Cozy Mystery: Crown Bistro Dining Review

I’ve passed Crown Bistro scores of times, always wondering about it: a little white building, well gardened and with an inviting front patio in front of a small white boutique hotel, it looks charming — but in wealthy Coronado, appearances mean little. The fact that I’d never seen a review tended to score against it. Did the silence mean it wasn’t good enough to merit the ink? A net search found lots of blog raves for the breakfasts but no mention of dinners. Then, last month, my buddy Samurai Jim and I were heading down to a sublime dinner at Mistral on the Silver Strand and we passed it again. “Somebody or other,” he said, “told me that place was pretty good.” Well, okay! With a willing fellow guinea pig and a vague rumor of quality, there was impetus enough to at last satisfy my curiosity.

The carpeted dining room is small but visually expanded by means of many mirrors. (Including the patio, the restaurant seats about 50.) Tables are topped with white linen covered with paper, chairs are plain wood, and place settings include a full complement of silverware — even spoons! (How rare is that, lately?) A delicious soundtrack of ’40s and ’50s jazz (Billie Holiday, Ellington, Sinatra) plays softly. “I wish more restaurants would play this sort of music,” said Jim, who’s not an aging Boomer who grew up with it, but a Gen Xer. “It’s real music, played live in nightclubs and not patched together electronically in the studios, like so much new stuff.”

Our hostess, Laurie, the wife of chef-owner Jerry Tovar, was so warmly hospitable and wryly humorous, we began to feel like dinner guests at a friend’s house. (Meanwhile, our friends, Fred and Patty, were stuck in rush-hour traffic.) “Don’t worry,” said Laurie, “once the warm bread and the wine hit the table, people always show up immediately.” The bread, a soft white French loaf, was hot on arrival and deliciously salty, the butter ample and spreadable, while our first-course wine was an inexpensive Salmon Creek Chardonnay, a lightweight but pleasant food-wine, good for picnics or as “fridge-wine.” (Tovar is currently doing lots of tastings; a revamped summer wine menu will include more interesting choices, including Viogniers and Fumé Blancs, maybe even a picknicky Vouvray.) As predicted, as soon as the bottle was uncorked, our friends appeared. Patty recognized the place — some years back, she and her mother had stayed at the hotel for a few days.

Since entrées come with soup or salad, the appetizer list is perfunctory, though Tovar plans to expand it with the introduction of a happy hour from 5:00–6:00 p.m. this summer. Current choices include a fine smoked-salmon carpaccio with tomatoes (cottony), pickled peppers, and chopped lettuce. The Norwegian cold-smoked salmon proved rich and silky, way above average, as were the plump, juicy capers strewn over it. Crab cakes, heavily breaded with crisp panko, were surrounded with thick, tangy-sweet citrus chutney sauce. “The crab cake is ordinary,” said Fred, “but this sauce makes it ‘fun food.’ “

Read the entire San Diego Reader review here.

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