Thursday, January 29, 2004
The new century heralds the rise of the upscale deli-café: fast, high-quality food. Adrian’s Gourmet Kitchen is the newest local example of this fashion that I estimate has already assumed a more fundamental, fade-proof status.
Located next to Cornucopia Market at the mouth of Carmel Valley, Adrian’s is the third deli-café to try and make a go of it in this spot. And it’s the best.
Adrian’s is a clean, well-lit place for food with friendly service. An imposing length of glass cases displays cold and hot food, plus handiwork from pastry chef Todd Moore. The large room is warmed up with an open kitchen, ample seating, art, cookbooks on shelves, and other deli items such as condiments, cheese, nuts and fruit.
Chef/owner Brian Reed uses fresh, mostly organic produce to create fresh, mostly organic ideas. Reed has an impressive background: Campton Place in San Francisco, The Ivy in London, Sent Sovi in Saratoga, among other illustrious establishments. I’ve dined at all three and can verify that Reed’s culinary pedigree is high.
While classically trained, Reed is interested in global cuisines and is “feedback oriented.” He takes suggestions seriously from customers and staff, and likes the idea of “bringing the mise en place to the people.” Customers get to play chef because the parts are there to combine a meal to one’s liking.
It used to be that nutrition experts warned us to eat our vegetables. That’s no longer enough; now we’re supposed to eat our raw vegetables.
Adrian’s gives us some delicious ways to do this. The sweet chili coleslaw is both hot and sweet, with two colors of cabbage, carrots, peanuts, and cilantro. The kale and pear salad offers another tasty path to health. There are plenty of cooked vegetables, too, with grilled vegetables available by the pound.
The hummus at Adrian’s sets itself apart from the hummus crowd—big, these days—by its creamy texture and nuanced flavors. And the beet salad, well, I’m a beet fan and have tried take-out beet salads from many places and have never found one without soft, overcooked beets. Amazingly enough, Adrian’s passed this litmus test, with texture intact.
A slate of hot foods changes daily. One evening I brought home an excellent chicken stew with vegetables—much better than words can say—with a welcome touch of hot red pepper that Grandma wouldn’t have thought of. A side dish of brussel sprouts and beets was seared, producing a caramelized effect that brings out delicious flavor. Meat and fish are roasted or grilled in-house; stocks, soups, and sauces are prepared from scratch.
Think tuna sandwich: I assure you, you aren’t thinking what Brian Reed is thinking. He’s thinking a fat chunk of fresh, grilled ahi tuna with grilled red onions, cucumber and wasabi aioli. Okay, he has tuna salad, too, which is probably closer to what you were thinking, but it’s very good and you didn’t have to make it.
The tri-tip comes with roasted red pepper—I hate to overuse adjectives like “roasted” or “grilled” but grilling and roasting make a big difference and Adrian’s does a lot of both.
Sandwiches are made fresh each morning. The tri-tip and tuna hold up well and I recommend them. They’re best brought to room temperature to elicit the most flavor. A fast stop is often my primary criteria, but the chicken with pear wasn’t quite as good as I think it could be if prepared on the spot, and the juicy, grilled vegetable sandwich bread appeared soggy, so I didn’t try it.
Many items in the large selection rotate, but there are some standbys: ultra-tender turkey meatballs, grilled shrimp, Tuscan bread salad, two kinds of potato salad—old fashioned and Dijon-olive oil-leek—are just a few. Rotisserie chicken is available daily.
At the far end of the room lies the Den of Iniquity where customers can uncork a bottle of wine, sit down and drink it for mere retail prices, without the usual restaurant mark-up. The cold beer prices are also low. There are specialty coffees and enough confections to make cheaters out of those most committed to their New Year resolutions: so-smooth cheese cake with a bright touch of lemon; chocolate cake so dense you could plant a flag in it; Russian tea cakes that could start a revolution; four-layered lemon curd cake with candied lemon slices on top; scones and muffins and shortbread. I can’t criticize any of it.
A plate of food can be had for $5 to $9. Most sandwiches cost $5.50 to $7.50. Most vegetables cost $7 to $8 per pound. Most meat and fish items cost $9 to $15 per pound. Sure, it’s more expensive than typical fast food, but it’s far better.
By the way, Adrian is Reed’s one-year-old son. A photo of the tyke on the counter explains why he deserves to have a cafe named after him. Pure cuteness.