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The Dove Expands

[whitespace] White Dove Cafe
Christopher Gardner

Room to Grow: From the confines of a petite dining space on Lincoln Avenue, White Dove Cafe entrepreneurs Jeff Michel and David Laing gathered quite a following, which encouraged them to move a couple of doors down the street to a big, bright space in the former Garden Theater building.

The White Dove Cafe moves its hospitality to larger quarters, to the delight of Willow Glen fans and neighbors

By Christina Waters

A LONGTIME VETERAN of chef Jeff Michel's uncompromising ways with freshly created, generously portioned California cuisine, my dining companion, Roxanne, arrived early at our appointed rendezvous last week. It was our first time at the newly expanded White Dove Cafe, installed in the airy and spacious front corner of Willow Glen's former movie palace-turned-shopping complex on Lincoln Avenue. Taking a window seat, we watched twilight slide into darkness in downtown Willow Glen, while our bottle of Rodney Strong Old Vines Zinfandel 1995 ($28) opened into a fabric of velvet and spice. Our wait person, who was to be a friendly and vivacious ally throughout our meal, poured olive oil and balsamic vinegar into a bowl, and we responded by dipping excellent chewy francese through this luscious mixture.

Sleek, perhaps to a fault, the new front dining area of the popular home of handmade cuisine felt a bit austere. The food, however, was welcoming and beautiful--typical of this gifted chef.

Soups or salads--large creations of excellent baby greens, mushrooms and crumbled gorgonzola--come with each entree, and so Roxanne and I proceeded at a very leisurely pace through those tiny clusters of frisée, velvety lamb's ears, pungent arugula and sweet oakleaf lettuce, each bite showing off a superior balsamic vinaigrette.

An appetizer of the house-made Louisiana crab cakes ($6.95) soon put in an appearance--the perfectly breaded cakes sided by a sturdy remoulade sauce. Roxanne especially loved the fresh corn and zippy spices in the interior, while I admired the succulence of the crab meat itself. These were not those greasy, dry crab cakes with which I'm all too familiar. But let's also quickly confess that we were glad to share this appetizer--not many of us can actually polish off two entire crab cakes and then proceed to consume a full-size entree. It was during this particular course that I also found out Roxanne's fondness for chihuahuas and skiing, a combination that began to inspire unusual imagery in my already overstimulated brain.

The zinfandel was getting to that full bouquet stage as our main dishes arrived, one an evening special of fresh, lightly egg-battered lake perch ($17.95), another of 12-ounce Black Angus steak charbroiled to medium-rare perfection. Both dishes came with garlic mashed potatoes and a stir fry of mixed peppers, broccoli, zucchini and Napa cabbage. Each individual flavor on each plate (with the exception of the featureless steak) was exciting. Let me add that the flavor combinations were often distracting. The fish was sauced with too much intensity, and there was what appeared to be nutmeg in the mashed potatoes, while the vegetables had been perked up with vinegar. The moist perch flesh itself was delicate and delicious. We just wished that the plates hadn't been quite so packed with overlapping food groups, and that there had been a more harmonious conceptualization of what the finished plate would contain, herb and spicewise. Competing flavors--no matter how delicious--often cancel each other out.

Two very pretty desserts finished our evening of dining. Roxanne's goblet of three sorbets ($4.50) was deeply satisfying. Of the three flavors--tangerine, passionfruit and blackberry--we both adored the sweet/tart blackberry. My quivering slab of Key lime pie ($4.50) came with a textbook classic crust, but was much sweeter than I could handle. Not the fault of the kitchen--it's just that classic Key lime pie is made with sweetened condensed milk.

The White Dove Cafe continues in its devotion to freshly made foods, priced to be very patron-friendly. Among dinner entrees that range from hickory-roasted chicken to roasted salmon and Langostino pasta, there's not a single item priced above $17.95--and that includes soup or salad. A White Dove of dining peace, and a blessing to the Willow Glen neighborhood.

White Dove Cafe
Address: 1167 Lincoln Ave., Willow Glen
Phone: 408/280-5297
Entrees: $12.95-$17.95
Hours: Lunch Mon.-Sat. 11am-3pm; dinner Mon.-Thu. 4:30-9pm and Fri.-Sat. 4:30-9:30pm; brunch Sun. 10:30am-2:30pm
Chef: Jeff Michel
Cuisine: California/New American

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From the November 12-18, 1998 issue of Metro.

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