It's not often that I write about upscale restaurants, being the poor soul that I am. But sometimes, I get that irresistible urge to splurge for something expensive yet delicious. About a week and a half ago, that urge inspired me to get one of the specials at Café 1912. Usually, I get the cheeseburger while sitting at a table by myself. Although the restaurant recommends getting a reservation before arriving, I usually manage to get a small table (usually near the cafe's kitchen). Unfortunately on a busy Friday night, I couldn't even get that so I settled for a spot at the bar. In the end, that wound up being a good thing.
After getting to the bar, I initially ordered the cheeseburger but I changed my mind after seeing what others were eating. For some reason, I assumed that Cafe 1912 was either a French or other "European" restaurant, but with a few exceptions, nothing on its menu didn't seem foreign when compared to other "American" restaurants. I eventually got one of the cafe's specials, the swordfish with basil couscous, pickled strawberry and cucumber salsa in a red curry vinaigrette. Although it wasn't the most exquisite thing that I ever had, the dish was unique in terms of taste (the swordfish itself is comparable in taste to grouper and similar ocean fish). It actually felt weird eating strawberries with fish but with the other components in the entrée, it added an interesting element to a very nice dish.
Because my portion of food was small, I got a plate of fried calamari. Despite being a step below The Majestic Grille's version, the cafe's calamari is much better than a dive bar. I appreciated that it wasn't too salty, for I'm trying to avoid high blood pressure/hypertension. Overall, the calamari was good by itself and even better when dipped in either rémoulade or Mae Ploy, the cafe's version of a sweet chili sauce. Along with the swordfish, the calamari hit the spot and rounded out a nice dinner at Cafe 1912.
Even though the dinner was great, what made the experience wonderful were the people who dined with me at the bar. Mostly consisting of couples (I and a middle-aged woman were the only "loners" at the bar), we all kept each other company, which for me made for a more pleasurable experience than dining alone. Although it's not the same as having a dining companion, eating with strangers is a good way to meet new people.
SIDE NOTE: A big reason why this is my second review of the year is that loneliness has sapped my passion for blogging. Maybe it's because I'm getting older, but not having someone to engage in a shared experience is starting to matter more. Please don't interpret this as me pining for a "date" (I know I'm not a stud), but rather my desire to occasionally have a nice time with others over dinner. For me (a "foreigner"), that is an elusive goal.
Although my dinner at Cafe 1912 was great, it doesn't compare to what I believe is one of the best things on the restaurant's menu. The cheeseburger (recommended by my friend "John D.") is flat-out one of the best in Memphis (good enough to make my best burger list). With ground beef that tastes like a Prime rib eye, the burger comes with bacon, garlic aioli and either Maytag blue cheese or Provolone (my preference) within a ciabatta bun. Speaking of preferences, I usually get my burger "medium rare" and the cafe never disappoints, resulting in a burger that's the equivalent of an excellent chopped steak. The burger comes with shoestring French fries (called "pommes frites" by the restaurant and in France) sprinkled with Parmesan cheese and white truffle oil, which compared with the Majestic Grille and Local are decent but not on the same level as the aforementioned. Collectively, the burger and fries are great and will always be one of my go-to foods whenever I'm at Cafe 1912.
At this point, you would have been the end of this review, where I would listed the usual stuff like the restaurant's website, its Urbanspoon... err, Zomato link and other stuff (including KFF's new mobile Twitter feed), but I felt something was missing. As usual, I looked over the restaurant's menu to ensure that I didn't miss anything relevant to the review. As I was doing that, I noticed that Café 1912 offers "dinner salads" that aroused my curiosity. Before discovering this, my go-to place for "dinner salads" was and still is The Majestic Grille. I like the Majestic salads because they are full, high quality meals that have a lot of protein (as in meat) to satisfy my appetite and are flat-out great. So, with Cafe 1912 being comparable to the Majestic, I wondered if the cafe could churn out a "dinner salad" that's as good as my favorite restaurant.
I wasn't sure about what to order, so I took a chance in ordering the Niçoise (pronounced "niˈswaz") salad. In getting this, I had low expectations with regards to portion size and content. Honestly, I assumed the salad would have small bits of tuna and a lot of lettuce with modest portions of veggies and other stuff sprinkled in. Man, I was so wrong!
(It would have helped if I remembered the salad's picture that is posted on the menu page of Cafe 1912's website)
When I saw the amount of food that my waiter... errr, server brought me, I was shocked. This whopper of a salad features approximately a half a pound of seared tuna that is crispy on the outside and raw on the inside. For those who like fried tuna (or fried salmon) and tuna tartar, the Niçoise salad gives a taste of both. The seasoning in the Tuna's crust adds lots of zest to both the raw parts of the tuna and the rest of the salad. Speaking of that, the Niçoise salad comes with a lot of lettuce, spinach and other "greens" that's enough to satisfy an appetite by itself. When olives, tomatoes, capers, red onions (which I omitted), a hard cooked egg, and basil are thrown in with anchovy aïoli on the side, you have a meal fit for a king. Overall, the "dinner salad" is really good and something that I can confidently recommend to anyone who isn't a vegetarian (I'm also confident that the cafe can hook up vegetarians and vegans with something good, too)
In my visits to Cafe 1912, the impressions I got were positive. Nearly everything I had (including brunch that I had several months ago) was top-notch, the results of an excellent kitchen staff. The nearly all-male wait staff was very professional, although as a guy, it would have been nice to have had a pretty lady serving me. As someone who appreciates sexy women like those at the Flying Saucer, I'm generally not a fan of male servers. The restaurant itself is small (although I heard that expansion will happen soon) with its decor resembling a French bistro. While that description contrasts with another restaurant that I'm about to mention, Cafe 1912 is similar to one of my favorite Memphis restaurants, the Majestic Grille . In terms of food, ambiance and charm, the two restaurants are very similar. That said, I will probably dine at the café more often whenever I'm out in Midtown. I just hope that I'm not dining alone.
Labels: American, Appetizers/Bar Food, Burgers, Brunch, Commentary, European, Midtown, Salads, Seafood, Upscale
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