Cafe Medina -
Cafe Medina is one of those places that I’ve known about for a while, but really had no desire to try. To me, it seemed to be to be in the same category of restaurants as Nuba. Namely healthy, organic, Middle-Eastern inspired hipster cuisine. I do like Middle-Eastern and Middle-East inspired European cuisine; I not just not enamored with the healthy, organic, and hipster elements. I had this notion in my head that the food at Cafe Medina would taste rather bland and the portion sizes minuscule.
And preconceived notions have a way of growing from a tiny little prejudice into a full-blown distaste. What began as a lack of desire turned into a reluctance. This reluctance then turned into avoidance. And avoided Cafe Medina I did. Whenever I felt like trying out a new breakfast/brunch place, I would purposely avoid even thinking about going to Cafe Medina. Even when I am in the area with my car parked and my hunger dominating all my thoughts, I would use up every ounce of energy to think of somewhere else to go to.
It’s silly and irrational and illogical and everything of that sort, but it was a mental block that I couldn’t (and didn’t know that I needed to) break through for several months. If not for the fact that I decided to sell out to the urbanspoon restaurant rankings, I don’t think I would’ve ever tried Cafe Medina.
Writing this blog seemed like a good idea at first. My wife had been telling me to do it for at least the past 5 years while I was eating my way through Boston, New York, Southern California, and Taipei. It would be like some sort of foodaholic therapy where I would just write randomly about my daily food experiences without expecting anyone to read it. But then I heard about the richmond food blogger job opening where the blogger that got hired will actually be compensated for trying a new restaurant everyday. It was so appealing to me that I actually started to give a damn about having an audience since popularity would be one of the most important attributes of person chosen for the job.
I was, of course, too late to the game and too social media unconnected to even be considered as a candidate. But by this time I was gaining a few views each day and the stats of the blog became sort of an addictive game. The game became more interesting when I found out that I could gain a lot more page views by visiting popular restaurants on urbanspoon. So I went on a mini-tear by visiting Phnom Penh, Stephos, Rodney’s Oyster House, Santouka, Guu, Nuba, Suika, Japadog, and most recently Cafe Medina.
I promise that this will be the last urbanspoon top 25 restaurant (other than Bella Gelateria) I visit for a while.
So my wife and I found ourselves at (more like forced ourselves to) Cafe Medina during lunchtime today. I was totally not surprised to see the room filled with hipsters and it’s interior decorated in a way that would appeal to hipsters.
Another thing I noticed was that this was the first time since I moved here that my wife and I were the only two Asians dining in the restaurant. What were the odds of that happening in the downtown core of such a multicultural city? Of course, this only lasted for the first 45 minutes that we were in the restaurant. After the first 45 minutes, about 4 straight groups consisting entirely of Asian diners came in and dined at the restaurant.
But the first 45 minutes was when we ordered, received, and finished our food. The first item we ordered and received was the waffle with dark chocolate topping, which was effectively our ‘appetizer’.
We actually wanted to have the waffle with our main dishes, but our server suggested that we have it first.
For me, there are two textural elements that make a waffle good: A waffle is good if it is crispy or if it’s fluffy. If a waffle is both fluffy and crispy, it’s real good. The waffle that we had today was neither. It was limp and it took quite an effort to cut a piece off it with a fork. Although I didn’t like it’s texture, I did like the fact that I was able to detect a distinct batter/doughy flavour to the waffle. The dark chocolate dip was average. I would’ve liked it more if it had a stronger bitterness.
My wife’s vanilla latte and my rosewater pistachio?? (I forgot the flavour) mocha arrived along with the waffle.
We don’t usually have sugar or syrup with our coffees but we thought we’d try some flavoured coffee for the first time. We didn’t like it. It was like drinking coffee-flavoured chocolate milk. The coffee itself was fine. We definitely detected it’s natural aromas, but we just were not used to the syrup. I felt like I was gaining a few extra grams with each sip of the sweet coffee.
After the coffee and the waffle, we got our main dishes. Both our dishes were ordered off of the breakfast side of the menu. My wife had the fricasse.
Even though she is neither a potato or arugula fan, she still liked the dish. She liked how the flavours of the onions, apples, short ribs, and eggs blended together in harmony. She especially liked the fact that the apple had a sourness to it along with a slight sweetness. She thought that the sourness added another flavour dimension to the dish. She also liked dipping pieces of the grilled foccacia bread into the dish (cast iron pan) to soak up the sauce and cooking juices. She gave me a forkful of the fricasse and I immediately understood what she meant when she said that the sourness of the apple added another dimension. If the apple had sweetness as it’s only flavour, then the flavour contrast would only be a kinda boring sweet-saltiness. Adding the sourness increased the savouryness of the dish while at the same time making the tender and flavourful short ribs feel not too rich and heavy. I could see why my wife thought the dish was good.
In contrast to my wife’s good fricasse, the paella I ordered was freaking amazing.
I ordered the dish thinking that I would be getting a pretty good Middle-Eastern interpretation of paella if it was executed properly. I did not get that. I got a total re-engineering and re-imagining of the paella that was a pure, unadulterated deliciousness. The tomato salad tasted like the best, most intensely rich and flavourful salsa I’ve had. The avocado added a cool, buttery smoothness to the dish. The orzo were flavourful as well as teeth-bouncing. The watercress added a juicy crispiness. The pieces of chorizo were beautifully dense and firm, along with being boldly flavourful and substantial. The zucchini, corn, and red peppers totally substituted for the lack of seafood. In fact, it was not until a few minutes ago when I was looking back at the meal that I realized that the paella contained no seafood (nor rice).
And the egg, ohhh the egg. A sunny side up egg cooked to utter perfection. The yolk didn’t just liquefy down to the rest of the ingredients once I broke through the membrane. All of it…every single drop of the yolk slipped into my mouth. It was a bit thicker than liquid but way thinner than being gelatinous. It was smooth, rich, and had an enjoyably unique texture that was, well, extremely enjoyable. And you know what was left after I ate the yolk? A flat section of yolk that looked perfectly in place in the middle of the egg whites. This remaining piece of yolk had a thicker consistency that worked extremely well with the egg whites and other ingredients of the dish. It was as tasty as the best Japanese onsen/golden egg yolks that I’ve had. The egg whites were also cooked to perfection. They were light and fluffy and tasted like a precursor to whipped denaturation and coagulation.
Wow! I was wrong about Cafe Medina. Dead wrong. Man, was I wrong. The hipsters are right. Cafe Medina totally deserves it’s top ten ranking on urbanspoon. I would have their paella for brunch over anything any other local ‘brunch’ restaurant (which I have tried) have to offer. And I am totally going to try the food at Chambar as soon as I get a chance to…but wait…Chambar’s also a top ten restaurant on urbanspoon