Sunday, February 22, 2009

Cici's Cafe, Tarzana CA

Formerly morbidly obese and corrected though only hard work, diet, and exercise I generally consume zero refined sugars, plenty of lean protein, and well over 3 pounds of vegetables a day. I go to the gym, I eat six self prepared meals per day - I practice exactly what I preach to my patients. Vacation, however, is vacation - especially when you work 80 hours a week and only get 3 weeks a year off - and when I travel I indulge my sweet-tooth to the fullest.

A glutton for sticky sweet breakfasts, Bouchon, Griddle Cafe, and Bongo Room top my 'all time' list - thus when I heard about Cici's Cafe in Tarzana, just outside Los Angeles, I made it a must on my foodie agenda. Planning to drive to San Diego that day we awoke early and made our way north from West LA to arrive at Cici's on Oscar Sunday around 7:15am - the line was out the door, but we were told the wait would be around 15 minutes. Not in any rush, we sat down on the comfy outdoor seats and enjoyed the morning air while watching the cars speed by on Ventura and approximately 10 minutes later we were escorted to a small 3-seater in the dead center of the restaurant, just in front of the bar. Menus were delivered and I was delighted by the 25+ pancake options with odd ingredients like bacon and chocolate or green tea and vanilla as well as multiple french toast, waffle, and even crepe options, plus eggs and sandwiches - the variety topped even the Griddle and the novelty was on par.

After a few moments of watching waiters and waitresses whiz by, a pleasant young lady came to take drink orders (2 coffees and an orange juice) while a young man filled water glasses - unlike Bongo Room or Griddle there did not seem to be any "specific" server at Cici's, just damn good service out of the chaos. While the coffee wasn't as bold or aromatic as that at Griddle Cafe (nor as good as the Intelligentisa at Bongo Room) it was always kept full and was not bad by any means. One cup of coffee consumed, another waitress appeared to take our orders - admittedly a tough choice considering the fact that at least 20 items had caught my eye. Knowing my partners-in-crime would never finish their portions I allowed them to order first so I could fit my order to their stacks and get maximum sampling of Cici's griddle skills.

Orders placed we watched the hustle and bustle of the small cafe and remarked at the fact that like Griddle Cafe the noise was never "too loud," but instead just loud enough. We also noted that the crowd trended towards an older group - many with children - as opposed to the hip scene of Griddle. With seating much more "packed" than the Griddle, it is notable that my mother was literally elbow to elbow with a lady at the table next to us. After approximately 15 minutes of watching marvelous piles of food (thankfully not as immense as The Griddle or Bong Room) surf by, our plates were delivered.

My mother's order, the "Pink Lady" consisted of raspberries and fresh macadamia nuts mixed in buttermilk pancakes and topped with raspberry sauce & whipped cream. Not as tasty as the whipped cream at Griddle, these cakes notably suffered a similar fate to The Griddle's Boysenberry Rain in that there was too little Raspberry to "sweeten" the whole stack, thus requiring the addition of maple syrup - a syrup paling drastically in comparison to the Vermont Maple at the Griddle. While tasty and better than Boysenberry Rain, I wouldn't recommend these cakes - especially since we saw some of the other fruited options absolutely loaded with blueberries and bananas.

My aunt's choice, the "Sky Diver" was described as yummy bananas & chocolate chips in buttermilk pancakes topped with peanut butter & whipped cream - and when they say topped here, they mean it. Three large cakes heavily laden with bananas both in the batter and between the cakes plus some small chocolate chips baked in were served with what I can only guesstimate as a half cup of creamy peanut butter and an equal amount of whipped cream. Despite my considerable sweet tooth, this dish was almost too much...almost. Along with Payard's Chocolate and Nutella Waffle, Bouchon's French Toast, and the previously mentioned Griddle and Bongo these were amongst the best sweet griddle-prepped breakfast items ever - absolutely good enough to justify the drive to Cici's...from anywhere within a 2-hour radius.

The final selection, mine, was easy - the "Tiramisu." A huge fan of the Italian "Pick-me-up," I was delighted to see the kahlua and chocolate chip laden batter topped with more chocolate chips, house mascarpone cream and cocoa powder. Having sampled a myriad of Tiramisu in my life I always find the variations on the ingredients to be interesting, but unfortunately this preparation did not say tiramisu nearly as much as it said creamy mascarpone with hints of kahlua. While certainly tasty, the dish just didn't live up to its name without the espresso and rum and I'd personally have called this one "The White Russian" as a tribute to The Big Lebowski instead - I'd have still ordered it with a different expectation and likely been more pleased. Certainly not as tasty as "Eyes Wide Open" or "Saturday Morning Fever" at the Griddle.

With a full pancake of the Pink Lady remaining our table was fully satiated and the modest bill was brought on our request - it was nice to not feel rushed despite the small restaurant and ever growing line. While service was spot on throughout, the food itself was hit-or-miss compared to The Griddle or Bongo Room. While the Sky Diver truly soared and other options such as Pigs in the Mud will likely garner a return visit in the future, for now I can say that Cici's is better than anything we have in Ohio, but it hasn't cracked my top-3 breakfasts yet.

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