Sunday, October 14, 2012

Jetting Up to North End Caffe

North End Caffe
3421 Highland Ave.
Manhattan Beach, CA 90266

Whenever we are going to an area we rarely go, I always look for places that have been on TV, or I scurry and try to find restaurants with glowing reviews on-line. When we were going to be taking Chuck to LAX, and he suggested that we eat dinner before their flight, I knew where we needed to eat, North End Caffe.

North End Caffe has both of my criteria covered. They have been on Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives, and they have a lot of four and five star reviews on Yelp. I am not sure why I like eating at places that have been showcased on TV. A good majority of them have been really good, but we have also had some real stinkers as well. On-line reviews are a much better indicator as to how a restaurant is going to be. I look at Yelp and Urbanspoon, then read what other bloggers have had to say about a certain place. This was the case here, and most reviews were positive.

For this dinner the timing really had to be right. We had left OC at six on a Saturday night, so that gave us three hours until Chuck and Stephanie had to get to the airport. Luckily there was little in the way of traffic up to Manhattan Beach, so we made it in just under an hour. Parking was another hurdle, but we lucked out and got a great spot on the street one block away from the restaurant. The last thing that could trip us up was the wait at the restaurant. Here again we dodged a bullet, as the wait was only five minutes. This was all going along great.

North End Caffe is right down the street from the ocean. The restaurant is not too large. Maybe eight tables inside, and two large ones outside. The ambiance was laid back, with a heavy influence of beach vibe. The restaurant was well staffed, and they really kept things moving along as a team. This restaurant is known for their breakfast items, even though the meals they featured on DDD were all lunch items. The lunch menu was available during the evening hours, as well as nightly specials that were written out on a chalkboard on the far wall of the restaurant. Many of these specials sounded great, but I was going to stick to what I saw on TV. Let's see how that turned out for us.

Since we were doing Chuck the big favor of taking him to LAX on a Saturday night, Katie and I decided to take advantage of him buying us dinner, so we started off with two salads. Katie just wanted a side salad ($5.75). This colorful side salad came with red onion, a spring lettuce mix, tomato, cucumber and a citrus based dressing that I did not get the name of. Katie was a big fan of this large side salad. It had very fresh produce, and the citrus based dressing really had a nice mellow flavor. My Caesar Salad ($5.75) featured fresh romaine greens, a little Parmesan cheese, and a mellow Caesar dressing. When I first saw this salad, I thought it was going to be on the plain side. The dressing, although not heavy, still had a nice flavor to it. I would have liked some croutons here, but the salad was still good without them.

When a restaurant has been on TV, I like to get the items that the host had eaten. The Kahlua Pig Monte Cristo Egg Rolls ($10.00) were the first thing they made on Diners, Drive -Ins and Dives. These egg rolls are stuffed with Kahlua pork, which is roasted for 12 hours, Swiss cheese, black forest ham, and what I believe to be cabbage. These are then fried, and served with a Wasabi Mojo sauce. The Wasabi is not over the top, and kind of gets neutralized by the mayonnaise and teriyaki sauce, but still has a nice flavor to it. These egg rolls were one of a kind. The pork is well done, and the egg roll itself is fried to perfection. This is must get when coming to North End Caffe.

The other item that was highlighted on the show was the Fettuccine Carbonara ($14.50). This heaping plate of food was as rich as I have tasted in awhile. This pasta dish is definitely stick to your ribs food, perfect for a red eye flight back east, so you can sleep the whole way across country. They make their own pasta at North End Caffe, and it shows. The pasta is way fresher than anything you can get at Olive Garden. Also included in this carbonara is the salty pancetta, a cream sauce, and lots of pecorino romano cheese. The result is a heavy, but balanced plate. This was not a bad send off meal for Chuck and Stephanie.

What I got for dinner was on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives as well, but they just showed people ordering it. I was torn between ordering off of their nightly special menu, but I ultimately went with the Fuego Burger ($12.75), which is on the regular menu. This nine ounce burger patty was joined on the baguette with pepper jack cheese and cheddar cheese, bacon, avocado, red salsa, and a chipotle mojo. The burger portion of this reminded me of a meatloaf, more than a burger. The meat was very dense, with a nice seasoning to it. The condiments were fine, but none really stood out like I thought they would. This burgers big downfall for me was the baguette used here. It was very crusty, and was difficult to get through in certain parts. I probably would have liked this burger a lot more, had the bread been better. The Belgian fries that came with this burger were pretty good. The potatoes were fried perfectly, with just enough crunch to them, then seasoned with a touch of salt. I was full, but I ate plenty of these.

Dessert time! Looking at their menu, most nights they offer two different desserts. The night we were here they had the Salted Caramel Bread Pudding ($6.95) and the North End Brownie Sundae ($6.95). After eating the bread pudding here, I have decided that I am not a huge bread pudding fan. Not anything against this one, but I can not recall ever being in love with any bread pudding I have ever had. I did like the salted caramel sauce poured over this pudding, but the pudding itself left me wanting more out of it. The brownie sundae was more to my liking. The brownie used here was very soft. Almost like it wasn't cooked all the way, but it was. I thought the brownie to ice cream ratio was one of the best we have had in awhile. I always hate when places skimp on the amount of ice cream they serve alongside a cake or pie. Hot fudge would have pushed this sundae over the top.

We really enjoyed our trip to North End Caffe. The food was all above average. The menu is big enough that it would definitely warrant other visits. Next time I would definitely try some of the dinner specials, and of course have the egg rolls again. The service during our visit was spot on. They really took care of us, and made us feel welcome. The prices are a little on the high side, but at a place that makes so much from scratch, that is to be expected. Portion sizes were pretty large as well. My burger was only nine ounces, but it filled me up. Guy Fieri got this one right. North End Caffe really filled the bill perfectly for our trip up to LAX. We got in and out in an orderly time so Chuck and Stephanie could make their plane. We had a great meal, and eating at a place that is in a different area than we are used to made both Katie and I feel like we were on vacation as well.

Out of five hockey sticks, (because the city of Manhattan Beach is home to numerous current and former hockey players, and I miss hockey so much now that the players and owners have imposed a lockut), five being best to zero being worst, North End Caffe gets 3.5 hockey sticks.

For more information about North End Caffe, click here:

North End Caffe on Urbanspoon

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