Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Durangoans Claim…

that their town has almost as many restaurants per capita as San Francisco.

Is this accurate? I don’t know. What I do know is that Durango has restaurants for every taste – from fine dining to chains. And fortunately for the traveler, many of these are clustered on about four blocks of Main Street and the side streets to the east. It was on one of those side streets that we found the Cypress Café located in a renovated historic Victorian home.

The owner, Alison Dance, describes the food as “Mediterranean country cooking” and the menu shows Italian, Greek, North African, and Southwest American influences. The Cypress Café has been recommended by Bon Appetit, Sunset Magazine, and the New York Times.

Even though the day was somewhat overcast and a little windy, we chose to eat on the covered patio. Next to us was the stage where the café presents live jazz during the summer.

To start our lunch, we ordered Combo Meza from the Small Plates section of the menu. Like the pate and cheese plate at La Crepe Michele (Albuquerque), this would make a filling and satisfying lunch for one. The plate contained three small one-inch square pieces of feta, a scoop of baba ganoush, a scoop of hummus, a scoop of tzajiki, a triangle of spanakopita, and a dozen wedges of their house-made pita and was garnished with olives and peperoncini.

When we decided to order this, Chuck informed me that I could have all of the feta. After I encouraged him to take a small bite, he immediately removed one piece from the platter and informed me that we would be sharing that third piece. This cheese was firm and semi-dry and lacked the strong salty/briny taste that is so common in a lot of cheaper fetas.

The baba ganoush (a spread made with eggplant – often grilled or roasted) tasted of cilantro and garlic and was the best we have had since the days when we would celebrate New Year’s Eve with friends at the Middle East Restaurant in Philadelphia.

The spanakopita (spinach and feta in phyllo) was large enough for both of us to have a good taste and small enough that we craved more. The tazajiki contained onion, cucumber, and dill in a plain yogurt base and was delicious on the wonderful and slightly chewy pita wedges. What didn’t work for me was the hummus which, while I am sure was started with dry chickpeas and not poured from a can, was slightly dry and lacking in the tahini and garlic I expect in hummus.

When it came time to order entrees, Chuck decided that ordering the gyro (char grilled spiced lamb and beef served on a pita with tzajiki) would be a cliché, so instead, he ordered the lunch special – the turkey sandwich on a baguette. Hey, it’s his lunch, and if he wants a turkey sandwich at a Greek restaurant, that’s his right. And if you are going to have a turkey sandwich, this is the one to have. Thin slices of real turkey were nestled on wonderful bread with a crisp crust and light and airy interior. This was the perfect sandwich roll. The sandwich was embellished with Swiss cheese, tomato, baby greens, and garlic aioli. But what elevated this above a mere turkey sandwich was the apricot chutney that was seasoned with cardamom.

For my lunch, I went totally out of the box and ordered the quinoa fritter burger on a pita with edamome spread, lettuce, tomato, onion, baby greens, and peperoncini. This was my first experience with quinoa outside of a cereal. Unlike wheat or rice (which are low in lysine), quinoa contains a balanced set of essential amino acids for humans, making it an unusually complete protein source among plant foods. It is a good source of dietary fiber and phosphorus and is high in magnesium and iron. Quinoa is gluten-free and considered easy to digest. In a mountain town where biking rules, a high protein grain sandwich doesn’t seem unusual on a Greek café menu.

How was it? Just let me say that it was interesting. To me, most of the flavor seemed to come from the garnishes and not the fritter itself, but I will admit to feeling a burst of energy after lunch.

When I saw that both of our lunches came accompanied by pasta salad, I was not enthused. I was wrong. This was outstanding pasta salad made with medium shell pasta, roasted red peppers, and scallions. But what elevated this above the average was the generous amount of the same feta that appeared on the appetizer plate. Even Chuck devoured his entire serving.

After all of this food, we decided to pass on dessert – even though they serve baklava. This was a good, but not great, lunch, and we award The Cypress Café a 4.0 Addie rating.

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