Sunday, May 18, 2008

Coupa Cafe

Coupa Cafe, Palo Alto
Mediterranean/Venezuelan cafe off University Ave.

For our weekly writing nights, we're always looking for good places where we can eat, and also sit and write for a while. Coupa Cafe, on Ramona Ave. across from the Old Pro, looked like a likely candidate when it opened recently, and we got the chance to try it out for sure not too long ago.

They highlight their Venezuelan coffee and meals, but the bulk of the offerings would probably be more familiar to people if described as Mediterranean: hummus, pita, olives, panini, etc. They do offer arepas, which are traditional Venezuelan cornmeal griddle cakes, and an appetizer version called arepitas, which we tried. The light, tasty cakes came with cotija cheese and nata (Venezuelan sour cream), with chives sprinkled over them. Simple, but very nice. A little too much for an appetizer for one, but perfect for two to split. The Mediterranean platter appetizer featured a good hummus with crispy, warm pita bread, and a decent salad that could've used a little more dressing.

We were in the mood for crepes, which are also on their menu, so we chose crepes for the main course. The smoked salmon and nata crepe was also pretty simple but quite good, with thick salmon and irregularly distributed cream cheese. The crepe itself wasn't quite on the level of Ti Couz, but was a fine savory crepe, firm and light with good wheat flavor. The turkey and asparagus crepe came crammed full of turkey, asparagus, and sun-dried tomato, which thankfully did not overwhelm the dish. The asparagus, nicely cooked but not overdone, provided a good complement. We also sampled a serrano ham panini, which had nice flavor but was tough to eat due to the stringy ham.

If you're in the back room, the ambiance is a little more relaxed than in the crowded, coffee-centric front. Service is slow, but it's that kind of relaxing place. The people are unfailingly nice and there's a fireplace in the back, amidst the plaster, wood beams, and middle eastern rugs and curtains. And when you're ready for coffee, they will be happy to show off their Venezuelan roasts. For Tim, the attraction is a couple varieties of chai that do one of the best mixes of spicy and sweet that we've found in the area. They offer sugar-free options, but the artificial sweetener intrudes on the chai taste, so go for the Tiger Spice or Flamingo Vanilla. If only for the chai, we'd be going back to Coupa--the food is good but nothing really jumps it ahead of a dozen other Palo Alto places.

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