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[whitespace] Cafe de Flore
Photograph by Erika Pino

Cappuccino Me: At Cafe de Flore, diners fall for falafel.

The Other Cafe

Los Gatos coffee culture creeps a little closer to Paris with the addition of Cafe de Flore-- and the food's good, too

By Christina Waters

A FAMOUS NAME and a warm welcome distinguish Los Gatos' newest coffeehouse in the East Main Street neighborhood. Opened six months ago by the attractive and very hardworking husband-and-wife team Mahin and Khalil Tahaei, Cafe de Flore offers outstanding espresso drinks and an appealing list of international breakfast and lunch ideas. From the looks of it, the easy-sippin' cafe also offers a convenient place to park those strollers (filled with active youngsters) while fueling up on caffeine.

Nice choice of name, we agreed on our first lunch visit last week. The original Cafe de Flore, as many starry-eyed student travelers know, is one of the most famous cultural shrines in Paris. It was here, in the heart of the St. Germain district, that Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir sat day after day during the war years and wrote the famous literary landmarks of existentialism. Today, you can still engage in some serious people-watching as surly Cafe de Flore waiters (the ones in Paris) bring you that cappuccino you've been waiting an hour for.

Los Gatos' new cafe offers plenty of faraway ambience in the form of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern light-dining classics. Let me spell it out for you right upfront: Here is the place to quench that falafel craving. Major falafels at Cafe de Flore. On the other hand, there's also genuine bratwurst with potato salad and sauerkraut, or focaccia stuffed with sliced chicken and melted brie--plus inventive salads, sandwiches and fruit smoothies. Very global grazing possibilities.

Well, we needed a little of everything and followed the displays of beautiful watercolor paintings to a back table in the brilliantly hued little cafe whose walls glow tomato red, burnt orange and lemon yellow. A well-stocked pastry and bagel counter offers the staples we all require in California just to make it through the day.

But I had my eye on the falafel plate ($6), and Jack went for pita bread stuffed with chicken and what seemed like an entire tomato salad ($5.50). An inquiry about the soup of the day produced a tasting sample of luscious tomato broth filled with couscous, yellow lentils and finely ground lamb that was so good that we immediately ordered a bowl to split ($3.75). Sumptuously earthy, the soup was a satisfying blaze of couscous, tomato, sumac, yellow lentils and swirls of spinach. Satisfying homemade soup, perfect for foggy lunchtimes.

My falafels, on the other hand, were light enough to float. Laced with mint, the delicious garbanzo orbs were topped with fiery harissa and creamy, tart yogurt sauce. The group of tender falafels was heaped on top of a romaine salad generously studded with fat chunks of tomato and cucumber. And this huge platter dish arrived with a side plate of soft, warm pita bread and lemony, mint-laced tabouli salad. Authentic cuisine--I was impressed.

The new owners confidently create their regional specialties with flair. I predict a sudden outbreak of falafel fever in Los Gatos. I know, I know. Many of you have chuckled at these homey chickpea creations--in fact I was one of those falafel detractors, until I visited Egypt and tasted the real thing. Well, Cafe de Flore makes the real thing and is much closer than the pyramids.

For dessert, we inhaled two feather-light pastry twists dusted with powdered sugar, served with cappuccinos that could have given lessons. Owner Khalil Tahaei is a master barista, and his espresso was strong and delicious. It probably doesn't hurt that he has a Ph.D. as an agricultural researcher. Judging by the line at the espresso machine when we left, Los Gatos caffeine aficionados are as impressed as we were.

Cafe de Flore
Address: 111 E. Main St., Los Gatos
Phone: 408.354.1249
Hours: 7:30am-7pm Mon-Fri; 8am-4pm Sat-Sun
Price: Inexpensive
Proprietors: Khalil and Mahin Tahaei

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From the May 9-15, 2002 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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