village area of Downtown San Diego, across from an intellectual looking art academy and a modern and brightly colored condominium building. The pretty and inviting bistro was dreamed up by food and wine connoisseur John Clute, who teamed up with his wife Alison McGrath and friend Tami Ratliffe to open it. The beautiful bistro is named after John and Alison’s daughter.
John and Alison worked in the high-end restaurant industry for many years in San Francisco. According to Alison, they had a desire to open a fine food café for many years, although they didn’t know if they should stay in the Bay Area or “raise the bar” in San Diego by opening a bistro here. Luckily for us, they decided on San Diego.
John has always been partial to the atmospheres of bistros, which are conducive to spending time reading, reflecting, and observing while enjoying good coffee, good wine, and well-crafted food. Dressed in ivory and brown and accented with artistic images of French beauties and Spanish flamenco dancers, as well as candles, plants, and fresh flowers, the atmosphere of Café Chloe is refined and engaging. You are greeted by the energetic lyrics of a Celia Cruz Salsa, the tropical sounds of a Trova Cubana, or the strong vocals of Aretha Franklin, which are some the features of the bistro’s eclectic music mix.
The moment you sit down at your table, you notice the lively conversations amongst patrons. Guests seem to be dressed in an urban casual manner that doesn’t necessarily say “I came to be seen,” but rather “I care to look nice.” The mood is casual and encourages friendly exchange between neighboring diners.
I am sitting at the best little corner in one of the seven round tables for four in the main dining room. The room is surrounded by a wall of tall windows that allow you to take in the view of the street and make you feel that you’re part of the scene. Outside, a surrounding patio, which at night is lit with a thousand little white lights, offers a few coveted tables.
There are several smaller rooms in the comfortable, charming, and chic bistro. Behind me is the Man Ray room, a semiprivate area with a large round table that is often used to set up afternoon urban tea. Above the tea room, a quaint little loft with a pair of intimate tables for two is perfect for first dates or eternal romantics. Up a couple of hardwood steps is another room with a few more tables, which can be arranged as one large table for a private party. You can also shop for unique personal and home accessories in this cozy room.
A tea party is something to experience at Café Chloe. It is served from 3 to 5 pm upon reservation, and provides an English tea experience in San Diego. On arrival, your party is placed in the Man Ray room—or a bigger private room if necessary—where you’ll experience a feast of freshly made crumpets, delicious egg salad served on brown bread and mache, dill-champagne lox, prosciutto, saffron aioli, and the soup of the day.
An Italian white marble wine bar offers comfortable bar stools. The wine bar is tended by the wait staff or the manager in charge and it offers an international variety of beers including Luxemburg’s Orval Trappist Ale, Pinkus Pilsner from Münster, and a limited spring release of Stone Imperial Russian Stout from San Diego. You can also enjoy cocktails such as a pomegranate mimosa or Han Soju bloody mary or delve into the cosmopolitan list of white, rosé, red and reserve wines.
The wine selection covers the globe, with origins as diverse as Chile, the Loire Valley, New Zealand, and Australia, as well as our own wine valleys of California. These wines are available by the ½ glass, glass, or bottle. Prosecco Brut de Veneto and Veuve Clicqout champagne are some of the bubbles you can purchase by the bottle.
I order the Fromage Plate and I’m served a trio of artisan cheeses: Fog Lights, a delicious, soft, goat-milk cheese, Bleu de Basque, a semi-soft blue cheese and Morbier, a semi-soft raw cow’s milk cheese. The plate is handsomely garnished with pickled cumquats and gris de gris gelée, a soft jelly made from gris de gris rosé wine. The plate is also accompanied by a basket of rustic bread.
I’m served three accompanying half-glasses of wine: Vouvray, a French white; Beaujolais, a red from the north of Lyon in France; and another red wine, Tempranillo, a Spanish Rioja of cherry/plum fruits with herbal notes, which is similar to Merlot. All of the wines have been carefully selected by John Clute to complement the flavors of the fromage trio.
It takes me a long time to finish my plate of cheeses. I am trying to take it all in, to feel the marriage of the wines with the cheeses on my palate, to save the experience in my memory and savor it for a long, long time. While biting into the soft rind of my Fog Lights, which is layered with ash, and sipping the fruity nosed Vouvray, I consider ordering a salad dressed in home-made gorgonzola champagne vinaigrette, but I decide that I have enough blue cheese on my plate.
Executive Chef Katie Grebow, a young and talented woman, is making a name for herself very quickly among some the best chefs in the city. You can come into a restaurant for the atmosphere, but without a well-executed and ambitious menu such as the one Chef Grebow offers, not many of us would go back.
Chef Grebow’s special for the evening is Duck Leg Confit in a cinnamon gastrique, which serves to bring out the fine flavor of the slowly roasted duck. The superb-looking bird is sitting on home-made spaetzle, accompanied by a baby artichoke and green garlic gratin and garnished with fresh leaves of mache for color. The duck has slightly crisped edges for a contrast of textures.
The Steak Frites, the signature dish of the bistro, is a cut of all-natural Brandt beef grilled to the guest’s liking and served with “salsa verde,” a delicious concoction of capers, onions, and garlic in olive oil. The shoestring French fries—the fantastic “frites”—are flavored with thinly sliced leeks for an extra crunch and are a natural accompaniment to this dish. So is the accompanying cauliflower/leek gratin, which is moist with a velvety, savory custard.
Another one of the chef’s creations is the Herb Crusted Pork Tenderloin, which has been marinated in a fresh thyme and allspice brine for several hours. It is served roasted and presented with prune-brandy sauce, mashed potatoes, and baby carrots sautéed in white wine and Dijon mustard.
Very satisfied with my dinner, I answer my server’s questions about dessert options. I decide for a scoop of home- made vanilla ice cream. It is so light on the sugar that I can truly taste the vanilla, which was probably scraped this morning from the pods.
The Pistachio Bread Pudding is moist, with roasted pistachios that add a delicious crunch to each bite. It is remarkable what such modest ingredients like day old croissants and brioche bread can turn into when soaked in a succulent custard of eggs and cream, sweetened with brown sugar, and baked to meld the ingredients. Bathed in espresso caramel sauce, these common-place ingredients are turned into a captivating dessert that make my taste buds dance a sensual dance.
I also get a taste of the Sous Chef’s newest dessert, a lovely Strawberry Sorbet. Of course, I have to order a cup of decaf cappuccino because I cannot leave Café Chloe without trying the excellent Illy coffee.
I don’t get to the dessert wine and ports this time around—I have to leave something in suspense for the next time, which will be very soon. I’m already longing for the Mussels Normand, steamed in a broth flavored with thyme, bacon, and apples and finished with cream. Ask your server what brings out the magic in this dish and she or he will readily suggest a splash of Sherry.