cafe 21 / downtown – san diego, ca

Cafe 21 is a cute little restaurant with two locations in San Diego – one in University Heights off Adams Ave and one Downtown in the Gaslamp Quarter. My cohort, Liz, came along with me to try out the stellar offerings at the Downtown Cafe 21.

After I finally arrived, Liz and I went inside and were seated quite promptly to begin our meal.

[purse stand]

One of the first things our host did was to bring us this little stand. It looked like a mini (very short) coat rack. He explained to us that it was for our purses and I might have let out a small giggle of delight.

How awesome is this?! It’s at the perfect height so you’re able to reach your purse comfortably and it’s always within sight.

Sigh. Love!

[sangria flight in a little tasting basket]

First thing Liz and I both ordered?

Sangria flights. Awww yeah.

You get a little sampling of all of their sangrias – six in all. The flavors: fruit punch, pineapple strawberry, strawberry balsamic, apple cherry, traditional and rosemary lemon. Liz and I both really liked the pineapple strawberry and I liked the rosemary lemon just because it was a little something different. Liz ended up getting my dark red sangrias since I don’t really dig the red wines, but I loved the lighter colored ones. Fun flavors and a great way to try all of their sangrias! It’s a lot of sangria, too, and you could easily share this flight with another person.

[baklava crumble salad – apple, blue cheese, baklava crumbles, honey balsamic dressing]

This salad had me at “baklava”.

It’s a fun mix of leafy greens with apple, blue cheese, baklava crumbles and a sweet dressing drizzled all over the top. The fruit adds a nice natural sweetness and the blue cheese plays a part in giving another texture and flavor to the salad. The blue cheese is creamy but not too overpowering – a very nice compliment. The baklava was not quite what I was expecting – I was thinking of chopped up bits of the sweet, crunchy honey dessert, but the baklava here was much softer in texture – it was a nutty, sweet taste, sort of like having a candied nut sprinkled in with your salad. I really liked it anyway and got my “crunch” from the crisp apples instead.

[mushroom flatbread with organic mixed greens / cremini mushrooms, organic heirloom tomatoes, rosemary, romano and mozzarella cheese]

I love it when people let me do the ordering when we’re sharing dishes. For our other appetizer, I picked this mushroom flatbread for sharing. Though… you can’t really see the mushrooms, can you? It was more like a “heirloom tomato and mushroom flatbread”, a little more emphasis on the tomatoes. Not that I minded – they did make the dish very pretty! It also came with mixed greens so we had some nice leafy treats to start out with.

[piece of flatbread]

The flatbread was very flaky and buttery with a touch of sweetness – more like a pastry crust than anything else. I would have liked more mushrooms here, honestly, but the flavor was still really spot on. The vegetables tasted so fresh on top of the sweet flatbread!

[pretty entrees]

These are our pretty, pretty dishes. I thought the bottom dish looked a bit like a comic book quote bubble.

[prosciutto wrapped quail with sauteed baby summer squash, grilled corn, honey pasilla sauce and sage herb oil]

There are two little quails on this dish and I gave one to Lizzie for munching. The quail was very nicely done – tender and sweet with the nice prosciutto wrapped around it to keep some of that lovely flavor locked in. The teeny tiny bones were so small!

I also really loved the saute that came with this dish – the summer squash and grilled corn tasted fresh and had a lovely, sweet crunch. I nibbled on the side dish the rest of the night. It was lightly seasoned and very flavorful, letting the taste of the fresh veggies shine through.

[lamb shank – apricot braised lamb shank, apple roasted mashed potatoes and sauteed organic spinach]

Our other ordered dish was the Lamb Shank. This was a dish recommended to us by our waiter, who told us we could, shall we say, cause him physical injury if we did not like the dish.

Luckily there was no harm required here.

See that huge knife right there? Did not need it. Not even a little bit. Dug our forks right in and the lamb shank was so tender that it just came right off the bone with no effort. Tender, rich, flavorful. Also loved the apple roasted mashed potatoes. Hint of sweetness in a twist on a very classic side dish.

I love, love, love the look of this dish too – with the swirl of the sauce and the dots of the herb oil.

Our waiter was happy to have spared any potential wrath.

[strawberry rhubarb crumble]

Our waiter asked us about dessert, explaining it would take a little time to get any desserts out. Thus far the pacing for our foods was really well done. They brought out the dishes in a nice, timely fashion, pacing us nicely for our whole meal. Liz and I had lots of catching up to do since we hadn’t seen each other in a while, so this was very appreciated.

Of the desserts, I picked two. One was this strawberry rhubarb crumble.

Not quite the traditional crumble you’re used to since it had a big pastry crust on top (I’m used to the ones with the sweet, oats-like topping). This wasn’t bad… just not as good as our other dessert…

[crème brûlée cheesecake]

Which was this beauty. Crème Brûlée Cheesecake. The brûlée part is only on the outside, with the rich, creamy cheesecake all on the inside. It’s almost like the cheesecake is just wrapped in this outer layer with the sweet, crunchy sugary crust on the top. I normally don’t like cheesecakes with “stuff” in them, but since the cheesecake layer is smooth and creamy on the inside, I had no problem with this one. The sugary crunch on top paired with the luscious cheesecake just made rejoice in delight. I’d come back just for this dessert!

Disclaimer: I was invited by a PR company to come in and sample all of the dishes we tried. Our meal was complimentary. I was not paid for the review and as always, all opinions are my own.

Cafe 21
750 Fifth Ave.
San Diego, CA 92101
(multiple locations in University Heights and the Gaslamp Quarter)

Cafe 21 on Urbanspoon

6 thoughts on “cafe 21 / downtown – san diego, ca

  1. OMG – creme brulee cheesecake sounds absolutely fabulous.

    I’m also very impressed when a restaurant (or bar) has a place to hang your purse. I also think it should be standard for bars to have those little hooks under them to hang your stuff. It’s so simple, why doesn’t everyone do that?

    1. Hi Leanne – The cheesecake – it’s divine! I wasn’t sure I would like it, but I really did. I agree with you that every place should have the hooks or something for your stuff. Attention to detail is highly appreciated.

  2. I would totally love that salad without the blue cheese! all of the dishes they served you guys look fantastic, especially the cute little quails!

    “I love it when people let me do the ordering when we’re sharing dishes.” <—-yeah, me too, but then it's because i'm such a bossy biyatch, heheh.

  3. I love Cafe 21 for breakfast so much that I haven’t been able to go for their dinner yet. Thankfully I have reservations coming up soon! Thanks for the preview 😉

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