Breakfast at the North End Café.

I was so excited that my friend Ben was free to meet up for an impromptu breakfast this past Saturday. The only thing hampering our plans was the fact that none of us were remotely familiar with Manhattan Beach. Keith and I hadn’t the time to explore; all we had seen was a very unscenic stretch of Sepulveda dotted with P.F. Chang’s, California Pizza Kitchen, IHOP and Jack in the Box. Determined not to end up at Starbucks, we settled on North End Café on Highland, which we discovered simply by Googling.

The café is quite easy to find; there’s not way anyone could possibly miss its chartreuse-colored building, let alone the line wrapped around the front. The key is most certainly in arriving early, something Ben, Keith and I lucked upon.

Aesthetically, North End Café leans toward industrial chic, with concrete slab floors, stainless counters on casters and fans from the Modern Fan Company. The clear showpiece of the space, though, is the wall of floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking 35th Street. Not only do they let in massive amounts of light, but they also open up the café, which is actually very small.

The menu is completely egg-centric; I think there are only a few choices that don’t rely on eggs at all, but avoiding North End’s eggs is just plain silly. Even Keith, who’s not a huge egg-eater, cleared his plate.

I chose the Neapolitan Toast — grilled bread filled with fresh aged mozzarella and checca, with a side of Italian eggs ($8.75). As far as coffee went, I had been engaged in my regular hemming and hawing (Did I want a latte? A cappuccino? An Americano?) when Ben pointed at what is destined to become my caffeinated version of a soulmate: the Medici — a mix of espresso, chocolate, orange zest and milk ($4.75 for a generous medium). Trust me when I say it tasted as amazing as it sounds.

You may not be able to tell from the photograph, but it’s not one, but two sandwiches stacked next to the pile of cheesy, herby, tomato-y eggs. While the flavors were all bright and fresh, I had the following three small issues:

  1. the eggs, though delicious, left vaguely unsavory tracings of oil all over my plate;
  2. the sandwiches would have been leagues more enjoyable had they been toasted just a smidge longer, fully melting the cheese within; and
  3. I wish the bread used had been something heartier, something with greater depth, for these slices made me think a little bit of Wonder Bread.

You know what though? None of that matters; I’m being needlessly nit-picky because, truly, I had a really great time at the café. It was a sunny morning, one of the firsts I had been able to appreciate for a while, and I was eating a tasty breakfast with two people whose company I love. What could possibly make a meal better than that?

North End Café
3421 Highland Avenue
Manhattan Beach, California 90266
310.546.4782

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Dinner at Gargoyles on the Square.

Keith, Melissa and I went to Gargoyles on the Square for dinner not too long ago. It’s funny — Keith and I lived within five minutes walking distance from the restaurant for six or seven years, and we had never made a reservation or even stopped by the bar for a drink. Now that we’ve moved five miles away, we’ve been twice in four months.

We arranged to meet Melissa at the restaurant at the exact time of our reservation, but Keith and I arrived a bit early. I can’t recall exactly how early we were, but it was nothing exorbitant; it was something like ten minutes. I thought perhaps Keith and I could sit down and have a drink while we waited for Melissa, so I gave my name to the maître d’ and told him that we had an eight o’clock reservation. After consulting with his books, he said that he would seat us when our entire party arrived. I have to say, this really rankled me. We had a reservation and were barely early, so shouldn’t our table have been ready and waiting? It isn’t as if Gargoyles is akin to someplace like California Pizza Kitchen, where I think it’s perfectly acceptable to be seated only when the entire group is present.

Happily, Melissa walked in soon after that, so we were able to sit down together. Unhappily, it didn’t change the fact that I was already peeved. When we walked into the dining room, I was surprised to see a handful of empty tables which made me further wonder why the maître d’ hadn’t wanted to seat us.

The appetizer options brightened my mood though; I was really curious about the ceviche, but ended up choosing the Wild Burgundy Escargots ($9.00). Served with a duck egg, chive butter and a slice of toast, it sounded really appealing — not to mention I happen to enjoy escargots very much. Ultimately, though, I was disappointed. The sauce so thoroughly overwhelmed the dish; even after I pierced my yolk, I could barely discern the flavors of any of the other components.

I had higher hopes for my entrée, described on the menu as “Whole-Wheat Gnudies.” ($18.00) Our server clarified for us, explaining that Chef Jason Santos used the dish as a play on gnocchi, but with whole wheat, pink peppercorns, honeyed butter and Mimolette. Now, I love Mimolette, so choosing the “Gnudies” was pretty much a no-brainer. I was a little concerned about the accompanying grilled asparagus salad, but only because I am one of the few people who dislikes asparagus. (I want to like it and often make myself eat it, but I rarely enjoy it.) I shouldn’t have had any worries, as this was fantastic. Obviously the honey lent a sweetness, but the Mimolette and tomatoes tempered it so that it wasn’t overpowered by a cloying essence. Overall, the dish was light and springy, and very flavorful.

For my dessert, I decided to give the Blackberry-Blood Orange Float ($8.00) a try. As was the case with the asparagus, I was a bit hesitant; I had tried an ice cream float exactly once before and had been utterly disgusted by the mix of Coke and vanilla ice cream. I went with the float because I love blood orange, and its complement of white chocolate and marscapone ice cream seemed too good to pass up. I’m thrilled to report that not only did the fruit, chocolate and cheese go beautifully together, but I also was the exact opposite of disgusted. About halfway through, I wanted to ask for more ice cream; after its gone, this dessert loses exactly what makes it so special: the combination of flavors. My biggest complaint about this, however, were the blackberries. I don’t have confirmation on this, but I could swear that they had were frozen and not fresh. The reason I say that is because they tasted only vaguely of blackberry, and oh — because when I bit into one, it was frozen. Since they added nothing to the dish, I didn’t miss the berries at all when I scooped them out with my spoon.

In the end, this meal at Gargoyles was an uneven one, something that made me so sad. I had truly loved my first visit to the dining room, and still I think about the amazing appetizer I had — the punningly-named “Ménage à Foie,” with three vastly different preparations of foie. I know I can’t say the same of any of the dishes I ate this night. Does this mean I won’t be back? Of course not. It does mean, however, that I won’t be in a rush. Its luster has since faded.

Gargoyles on the Square
219 Elm Street
Somerville, Massachusetts 02144
617.776.5300
gargoylesonthesquare.com

Gargoyles on the Square on Urbanspoon