Monday, February 27, 2012

Paella Breakfast at Cafe Medina

Cafe Medina on Urbanspoon
I wanted to try something other than ham, eggs, and toast for breakfast (since I can just as easily get that at home), and there just aren't that many interesting breakfast places. The Medina Cafe definitely has a different take on it, with its mix of international cuisine though originally (and apparently still) famous for its Belgian waffles, now ringing in at $3.15 each -- and that's without any toppings, which are $1 extra.
I feel it is a sad commentary on North American price inflation when a waffle is not overpriced at $3.15 in downtown Vancouver as a brownie in Starbucks might well be similarly priced. And that's without loading it with any expectations for that price tag.

There's often talk of a line-up at the Medina Cafe, and if you go a bit later in the morning (say, 10am on Friday morning), there will be. But my friend and I got in just after 9 am just last Friday, and although the main room was packed, there was still some seating in the "back room" -- which basically means going into the guts of the building to emerge in the back dining room of Chambar next door. Why they don't just open up Chambar as well is a bit of a mystery. Anyway, what you see through the window is only about 1/3rd of the available seating. In the back, the tables are tight together so that friendly neighbours might have to budge them a bit for you to slide your ass in and out of the narrow space in between. But at least the tables are wide so there isn't the Skytrain-seating feel.

The breakfast menu looks horribly overpriced, and some of it probably is. Bacon for $5? Really? Is that half a small pig? But everybody raves about this place, so okay, let's try it (uh, not the bacon, maybe). I went with the "served all day" Paella and a White Chocolate Pistachio Rosewater Mocha.

About the Mocha: Yes, that's what it says on the paper menu -- all three things supposedly in the mocha. I was a tad worried about how much rosewater would be in it, since I'm not good with too much rosewater and find it too pungent for my tastes.
Sadly, I didn't have to worry about it as all, since the mocha tasted like mocha. Not even a hint of rosewater or pistachio.
When the bill came later, it read, "12 oz Mocha 3.35" and on a separate line, "white choc 0.67". Where's my pistachio? Where's the rosewater? If the menu meant three separate options for the mocha, I think the server should have let me know up front, and in any case advised me later before filling my order.
Yes, it's a busy morning with lots of people waiting. But I read her the order right off their in-house paper menu -- which listed all three items on one line and with no commas -- so I think the restaurant has to take responsibility for how they worded the menu.
Anyway, before you order any special mocha here, ASK FIRST about what you're really going to get.

If you've had a paella at a Spanish restaurant, such as the supposedly-very-authentic La Bodega, you might be thinking that you're going to get for your $12 a good sized pan of flavourful rice and goodies stewed right in it. At Cafe Medina... not quite.
First, they use orzo, which is rice-like pasta. But it's not rice. It's lighter and softer. It's also not so packed and heavy as the broth-infused rice in a "regular" paella. So when the deep-dish cast iron frying pan comes to your table, don't panic at what looks like a heavy $12 dinner-sized portion because it's really not.
The orzo is fluffy and under the fluffy watercress salad, so really the whole thing looks a lot bigger than it is. There are a few slices of chorizo (sausage), but not so much as to make it a significant amount of meat here.
Overall it was quite tasty, and made for a satisfying and not over-filling breakfast portion. At $12, I think it's priced high enough to be fair, and not overpriced considering what's in it. Whether you're willing to pay this for breakfast is a different story.
TIP: If you order this, ask for a spoon right away when you order it. The table cutlery has a fork and knife; no spoon. It's better to have a spoon for the orzo.

I think the Medina Cafe works better as brunch than breakfast, especially if you're the type to substitute breakfast and lunch for a single brunch, since $12 for a single breakfast item, or $20 for breakfast with one beverage, tax, and tip is asking quite a lot.

If you're looking for an alternative, or just daunted by the lineup, you could walk a bit down the street to The Dirty Apron, also run by the folks behind Chambar and the Medina Cafe. They had a dead-quiet deli with an absolutely wonderful aroma in the air. It's less exotic fare, and the price won't be much less, but hopefully the quality will be there to justify it. I've put it down on my to-dine list.

1 comment:

  1. Stopped going here after several times of trying things on the menu. Overpriced, overhyped... Who puts hot coffee in a juice glass?