When I lived in Los Angeles, I was spoiled by the seemingly endless number of great restaurants in the area, especially those that were primarily breakfast/lunch cafes. Ventura Blvd. (in the San Fernando Valley), for instance, is littered with them – eclectic, cool, vibey little spots with unique, health-conscious, delicious menu choices. I found myself hitting such venues a couple times a week, whether it was with friends after a hike in Runyon Canyon, or simply by myself when I had a free afternoon. It was a great way to stay on a healthy diet, catch up with friends, or just mellow out and relax, solo. It’s one of the things I’ve missed most since relocating to the Temecula area last October, as I’ve yet to find such a place that compares to my LA faves. That is, until now. Luckily, I’ve finally discovered what is, perhaps, the best little café in Temecula.
Artists’ Gourmet Café is that place. Owner and Chef Dorothy Blandi (you may already recognize Dorothy’s name, as she’s also Tesoro Winery’s hors d’oeuvres chef) has infused her passion for fresh, seasonal, and organic food into her Mediterranean-influenced cuisine (with a few American classics thrown in) to create breakfast and lunch dishes that are at once healthy and flavorful. She special orders her meat, cookie and bread dough, and makes her soup from scratch daily. Everything she creates is unique not only in taste, but in presentation. Her background as an artist and gemologist has helped develop a keen eye for detail. She’s been called the “Garnish Nazi” by (half joking) previous colleagues, as everything must be in its proper place – if not, the plate doesn’t leave the kitchen, simple as that. It’s this obvious care and attention to presentation detail that sets her – and her café – apart from any other in Temecula.
The café itself is small and fairly plain, but comfortable. Open a mere seven months, there’s room for five oak wood tables (up to twenty patrons at a time), a long counter for her freshly baked cookies and tea assortment (a great variety of flavors!), and a coffee station up against a wall. Chef Dorothy also has about dozen paintings adorning the walls, all from local artists (some of the pieces are displayed for purchase directly through the artist), which adds a warm and homey touch. If interested in having your work considered, please call Dorothy.
The food. Ah, yes – the food. I set an appointment with Dorothy to come by early this past Tuesday morning, so she and assistant chef LaRae Wiggins (who is starting the Good Cookie Co. – look for it soon) were able to prepare various finger-sized and smaller-plate versions of numerous menu choices for me to taste. I also brought my Mom along, not only ‘cause she’s fun to take out, but because she has a very discerning food palate. Her opinions hold weight with me, as she’s a very good cook herself, and a very particular eater – especially when dining out. She’s a tough customer – a challenge that Dorothy relished and met.
We started with a sampler plate of seven of her best sandwiches – all uniquely fashioned, each wonderfully delicious (Half $4.50-$5.50/Whole $8-$9.50). My favorites were the Roast Beef (with caramelized onion and gorgonzola crème – fantastic!), the Chicken Salad (dried cranberries topped a mixture of chicken breast, sweet peppers, carrots, celery, and cheddar cheese – wow!), and the Mediterranean Vegetable (grilled eggplant & zucchini, artichoke hearts, sweet peppers, mushrooms, and provolone on ciabatta bread). Those were the ones that stood out for me, though each sandwich we tried was great – the Egg Salad (made with free-range eggs), the Italian Combo (mmmm…mortadella), Italian Sausage (in rich caponata sauce), and the Lox & Crème Cheese. So singular and tasty – not your everyday lunch menu. My Mom, who typically doesn’t like sandwiches (too much meat + bland taste = boring) admitted, “I would eat sandwiches if they all tasted like this.” Score one for Chef Dorothy.
On to the salads! We were presented with three half-sized creations: the South Western (fresh greens with black beans, fire roasted corn, sweet peppers, escabeche carrots, olives, tomato, onion, and fresh cilantro); the Mediterranean (organic mixed greens with artichoke hearts, feta cheese, cucumber, kalamata olives, cannelloni beans, peppers, and Italian sweet onion); and my favorite, the Asian (mandarin orange, sesame honey almonds, pickled ginger, dried apricot & pear, all over tender greens). Two thoughts here: 1. The half size portion ($5.50/Full is $8.50)) will be enough for just about anyone, especially when coupled with a sandwich, and 2. There’s really no need to order salad dressing. Seriously – these salads have so much going for them taste-wise, you’ll never miss your typical Ranch dressing.
But perhaps the best was saved for last. Chef Dorothy prepared two breakfast dishes for us – her made-from-scratch Oatmeal (Steel-Cut) and without a doubt the BEST French Toast I have ever tasted. The oatmeal ($4) was mixed with various finely chopped dried fruits (cranberries, apricots, etc.) and is the perfect way to start the day – hot, healthy, and full of mouth-watering flavors. Speaking of mouth-watering, her Cinnamon & Apple French Toast ($6.50) is pure heaven on a plate – topped with whipped cream and yogurt, each bite oozes maple syrup and sheer joy. It was a tremendous treat, and I guarantee you’ve never had a better tasting French Toast. It was so good, in fact, my Mom wanted to lick the plate clean. Simply delectable.
Besides the selections highlighted above, Chef Dorothy also offers more breakfast items (next time I’m trying the Sour Dough Breakfast Boules), plus a variety of pastries, muffins, cookies, and other deserts. Speaking of, we ended our amazing sampler meal with Chef Dorothy’s version of the tried and true chocolate-covered strawberry – except this was a blackberry perched on a thin Meyer Lemon wafer, drizzled with white chocolate. Wow – my taste buds were doing somersaults! It was the perfect-portioned and balanced desert – sweet, tart, and crunchy. May I have another, please?
If the Artists’ Gourmet Café was on the corner of Ventura Blvd. and Laurel Cyn. In Studio City, it would be an instant success with a clientele that would include celebrities, studio execs, writers, students, stay-at-home moms, and food aficionados. Seriously – it’s that good. If I were still living in LA, this would be my new favorite spot for breakfast and lunch, so I can’t tell you how happy I am to find this gem here in our own backyard of Temecula. It’s time to step away from the chain restaurants, my friends. If you want fantastic-tasting, healthy, one-of-a-kind food at a seriously low price, this is your new place. As a guest once told Dorothy, “When your taste buds stop cheering, you can hear your body say Thank You.”
Simply mention that you heard about Chef Dorothy’s Artists’ Gourmet Café via Taste of Temecula and receive a free bag of chips with the purchase of any sandwich or salad (half or whole). There’s no deadline to the offer – stop by any time!
Artists’ Gourmet Café is located at 41790 Winchester Road, Ste. F, Temecula, CA 92590 (in between Jefferson Ave. and Enterprise Circle). They’re open Mon-Fri 8am-3pm. Give Dorothy a call at 951-719-1276 with catering inquiries – they can provide a custom-designed menu for any type of event, from an intimate affair for two to a weekly business meeting to a gala for 500 guests.