Thursday, April 22, 2010

ESSANAY CAFE - Dinner with Charlie

After our day at the mall, the BH, the Grad Student, the Makeup Artist and I were set to dine at Essanay Café, a fairly new eatery in historic Niles Canyon in Newark. The Makeup Artist had to bow out, after too much visiting with friends she was tired. But the three of us who were still standing made the reservation and ate at Essanay.

For those of you who might not know its history, the Essanay is named for George Spoor and Gilbert “Bronco Billy” Anderson (S & A) the two heads of the Chicago film studio that was among the first to shoot in California. Their original location in Chicago proved to have too much inclement weather to shoot all the time, so they opened a branch in Niles in about 1910. They liked the weather and the look of the locale. In 1914 Chaplin was brought in to the studio as a property, but he left after a little over a year. He didn’t like the studio’s aesthetic and wanted more of a say in his own films. But to date, Niles remains in the collective consciousness as “that place where Chaplin shot so many movies.” Regardless of its film history, the city of Niles is a charming, quaint little stretch of lovely smack in the middle of Fremont.
The Essanay Café from the outside looks much like it belongs in another time. Small and rustic, it is exactly the sort of establishment that belongs in Niles, with it’s original wooden structure intact, and it’s picture windows facing along a street that still looks as though horses should come marching down it pulling buggies. Quaint squared.

The food was really impressive. A nice combination of down home and upscale, without really hitting either too hard. They don’t serve hard liquor, so we all started with variations on a champagne cocktail, a nice fizzy opener to a hearty repast. After I downed my champers, I had a glass of Merlot that was delicious.

We began with two appetizers. The first was a fresh asparagus prepared with bacon and croutons. It was magnificent, the asparagus tender and the flavors delicate but hearty. A nice blend of butter, seasoning and the perfection that is bacon.

The other appi we tried was Essanay’s take on crab cakes. Not as perfect as the asparagus, as they were a bit on the salty side, but they were good nonetheless. The patties had a nice fluffy consistency, and the crab itself was sweet and tender. I think if I hadn’t just had the world’s best crab cakes at Sea Salt still ringing on my palate, I would have been more impressed with these. They were a solid effort and definitely worth eating.

My daughter and I couldn’t decide between the Squash risotto and the Steak with Blue Cheese, so she took the steak, I ordered the Squash risotto and we shared them. The risotto was creamy without being too wet, the rice fluffy. The dish had good texture and body, and it was absolutely mouth-watering.

The steak was a stellar 10 oz strip, cooked rare. The meat was a good cut, so the fact that they knew how to make a good rare steak was indeed a plus. Done nice and bloody, the steak was tender, juicy and savory. The meal came with garlic fries which were slim hot and delicious. There is nothing quite like a perfectly turned french fry to whet the appetite. Though I’ve had it before, the blue cheese ladled delicately over the steak made for a delectable dish. The BH had their game hen which he found likewise moist and well-prepared, it’s crispy skin nestled around the bird in a golden glow, accompanied by several more stalks of that perfect spring asparagus.
Since it was a special night we ordered desserts. The two we chose to split were a chocolate cake recommended by our hostes, who said it was the owner’s mother’s recipe. The slice was really moist, and came accompanied by a lovely mint-chocolate-chip ice cream. Our second offering was a “s’mores” prepared as a creme brulee. It’s bottom layer was graham crackers, layered over that was a covering of marscarpone cheese, and cremy marshmallow, with the final layer being a healthy topping of melted chocolate.

It was a unique meal, prepared with love and so unlike the standard fare offered in most of the high-end chains that pass for restaurants here in the quiet little suburb I call home at nights.

If you are in the Fremont neighborhood, you really ought to come by and check it out. They have a gorgeous back bar where live music is featured often on weekends, and it’s very Disneyland and yes, also quaint. See for yourself, check it out. Bon appetit!

Essanay Cafe
37533 Niles Boulevard
Fremont, CA 94536
(510) 792-0112

Service: excellent
Table size: adequate
Noise: One Bell (quiet and romantic)

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