I love a tale of fate and karma, one of those “it was meant to be” stories where the universe conspires to get you to the place you’re supposed to be even if it means decades later. That’s what happened with the owners of The Sliding Door Cafe & Bakery. When Catherine Del Casale (one half of Off The Menu blog) told me the story of co-owners Kevin Cahalan and his fiancee, Natalie Sarle, I was intrigued, yet not surprised by how “if you’re meant to be, you’re meant to be” came into play here.
The two were in 9th grade together, went on one date at a roller skating rink, and nothing came out of it, that is, until 30 years later, when they reconnected online and six months after that, they were engaged.
Kevin is also the restaurant’s Chef and his resume is an impressive one, having graduated from the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) in Hyde Park and worked alongside some of culinary’s best, including Bradley Ogden and Wolfang Puck. Then, the native New Yorker relocated to southern California from Long Island, to be with his sweetheart Natalie, and as they say, the rest is history!
I couldn’t stop thinking about The Sliding Door after Catherine’s story and how much she loves the food, so much she’s been back numerous times. I then bumped into her Off The Menu partner in crime, Christopher Trela, and mentioned to him about it and before long, he had planned a gathering of people to go try out this place.
I was immediately enamored by this cozy spot located in Balboa Village, only a few doors down from one of our favorites — Mint Leaf Thai. The cafe exudes a charming ambiance with a secluded alcove perfect for romantic dinners.
Sure, I like cute decor like everyone else, but I was here for the food and our table soon was filled with plates of beautifully plated dishes waiting to be devoured. Goat Cheese Fritters ($12) were delightfully crispy on the outside with a lovely soft filling. The goat cheese is subtle and the chili aioli dipping sauce mild and flavorful. They were scorching hot even after many of us had taken photos. Delicious!
I don’t know anyone who doesn’t love a Lobster Mac n Cheese ($13) and many places in OC feature it on their menu. The one here comprises four different cheeses: aged cheddar, provolone, Jack and smoked gouda tossed with fusilli. The sauce is rich and gooey, the chunks of lobster ample. I especially liked the crunchy breadcrumb topping which added a nice textural component to the dish.
I’m a HUGE fan of scallops so when Pan Seared Diver Sea Scallops ($28) was brought out, I knew I had to get to it STAT! I was even more tickled when I saw Israeli cous cous as an accompaniment along with bacon, winter squash and mushrooms. The scallops were flawlessly prepared, tender and absolutely exquisite. Yes, I was very happy!
I don’t think anyone really understands how thrilled I am to see Brick Grilled Chicken ($21) on the menu. Three to four years ago, brick chicken was everywhere! Restaurants were embracing this dish left right and center. Then, all of a sudden, it disappeared. At Last Cafe in Long Beach is one of the few still offering it, and rightfully so since they were one of the first to put it on the menu and it has become their signature dish.
Chef Kevin’s brick chicken is delicious. Perfectly seasoned and prepared, the chicken is moist and so tasty. It is accompanied by truffled mashed potatoes, broccoli rabe, root vegetables in a green peppercorn jus. I would come back for this alone!
Non-meat eaters are not forgotten here. Carrot Ginger Risotto ($24) is a creamy blend of pecorino, romano and parmesan cheese with al dente rice dotted with bits of sweet carrots and exotic mushrooms. I really love Chef Kevin’s liberal use of mushrooms — my fave — in his dishes, especially the King trumpet variety!
The next two dishes are not usually what I would choose when dining out, but they were both impressive. Seared Scottish Salmon ($26) possessed an incredibly crispy skin with unctuous melt-in-your-mouth fish. I loved the use of lentils and cauliflower puree as accoutrements and didn’t expect for red cabbage to work but it did!
Cabernet Braised Short Ribs ($22) was hearty and robust in flavor. Creamy polenta with seasonal vegetables enveloped with a natural reduction, I was shocked I liked it — a lot!. I usually dislike short ribs because most chefs cannot execute it faultlessly, certainly not the case here! The piece of meat was tender and beyond compare, just superb.
If you’re a fan of lamb like I am, Grilled Lamb Rib Eye ($32) is a must try. Cooked to an immaculate medium rare, the tender discs of meat sits on top of a bed of basil almond wild rice, haricot verts (green beans), carrots and a top-notch cabernet mint jelly. Between this and the chicken, it’s going to be difficult to choose!
Chef Kevin also makes all of his desserts ($8). We shared Chocolate Truffle Fudge Cake, Chocolate Walnut Spice Tart with Chinese five spice, White Chocolate Cinnamon Bread Pudding, Cream Cheese Carrot Cake and New York Style Cheesecake. The latter two were my favorites, especially the cheesecake!
I’m so excited that it’s only March and I’ve already found a few really noteworthy restaurants, so good they will make it on to my “best of” list at the end of the year. If The Sliding Door continues to produce food like this, it might even be nominated at that award ceremony happening end September!
The Sliding Door & Cafe
704 East Balboa Blvd
Newport Beach, CA 92661