Wildflower Café, where food is worth its weight in gold
Most Americans are conservative about their breakfasts. Barring those who grew up in an ethnic community and who like to start the day with curry or piiraka, we eat permutations of eggs, potatoes, sausage, and bread. Restaurants specializing in breakfast can stand out by making an everyday thing extraordinary, using high-quality ingredients like free-range eggs or bread made in-house.
Some people will notice the difference in flavor and expect a difference in healthiness, and that can set a place apart from the crowd. Other people will see the inevitably higher cost and complain that they can get the same thing cheaper down the street. It can be a polarizing experience, with people at the same table having remarkably different perceptions of quality and value.
The Wildflower Café in Redondo is one such establishment, a pretty and upscale restaurant serving high-end breakfasts and lunches using organic and artisan ingredients. I visited shortly after they opened and was unimpressed; nothing I ordered was bad, but I didn’t consider the food worth the somewhat high prices. Recent visits have changed my mind somewhat; there are items here that are worth a special trip, though in some cases the prices are still a bit out of line.
On our first visit my companion and I were in a mood for a traditional breakfast, and we ordered accordingly – scrambled eggs with sausage, bread, and breakfast potatoes on one side of the table, a tomato, basil, and spinach omelet with a side of bacon on the other. This being the Wildflower Café, the tomatoes were sundried, it was turkey bacon, and the potatoes were roasted with herbs rather than the usual hash browns. There is little to say about the eggs and sausage themselves – the usual items competently done – but the roasted potatoes were better and undoubtedly healthier than the oily hash browns that are served elsewhere. I might have liked them roasted at a slightly higher heat so they were crispier, but they were fine as they were. The omelet was more interesting, with tomato and herbs cooked into the egg pancake rather than used as a filling, a small amount of goat cheese adding a rich creaminess to the vegetable flavors. Both breakfasts came with a fresh fruit cup of grapes, cantaloupe, and honeydew melon, all ripe and freshly cut. I had ordered a side of turkey bacon just to see if anyone can make the stuff tasty while changing the cardboard-like texture. This was a bit more crisp but still not a substitute for real bacon, and at three dollars for two slices, it was no bargain. I wish that good quality bacon were available here, as it would have gone well with the spinach and tomato omelet.
The bread was the most interesting item for both of our breakfasts. Though wheat, sourdough, and rosemary garlic bread are included, we were curious about two items that are an extra charge – rice flour bread or tofu bread. The tofu bread was excellent, like an unusually crisp ciabatta with a soft, airy interior. It was superb, and if I knew where I could buy this locally I’d be picking it up regularly. (Our server told us it comes from a bakery somewhere in Long Beach, so it’s a bit of a trip.) The rice flour bread looked like a small standard loaf, but had an unusual soft texture and mild, slightly sweet rice flavor. Had I not known that it was made with rice I would have guessed it for an egg bread, and it was quite good even without the butter and jelly that was provided. Anyone who has problems with gluten or wheat flour will be delighted to find out about this stuff – it is as satisfying as standard bread with none of the health issues for those who have allergies. I don’t know how much a loaf costs, but probably not enough to justify the dollar extra that is charged here for two slices. Along with coffee at $2.50 a cup, our two breakfasts ran over thirty dollars – not an exorbitant amount, but a bit above the local standard.
We liked our meals enough to come back for lunch a few days later, this time ordering a plate of spaghetti and, at our server’s recommendation, the shrimp quesadilla. The spaghetti was excellent, the noodles al dente and the sauce packed with the flavor of herbs, zucchini, beef, sausage, and mushrooms, with just a hint of green pepper. I would recommend this to anyone who wants a full-flavored, hearty lunch or brunch, as it’s one of the better housemade sauces in town.
The shrimp quesadilla hit the spot too, a California creation of mild flavors of seafood, spinach, tomatoes, and mushrooms, with cheddar and jack rather than a Mexican white cheese. Some pico de gallo was provided for those who wanted to add a little zest, but that too was mild – I asked for salsa and was given a very spicy hot sauce instead, which was a bit more than I had expected.
This time our bill for two was $33 before tip, again higher than the usual, but at least partly justified by the use of higher-priced natural ingredients. The prettily decorated restaurant and friendly and professional service made a difference too – this was not diner-quality food or service, and the premium was worth it on the balance. As the title of an album buried in my collection proclaims, this luxury you can afford, a nice way to start a day or punctuate it with a good meal.
The Wildflower Café is at 600 S. PCH in Redondo – open midweek 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., weekends 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Street parking or three dedicated spaces. Beer and wine served, no reservations, wheelchair access okay. (310) 406-3808.