Saturday, June 3, 2006
"This place is amazing inside! So Mediterranean and contemporary, and so calm and simple!"
This was the general consensus as we went inside Gonul's J Street Cafe. Celebrating the big 2-3, I decided that this would be the perfect place to dine with Rob, and my friends Penelope and Sarah. We had all been salivating earlier over the menu online and were eager to get our eat on.
Gonul's was opened in 2003 by Gonul Blum, a daughter of the spice trade and raised in Turkey. She opened a successful catering buisness which eventually bloomed into the cafe on J Street. Gonul's prides itself on its healthy food (which will satisfy Atkins and The Zone eaters), and the freshness and seasonal taste of its around the world menu. The aromas wafting by from their signature dishes and brick oven, let you know you're in for a treat, and that Ms. Gonul truly prides herself on her culinary point of view.
The Jessica Simpson lookalike hostess already had our table reserved and ready. I was pleasantly pleased since we were about 45 minutes early, and had called earlier saying we would be late (stupid unpredictable Causeway traffic!). Our waiter arrived with a plate of focaccia covered in hummus, fresh basil, olives, and drizzeled with olive oil. I dove in to the phenomenal bread as he broke the news to us, "The kitchen is a little behind tonight so there might be a little wait. We do apologize."
Fair enough. It is 7:00 on a Friday after all.
Thankfully, you rarely notice that 50 minutes has gone by without your food or even a, "Sorry for the wait," from the waiter. We couldn't even get a second helping of bread, and for someone who likesa the bread, this was just cruel. Luckilly, the atmosphere of Gonul's is simply perfect. Gorgeous paintings from local artists campused the walls, and the beautiful wine rack graciously cradeling members of the extensive wine list fed the eyes. The sounds of live jazz guitar in the background calmed us and made us feel like we were at home.
At 60 minutes, you get tired of waiting. Now, I'm very forgiving, and I understand if they have a small kitchen and are backed up, but they should be prepared for a Friday night rush. It's common sense for any eatery. I also try to go to a restaurant as many times as I can before I critique it, but at the same time, I feel restaurants should only get one chance. Most people can't go out to a restaurant 5 times on the paper's dollar like famous critics. When they go out (like for a birthday) they don't want the kitchen to be having it's off night on their special occassion. Any restaurant, cafe, coffee shop, trattoria should be consistent. Off night or not, 60 minutes is pushing it. Had it not been for the heavenly surroundings and the company of friends, I probably would have complained like the people next to us.
After a rousing political round of gossip n' slander, our food finally arrived. My Chicken Scallopini arrived on a bed of thick and and creamy mashied potatoes covered in dates, currants, apricots, and shallots. It hides a hint of spice and heat that compliments the fruit on the back of the tongue, tantalizing you to taste even more. The fruit were fresh and in season, a perfect partner in crime to the shallots and spice. After letting my dining comapnions try my food, I pretty much had to keep my face in the bowl and growl at nearing hands to keep it safe.
Pear, Walnut, and Goat Cheese Stuffed Chicken leaves you wondering where the rest of your meal is. Supposedly, you would think a chicken stuffed with all that goodness would be a bit bigger, but a Six Dollar Burger from Carl's Jr. would tower over this. Supposedly, "served with gnocchi with natural jus," is a fancy way of saying, "served with 3 gnocchi and chicken drippings poured into the dish." I suggest you make this at home instead, you'll garuntee yourself an adult serving.
The Moroccan Lamb Stew interlaced with garam masala served upon fresh veggies and couscous was descent. Very mom's home cooking if your mom was Moroccan. Savoury and mouthwatering, Sarah enjoyed every bite. Penelope's Lamb Shish Kabob was dry, and lacked the spice it could have had. I really have nothing more to say about it. I suggest you pass and move on.
The desserts were pretty darned good. Three of us couldn't resist the temptation of the Apricot Almond Cake. Dense and rich with big pieces of apricot, and sinfully drenched in vanilla cream sauce, a lava flow of persimmon and apricot syrup, and hints of marzipan, it was a truly something to behold. The baklava, while yummy, lacked the crisp you'd expect from infinite layers of phyllo dough, and was slightly soggy. So while texturally lacking, it was still damn tasty. My dessert was also free of charge since it was my birthday, and I am happily susceptible to free food and bribery.
Each dish had a sense of being rushed to it though. Everyone's chicken or lamb had been dry and slightly overcooked, and while the flavors worked together, they hadn't been truly melded together. It was tasty, but still a bit dissapointing. There was great potential in every dish, and I suppose on most nights they meet it. Each dish was also rushed away the second you put your fork down, leaving us to feel like they wouldn't mind us leaving so they could ready the table for the next victims who assumedly had time to kill.
Overall, I would give Gonul's a 3 1/2 out of 5. The atmosphere is fantastic and I would love to go back again to sit on the patio and have a glass of wine with a friend. Sadly, the bread and desserts were the best part of the meal. The wait, unacceptable. Bring a friend or a book with you. Give it a shot if you like, you might have a better go at it.
Gonul's J Street Cafe
3839 J Street
Sacramento, CA 95816