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Foodful bracketing

I frequently find when going out to eat that the best foods are either appetizers or desserts. When I know this in advance, I generally order around this: when we went to Rancho Relaxo last week, I ordered the lime soup (mmm), an unmemorable mini-main, and shared their amazing sopa pia with C. This is not to say I don't like main dishes, or that the restaurants where I order amazing appetizers don't cook respectable mains. In most of these cases, it's not even that I don't like the main dishes: it's just that the appetizers are even better.

This was the case both times I ate at the lovely Studio Café, both times with double0hilly and C. The meals were really good, but for me, what really made the meal were the bracketing courses, the curlicues of appetizer and dessert to decorate the meal with. Last time, for dinner, we all shared an amazingly good salad: delicately crunchy, sliver-fine onion rings over a blue cheese salad. Alas, it's not currently on their frequently rotated menu. I remember the taste and texture of warm cheese wrapped in crisp filo dough layers and the complementary tang of berry sauce with it. The shrimp were fine, but the guacamole dip which came with them was extraordinary. As for mains - I know I had one, a fish, I think. It was very competently cooked, but not particularly memorable. But dessert - dessert I can remember as clearly as the appetizers: the delicately flavored creme brûlée, a soft, fruity cake, and an unhealthily large, richly chocolatey slice of dense, tasty cake. The ambiance was pleasant, the service reasonably attentive, the company delightful: but the appetizers and desserts stole the show.

Today, we went back for brunch. As regular readers know, I'm a big fan of brunch and always happy to sample another place. One of the things I care most about in a brunch place is good juice, and the Studio Café obliged with smoothly fresh orange juice - I drank three glasses of it. C. reports that their coffee was above average, if not overwhelmingly good, and above average coffee is crucial in a good food place, at least for him. We all had starters, and again, I was impressed. In my gluttony for nice tastes, I was the only one who sampled at least a little of all three starters, but I'm glad I did, for I can report back that there was a great deal of good about all of them. Mine was a little round of light-but-flavorful goat's cheese, passingly deep-fried so that the lightly crunchy outer coating was like a delicate candy. It went nicely with the bittersweet sidesalad of shredded tart green apple and sweet beet. C.'s granola, yogurt, berries, and orange blossom honey would have made a nice light breakfast all on its own. It was one of the best granolas I've ever tried. I only nibbled at a candied pecan from double0hilly's plate, but it was complexly flavored in its sweetness.

Mitzi's has spoiled me on being able to really enjoy normal pancakes. I think I must be looking for something as special as Mitzi's pancake in the french toast department, for I've not been completely happy with any french toast I've had in years. This one was made from challah, always a good sign. I love mascarpone sauce too, although I think I like it better when it's more distinctly flavored than just with sugar - the best flavored mascarpone I've had has been with lemon juice. The french toast was a very respectable, very competent, very correct french toast, but it couldn't compete with my appetizer for particular memorableness.

I'd recommend the Studio Café, especially for ambiance and for dinner; but I'd especially recommend the appetizers and desserts, for all the ones I've had there have been really, really good.