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Must love garlic

So I chose the Hidden Cafe in Delmar for a special dinner the other day, our second trip there.  This time we made a reservation, which I 100% recommend, it’s a tiny spot and a lot of people make reservations, so you can really be waiting otherwise.  The last time we went was quite a while ago, but this trip seemed to match my memory.

Basically you’ve got your chef with a flair for the somewhat fancy cooking Mediterranean cuisine for generally happy diners…and fair-bordering-on-poor service.  I’ll start with the bad and get that out of the way.  I had my back to most of the room, so I can’t really say if the servers weren’t on top of things or simply overwhelmed, I’m not sure there were that many of them, even though it is a small place.  I will say that maybe they just can’t accommodate more servers, as it was they were having trouble getting around with food, etc.  Still, for the prices ($15-$20 entrees), is it unreasonable to expect to be checked on once?  We weren’t.  We were seated and told that a server and water would be forthcoming.  The water wasn’t, but by the time we had perused the menu our waiter showed up and took our order.  Fortunately it ended up 100% correct or we would have been scrambling to get it corrected.  He came pretty quick, too, we had made our selections fast due to pre-selecting before coming, mostly.  We were never offered refills until we were done and at that point we simply begged for water, which we had never received.  Maybe they were short-staffed, so I won’t judge too harshly on one visit, but I will note that other tables had similar problems – people waving checks around trying to get bills paid so they could leave, trying to get food wrapped, trying to get a bill, etc.  Most tables seemed to be having some sort of delay at some point.  Enough of that, on to the good.

The food was pretty decent, probably about right for the price point.  We shared a falafel appetizer that was probably the highlight.  Three flattish, well-made and tasty falafel balls were accompanied by a very generous spread of hummus and warm, soft pita points.  We got our warm pita and dipping oil at the same time.  These were quite tasty used to scoop up the smooth, garlicky hummus.  Did I say garlicky?  I hope so.  I mean GARLICKY!  Whoo!  You didn’t just keep tasting that all evening, you felt it.  So long as you like garlic, it’s all good.  We do.  Nice starter.

Our entrees were the chicken kebabs and a daily special, a filet mignon.  The kebabs are a pretty traditional skewer of middle eastern kebabs with some grilled veggies and a big, molded ziggurat of rice.  And three grilled asparagus spears.  It was good.  The steak was pretty good.  It was grilled perfectly, medium as requested.  Thoroughly cooked to a happy brown on the outside, slowly increasing in color to a warm, pink center.  It was topped like the Philly’s Flat Iron Steak with roasted garlic and blue cheese spread.  I was actually going to get that before seeing the special.  It sounded a little better than it ended up, the garlic and blue cheese just didn’t seem to play well together.  Unlike the regular menu item, this came with mashed potato instead of steak fries and, yes, three grilled spears of asparagus as the vegetable.  Did I mention they were garlic mashed potatoes?  Did I have to?    This was an enormous mound of potato, made from red skin potatoes with skins still on.  In volume I’d say it was about 1-1/2 large baking potatoes worth.  It was good there and the next day.

I don’t understand completely what the deal was with the asparagus.  My understanding is that the chef uses in season stuff to come up with the menu, I’m not sure you can get much more out of season than early-riser asparagus in January.  Anyway.

Also, the filet mignon somehow managed to be a little tough.  It was flavorful, enough, but it was a little odd to have a medium filet mignon end up tough.  Maybe it was because it was very lean.  It wasn’t chewy or tough, just not as tender as I expected.  I probably wouldn’t get it again, not for the cut of meat, but because, again, I just didn’t get warm and fuzzies from the roasted garlic/blue cheese combo.

Still and all, it was a nice dinner.  I hope I haven’t accentuated the negatives too much, because we did enjoy it.  I think the only thing that I really would call a negative was the fact that we never saw our waiter after we got our appetizer (someone else brought our entrees) and with all that garlic we were really hurting for a drink well before we had the chance at one.

For a semi-romantic meal or nice dinner with some friends, Hidden Cafe in Delmar is definitely worth a shot.  Be sure to make a reservation and, yes, you must love garlic.

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