After long night Thursday and a full workday Friday, I was looking forward to just getting home and taking a long nap before heading to see Transfer at the Casbah. Then I got a call from Peter of Roxy Jones. He asked what I was doing for dinner and told me he got a new job as assistant manager of Cafe La Maze and they were doing a run through. He said "wanna come in for some free dinner?" Hell yeah!
We chatted a bit and he told me it was important that they have the restaurant full. I made a reservation for 6 at 7:30 pm. I wasn't completely unfamiliar with Cafe La Maze. It's an old school steakhouse in National City, just south of Plaza on Highland. Think red tufted booths and dim lighting, with a pack of regulars hanging around the bar all hours of the day.
Well, things have changed. The restaurant was bought by the owners of Bluefoot. They gutted the interior and redesigned it beautifully. There's still that old school feel, but it feels like your transported back to the early 40's instead of going into some place that was probably really nice 60 or 70 years ago. Every detail- from the velvet and gold wallpaper, to the lighting, to the bullnosed tile in the bathroom- was done with great care.
Anyway, we checked in for our reservation, but because it was a run-through, all the tables were full of friends and family of the owners, people who work at Bluefoot, people who were regulars of the bar and restaurant before it was bought, and nobody was in any rush to leave their tables. A couple tables opened up, but we were six and not about to squeeze into a four top booth, so we waited until there was a table big enough for us.
We were seated around 8:45, and at that point we were starving. We were given menus and since we were all noobs, had to ask what the deal was. "You can order anything you want. The menu is complimentary, you are responsible for your beverages."
Then the gluttony began. Between the 6 of us, we ordered food that could've fed a small army. For appetizers, we had shrimp cocktails, calamari, zucchini, steamed mushrooms, and chicken strips. Standard bar fare, but it was good. I especially loved the shrimp cocktail because they had the best cocktail sauce I've had in a long time.
We were a little bummed that they'd run out of most of the soups being offered, but we all tried the clam chowder. I liked it; everyone else thought it was just ok.
Then the real treat for the night came. All of us ordered some variation of steak and fish. I went for the rib eye and lobster, Andrea went with the prime rib, a couple others had the Filet. It was at this point in the night that I kinda swore off other steakhouses. I like Bully's and Albie's and the Red Fox, but if I'm ever in the mood for a steakhouse, Cafe La Maze is definitely on my radar.
After dinner, we ordered one of each dessert...a piece of chocolate cake, cheesecake and carrot cake. I think the desserts are from the Incredible Cheesecake Company, because they tasted like the desserts I used to sell at my old coffee shop.
Oh, and speaking of...throughout the night there was live entertainment, and it turns out that the guitarist, Robert, used to perform in the coffee shop I worked at when I was 16. Crazy small world. My old tennis coach was there, too, but I knew he'd be there since he lives around the corner.
By the time all was said and done, it was late. After I got my car back at Larry's house, it was already 12, and I was full and feeling pretty beat, so I decided to skip the Casbah altogether and head home. I can't remember the last time I was in bed by midnight, especially on a weekend, but I that's the way my night went. And I was happy for it.
Anyway, Cafe La Maze officially reopens on Wednesday and I highly recommend everyone check it out.
Certain parts of National City, especially National City Blvd. north of Plaza Blvd., are really pretty. Too bad they're surrounded by the rest of National City.
I grew up in Paradise Hills. I used to hold out hope that my old 'hood would improve. It never will. Neither will National City, sadly, but at least there's another good place to eat there now (along with Napoleone's Pizza).
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