I don’t think we could have hand-picked a better night to try Evening Star Cafe for the first time than Monday. The air was warm with a cool breeze, the Del Ray residents and their dogs were in full neighborly force on the sidewalk and there was a two-seater actually available on the patio when we arrived. We’d put our dinner fate in the hands of the Twitterverse that afternoon when trying to settle on a Del Ray dinner location, and it was paying off in spades.
The Evening Star Cafe has been a low key Del Ray favorite since 1997, praised for its wholesome American dishes and relaxed atmosphere. It’s no mystery why: Evening Star Cafe is part of the Neighborhood Restaurant Group, a restuarant organization that has cracked the code on homey places where everyone can feel like a regular. Their roster also includes Tallula, Vermillion, Buzz Bakery, and Rustico.
Food experiences and a top contender for the world’s best comfort dish after the jump.
For such an unassuming atmosphere, The Evening Star Cafe boasts an impressive wine list. All wines are available next door at Planet Wine, for your shopping convenience. [Planet Wine also offers Red Apron charcuterie, house made cuts from Nathan Anda, former Tallulah and EatBar chef.]
The menu offers classic American flavors including hearty salads and first courses, staying securely in comfort food territory with entrees like brined and roasted chicken, pork chops and a fantastic looking pan-seared salmon fillet featuring crispy spaetzle, artichoke puree, and fennel choke salad. On this warm spring night, we opted to keep to small dishes, but I’ve set my sights on that salmon for our next visit.
For first courses, I went with the chipotle pepper caesar salad and Mike selected a pureed carrot soup. The soup was a fun surprise – a richly colored velvety soup with a spicy kick. Although less adventurous, my caesar salad won kudos for the pleasant peppery burst in the dressing and fun dig-into-it presentation: essentially an entire head of romaine lettuce cleaned, reassembled to its original layout, dressed and draped delicately with three boquerones (read: Spanish fish, like a good quality anchovy).
The most impressive dish of the night was, naturally, also the most indulgent: A BLT mac’n cheese. It’s a bit of a misnomer, though. The dish isn’t made with pasta but spinach gnocchi, bacon, diced cooked tomato and triple truffle cream. Once we got past the fact that the dish is predominantly green (isn’t it food law that all mac n’ cheese is nuclear orange?) we were in for a treat. The gnocchi was the perfect consistency of almost-creamy but with a hint of resistance. The bacon-cheese-tomato dressing was rich, decadent and complex enough that our mouths immediately demanded more. This is what a comfort food dish should be. The recipe for this should be freely given out as a public service to help mend broken hearts, heal scraped knees and win over any cantankerous old neighbor. Or, in our case, take the edge off a Monday evening in a manner usually reserved for a stiff drink.
In comparison, my chicken and andouille sausage gumbo was good but not as Earth shattering. The surprisingly creamy roux base overpowered the meat flavors and was missing the kick I had hoped for.
Despite the small miss, I look forward to a return trip to Evening Star Cafe. We may not be Del Ray neighbors, but it’s fun to pretend for a few hours in such a cozy small-town atmosphere.