Pearl District eatery sits down for the evening meal
The Daily Cafe, a humble, subtly stylish Pearl District restaurant that built its reputation on brilliant pastries and sandwiches, has successfully added braised short ribs, tandoori chicken and huaraches (a Mexican snack akin to a thick, open-faced taco) to its repertoire.
The affordable, full-service restaurant Ñ not to be confused with its smaller, east-side cousin situated inside Rejuvenation House Parts Ñ opened in April 2000.
At first, the Daily satisfied customers with Illy coffee, granola and muffins in the morning and wasabi-tuna sandwiches, chicken salad and dense cookies for lunch. In time it added a magnificent, three-course Sunday brunch that begins with a basket of warm breads and costs only $10 per person.
The Daily then tested the water for dinner success, creating special menus for First Thursdays. But it wasn't until the beginning of this year that the cafe, having reached critical mass, made dinner a regular feature.
It's been worth the wait.
Just as blooming lilacs and dogwood connote spring, so does the Daily Cafe's current dinner lineup. Take, for example, the appropriately named Spring Salad, a beautifully arranged plate of Chioggia beets, sugar snap peas, hunks of carrot, young butter lettuce, thin asparagus and Dutch yellow potatoes, dressed in a mild caper-mustard vinaigrette. Not even morel mushrooms or fiddlehead ferns convey the essence of rain-washed, just-burst-from-the-ground freshness as thoroughly as this modest champion does.
The ability to harness fresh, true flavors is typical of the Daily. Its hand-cut french fries, fava bean risotto and heavenly strawberry clafoutis taste like potato, fava bean and strawberries. That's because the Daily chefs don't spice and season to change the flavor of ingredients but to tease out their inherent flavor.
This brand of careful, clever cooking was evident in a recent seasonal special, risotto with fava beans, pecorino Romano and radicchio. Also known as broad beans, fresh, young fava beans are a toothsome treat. Not much cultivated in the United States, the rare fresh beans were firm and mellow, working wonderfully with the sharp cheese and soft rice.
Another special, Hunter's Soup, presented a meaty broth swimming with wild rice, onions and chicken-apple sausage. Although it may have been better suited to autumn, it was nonetheless delicious.
Most impressive is the Daily's far-flung scope. It tweaks and executes regional dishes from Mexico, France, Italy, India and the southern United States with ease. This kind of assured cooking serves to educate diners, introducing us to specialties Ñ such as Honolulu-style poke (ceviche made with tuna) Ñ that are scarce in these parts.
Of course, it's no surprise that a restaurant so adept at producing mouthwatering baked breakfast goods also turns out desserts that would make Betty Crocker narrow her eyes in envy.
How often do you encounter clafoutis, a piping hot, rustic French dessert of layered fruit and batter served with sinful crme anglaise? Make it your business to indulge in this bowl of paradise when it's available.
Airy and a little austere, the Daily Cafe is warmed up at night by candles, soft lighting and beaming employees who are as enthusiastic as they are competent. The only possible complaint is that there are too few entrees.
But when you consider that five sandwiches and several well-chosen salads and starters augment the main dishes Ñ which change frequently Ñ the options are hardly limited.