So, my haircut guy has been on the move again; I've detailed some of his moves over the years at the end of this post. So, last March he moved over to Rolando, then back to Mission Valley....then in September, back to Rolando. Well, on the bright side, I tracked him down and having to get my haircut allows me to spend a bit of time exploring a neighborhood I might not usually check out.
Fairly close to the barber (he's actually on ECB) is a place someone mentioned to me in passing (along with Bourre, which is in the same strip mall) is Café Royale....the name which actually reminds me of a cognac-coffee drink I've had. But this place is supposedly Somali - Mediterranean.
The place looks rather fast-casual; where you order at the counter. The menu kind of threw me off; I'm used to seeing pasta in East African Restaurants; it's the Italian influence. But this place had everything from the expected goat and suqaar, to the unexpected Philly Cheesesteaks (?!?), jalapeno poppers, quesadillas, burritos, and tiramisu. Though the meat is Zabihah Halal. Usually, I'd avoid a place like this; but for some reason there was an odd attraction. Plus, I was told there was a second Café Royale in, of all places, Minneapolis, go figure.
The guy working the counter was quite nice....perhaps it was my fresh clean-cut look...probably not. I wanted the lamb shanks, but was told it wasn't ready yet; so I decided on the "Goat Feast Royale". Man, this was a load of food for $10.99.....
I love how places like this and say, Safari Grill make their rice. It's so fluffy and full of flavor. And that green hot sauce doesn't mess around either. I found the goat to be on the tough side, though the flavor; coriander came through, along with the sprinkle of sumac made sure this wasn't bland. A bit too much gnawing on tough bits though.
Still the price was very good and I wanted to try that lamb shank. So after my next haircut I dropped by and ordered the Lamb Shanks Royale ($14.99). I got it to go and noticed how heavy the plastic sack was. Something else I didn't notice....the menu said "shanks" not shank. Good lord, look how much food this is.
I can't imagine any one person finishing all of this. The Missus was in shock over the portion size. It was just too much food....almost three meals total. The Missus, like I enjoys the rice; nice and fluffy with good flavor...She also enjoys that green hot sauce a lot as well.
The lamb shanks were pretty meaty and cooked pretty well; not falling apart, but nice and fork tender. Decent salt, but fairly mild in that gamey lamb flavor we enjoy. Again, look at the size of this plate.
So, you obviously won't go hungry here and the portions reminded me of going to a friend's house where "Mom" wanted to make sure you left with a full belly. It was nice trying something a bit different. The guys working here are fairly polite and friendly, though I'm not sure what I'll order if I return.
Cafe Royale 6511 University Ave San Diego, CA 92115
According to The Somali Family Service, San Diego has the second largest Somali Population in the country! Reading various websites puts the population in San Diego somewhere between 10,000 and 20,000. And I've heard the little stretch of University Avenue from Fairmont to 54th Street called "Little Mogadishu" by several folks. I have been fascinated by one little restaurant which I've passed many, many times. And on this day, the Missus was in the mood for something different ("how about something good for a change"). So we headed off to this little strip mall (what else?),on the corner of 50th street. Right next to Mini Ha Ha Market, and a Vietnamese Jeweler is Safari Grill.
And for us, it doesn't get much more different than Somali Cuisine. And yes, the window does say Mediterranean Cuisine. After looking for the menu, which doesn't exist, we determined that all items are listed by photos on the wall, and several "new" items are printed on the paper stapled to the "Please Pay Here" sign, probably a total of 11 in all. Needless to say, we walked in, and drew a bit of attention......
In case you thought you'd be getting anything resembling Ethiopian Injera here, you'd be out of luck.... I think. Somali's have a version called Canjeero, which is served as a breakfast dish. Here, at least on the menu, it is your meat (and let's just ignore the Gyro's ok), and either rice or pasta, spaghetti which they call baasto. The young man manning the counter, took our order, and we had a seat. I'd say this place was pretty darn clean, and we watched the staff constantly washing their hands.
Soon enough, this arrived at our table:
The water was great...but the banana? When we asked, the young man told us that bananas are often eaten with stews and meats. Like I say you constantly learn new things all the time.
I ordered one of the new dishes, the Stewed Goat Shoulder.
I loved the salad, which was very fresh, and was studded with tons of onions. The goat was very mild and on the dry side. The sauce on the side, which I can only describe as a garlicky chutney was really good.
What caught me off guard was the amount of rice:
At first I thought it was for both the Missus and I. But about five seconds later, the Missus's own plate of rice arrived.
We enjoyed the fluffy basmati rice, which had just enough spices to add character, without masking the flavor of the rice.
The Missus had ordered the Stewed Lamb.
The lamb was excellent, moist, tender, with a decent gamey flavor. The spices heigthened the flavors. And though the meat portions look small we were only able to finish half our meat and rice. I'd gladly have this again, unless I get waylaid. As we left the little restaurant had filled up with Somali men (I'm wondering if women don't eat in restaurants, a cultural thing?), and one of them was eating stewed chicken legs on rice that looked really good. Oh yes, the price? A total of $20.....not bad at all....
The service was very nice, the restaurant clean, and the Missus said the bananas did help to cleanse Her palate a bit. And we were taken a bit out of our comfort zone for a bit. What's not to like?
Safari Grill 4990 University Ave San Diego, CA 92105