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Friday, December 03, 2010

Cafe 21 - San Diego (University Heights)

Cafe 21 - San Diego (University Heights) 1

When I asked oldest nephew where he wanted to go in San Diego for his birthday, he asked what would get him a mention on the blog. I said it had to be a new restaurant. Already blogged places or recipes won't get him another entry.

Luckily, oldest nephew is game for anything so when I asked if he wanted to try Azeri cuisine, he was all for it. Lil' sis, however, is decidedly more picky.

"Azerbaijan? Are you making that up?" asked lil' sis, who said she'd rather stay home than eat "imaginary" food. So we left her to frost oldest nephew's birthday Chocolate Ale (Rogue Hazelnut Brown Nectar) Cake and his childhood friend was content with the Chao Ga Tay (Vietnamese Turkey Rice Porridge) that I brought down.

It was just me and oldest nephew for dinner then. Yay! A post all about oldest nephew, he crowed as we walked out the door.

There were only a few tables when we arrived around 8:30 p.m. on a weeknight. After they left, we were the only diners in the restaurant.

Cafe 21 - San Diego (University Heights) 2

I stumbled upon Cafe 21 a while back when surfing around reading about the Georgian restaurants in San Diego. Someone mentioned there were a few Azeri dishes on the menu. The website says the owners are from Baku, Azerbaijan. They started out making baklava for a local restaurant and demand grew so much that they opened their own restaurant, Cafe 2121, named after its address. When they later moved down the street, the restaurant's name was shortened to Cafe 21. The restaurant seems to be popular for brunch, although a few Azeri touches are reflected on the dinner menu.

I think if I had to stereotype Azeri cuisine to those who are unfamiliar, and that would include me, then I'd describe it as Turkish-influenced Central Asian food. Middle Eastern touches like hummus with the former, and lamb and plov dishes with the latter. The waiter said most of the dishes had Azeri influence, although there weren't any specifically listed on the menu.

The complimentary Azeri bread appeared to just be poppyseed buns, but were pleasantly studded with unfamiliar spices.

Cafe 21 - San Diego (University Heights) 3

Just the two of us catching up on a quiet evening. I call him my oldest nephew, but he's technically my cousin's kid, on my mom's side. My cousin moved from Washington, D.C. to Oregon when oldest nephew was around 3 years old so I've watched him and his brothers grow up through the years. They're my only family on my mom's side in the U.S. After oldest nephew graduated, his childhood friend got a job in San Diego, so he came down too for a change of pace. He eventually landed a job and when lil' sis graduated, they all moved in together.

Cafe 21 - San Diego (University Heights) 4

We ordered a baked grape salad with sliced almond baked goat cheese clusters and honey balsamic dressing, $12. The baked grapes were a surprise, sweet and warm, paired perfectly with the goat cheese. Unexpected, but good.

Cafe 21 - San Diego (University Heights) 5

He ordered the special of the day based on the waiter's description. It was a whole baked fish with beet and spicy hummus, rice pilaf, and green beans. The rice pilaf, or plov, is very Central Asian, reminding me of when I dined at Uzbekistan - Los Angeles.

Cafe 21 - San Diego (University Heights) 6

I went for the duck leg/thigh over butternut squash puree, house green beans, and Azeri date sauce, $17. The date sauce was slightly sweet, the only labeled Azeri item on the menu. We shared both dishes since oldest nephew loves duck too.

Cafe 21 - San Diego (University Heights) 7

I'm not sure how much of what we ate was traditionally Azeri cuisine since I have no basis for comparison. I also wonder if even if they were, they were cleverly disguised in the description so that unadventurous diners would be more willing to try. After all, it seems like brunch and sandwiches are what Cafe 21 is more known for. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but if you're looking to expand your culinary horizons too, it's worth a visit.

Who else dined at Cafe 21?
Pink Candles at Ridgemont High ordered a few of the brunch items.
A Radiused Corner features a few of their sandwiches.

Cafe 21 (Several locations)
2736 Adams Ave.
San Diego
Sunday to Thursday 8 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Friday and Saturday 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.

1 year ago today, Homemade Turkey Gravy.
2 years ago today, Cranberry Sauce.
3 years ago today, this is how I party or How to Have a Korean Barbecue at Home.
4 years ago today, Doughnut Bread Pudding.


  1. Hi WC - How sweet of you to take your nephew here! So that's what it looks like inside. The two times I've been, we've only eaten outside.

    TC and I went back last year (in Sept) and I had the Azerbaijani kabob platter. I wish they had that fish dish you had but it was not on their menu (that I can recall).

    This is a really cute place and I want to go again to try the other dinner items.

  2. CC,
    I didn't see any Azerbaijani kebabs or I would've ordered it. The fish was good, but it was really the spicy and beet hummus and the pilaf that we really liked. I would go back if they had more Azeri dishes, otherwise, it's just California cuisine to me.


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