I don’t get it. I just don’t get how a place like Caffe Gazelle isn’t just overflowing with customers.
The first time I came here was out of sheer dumb luck. I stumbled upon this place when I was meeting my elementary school friend Heidi for dinner one night. I got there a little early and was a bit concerned at first because it was so quiet and pretty empty.
When Heidi arrives I mentioned to her how empty it is but she said “we’re here, let’s just go in”. We were seated right away and drink orders taken. Before you know it, two hot crusty rolls were brought out for us to munch on while we perused the menu.
The menu is simple! It has all the offerings of any respectable Italian restaurant from Marsala, Piccata to Milanese. Various pastas and other favorites are also available. In fact, it was quite difficult to narrow it down because there were many things I wanted to try.
After a lengthy consultation with Heidi, we decided the first thing to do was order some appetizers to share. Gnocchi with pesto ($7.95) was a little al dente, and by the time I tried to capture some photos (without much luck due to the low lighting) the gnocchi wasn’t piping hot anymore — that’s my fault — the pesto was fresh but mild and they are so generous with it. We happily dipped our bread to get the last remaining pesto from the bowl.
Roasted eggplant with shallots and mozarella ($7.95) was nicely roasted and the mozarella did not overwhelm the dish. I could taste the tender eggplant underneath — again, no photos due to the dim lighting
Dinner entrees come with a choice of soup or salad and because I’d wanted to try both, we decided to get one of each. My minestrone soup was perfect! I like how they chopped the vegetables into small pieces rather than leave them large and chunky. It makes for easier and more uniform eating. Although the soup was light, its flavor was anything but meager. It was hearty and served piping hot, just the way it should be!
The salad (see above) consisted of red and green lettuce, tomato, cucumber, pickled red cabbage and a unique house dressing. It tasted like creamy vinaigrette with a slightly tart finish. I’m not a big salad fan, but I loved the dressing!
Heidi’s veal piccata ($13.95) was so tender and flavorful and I think we were kicking ourselves a bit for wolfing down the loaf of crusty bread so quickly. They would’ve happy brought us more — they asked — but we didn’t want to fill up on all the carbs. It would’ve been great to not let any of the delicious sauce go to waste.
My chicken diavola ($12.95) was also very tender and I like how the spicy tomato sauce was fresh and piquant just the way I would make it at home. I think it is so important for restaurants to make their own marinara sauce — it doesn’t take a lot of time and it makes a world of difference! A side of penne pasta and steamed broccoli completed my entree.
By now we were both very full and were faced with the daunting task of resisting dessert when I agreed to just “take a peek” at what the dessert tray had to offer. The minute the word “zabaglione” was uttered, I was hooked, lined and sinkered!
Zabaglione is common place in all Italian restaurants everywhere except the ones I’ve been to here in California. I don’t know why, but I rarely see it on the menu. This is my mom’s favorite Italian dessert and we always order it after an Italian meal (in Australia, where my folks live).
Caffe Gazelle’s zabaglione is absolutely stunning! It was Heidi’s first time tasting this and she marveled at how incredibly light it was. Zabaglione is a simple custard made with egg yolks, sugar and Marsala wine, sometimes known as sabayon.
The one here also has the tastiest, rich, dark chocolate mousse swirled in and its light-as-air consistency makes me feel like I’m eating mouthfuls of puffy clouds. This is hands down, one of THE best zabagliones I’ve ever had, and trust me, I’ve tasted a lot!
So after that great experience, I returned again, this time during lunch time and again, the place was like a ghost town. I’m mind-boggled at this. The lunch menu offers so many delectable items at such reasonable prices — mostly under $10 — why would anyone go to Subway when you can have a hot, freshly prepared, delicious meal for around the same price?
I’m a huge turkey tetrazzini fan and usually only have it after Thanksgiving (for obvious reasons!) and decided on chicken tetrazzini ($8.95) — only available on the lunch menu. My hearty portion was not overly saucy or creamy, but with generous chunks of chicken breast and mushrooms, topped with a little breadcrumbs and browned under a salamander. It was tasty but there was a lot on the plate and I wasn’t able to finish it.
As I’m enjoying my meal, I keep thinking what could possibly be the reason people aren’t taking part in this lunch-time bargain. If I lived closer, I’d be eating here a lot! Sure, the decor is a little dated, but my primary concern when dining out is the food. Surroundings are secondary.
So if the food is stellar, then perhaps, it’s the location then? I am perplexed because it is not THAT far off the freeway but it IS in a non-descript strip mall sharing space with Slow Fish and not easily visible from the street. That’s the only reason I can think of because when I am getting a tasty meal at reasonable prices AND at a sit-down establishment, it just doesn’t make sense to me that people aren’t lining up out the door!
I seriously hope they get more traffic soon because I’d hate to see a family-owned establishment, which obviously is putting hard work into serving up good fare, to go unnoticed! I’m definitely coming back again, once I find a free moment in my schedule!
16041 Bolsa Chica
Huntington Beach, CA 92648
Anthony Baldman says
Anita – This is such a great review. The chicken diavola looks amazing! Also I LOVE LOVE LOVE the new main header image. So colorful and delicious!
Mad Hungry Woman says
thanks Anthony! those macarons not only look good they taste good too!
Am wondering if this is related to Caffe Gazelle which was located on 2nd St. in Belmont Shore in the 80’s? It was great also!
Mad Hungry Woman says
Nancy: yes I think it’s the same owner!
Carlene Hanson says
It is still there on La Verne, just south half a block off Second St. tiny place with wonderful food and service.