Restaurant Review 35° North Coffee
I brought my coffee-loving co-worker a double shot from 35° North Coffee. He took it in one gulp, though the espresso had cooled and the crema had disappeared on my trek from the Plaza to the office. “Right down the middle,” he smacked, medium-satisfied, inspecting the now-empty paper cup. I nodded slowly, thinking about the poorly foamed milk on the cappuccino I’d just sampled, along with the overly bitter notes of the espresso. “Funny,” I mused. “That’s just how I feel about this whole operation.”
Upon entering 35° North’s well-appointed digs in the southeast corner of the Santa Fe Arcade, the main vibe you might get is one of pure luxury. This is downtown’s first third-wave coffee venture, after all, helmed by Gerald Peters and Santa Fe Dining. A shiny, imposing roaster in the center of the space embodies the proverbial (and expensive) elephant in the room. Off the hall, an additional space boasts a long, polished wooden conference table as well as more marbletopped café tables and upholstered Louis XVI-style chairs. The fairly priced menu is French-influenced, too, offering beignets and other pastries, lunchoriented items like salads and sandwiches (including a croque monsieur and a bánh mì), along with a quiche and soup of the day.
One visit had the tentative feel of an experiment. The counterperson, though he tried, was little able to explain the difference between coffees. Since a list of beans for pour-overs was not available, the decision of what to order came down to choosing the bean with the most recent roast date scrawled on its plastic bin. From a seat at the long marble counter, I watched as he struggled to prepare my companion’s pour-over, a Sigri Papua New Guinea. The result was an overextracted brew that carried a lingering burnt taste. It was still a bold cup of coffee, but it could have been livelier and more balanced. My latte didn’t fare much better: Heavy on the foam, the milk lacked a velvety texture and mostly sat on top of the espresso, rather than blending with it. For all the opulence that surrounded us, I wondered why our drinks were served in paper cups.
A salad and sandwiches were presented on Greenlite bamboo cutting boards accompanied by flimsy wooden utensils. These clunky plates made it hard to share the beet salad, but that turned out not to be an issue — though we enjoyed the crisp mixed greens, cucumbers, and blue cheese bits, we were put off by overly vinegary beets and a cloying blue cheese dressing that resembled nothing (in taste and appearance) so much as a few glops of mayonnaise. The beet juice pooled on the cutting board, staining the porous bamboo, and I felt sorry for whoever was on dish duty.
I liked the crunchy hummus-veggie wrap — a spinach tortilla furled around a tasty olive tapenade, feta, hummus, shaved Brussels sprouts, spinach, and cucumbers — which came with a small side salad (with too bright a vinaigrette). I was also heartened by its $6.95 price tag, a great deal for Plaza-area fare. But my companion’s half croque monsieur employed two slices of unremarkable white bread, way too much mustard, some folded ham, and a generous amount of Gruyère melted on top.
On another visit, told that the nitro cold brew was unavailable due to technical difficulties, I opted for the aforementioned cappuccino with the clumpy, half-foamed milk. We also tried the quiche of the day, a mushy ham-and-cheese wedge that barely registered on the flavor meter, along with the bona fide hit of the menu, a delicious Mediterranean salad of mixed greens, couscous tabbouleh, mint, tomato, cucumber, and olives. The bánh mì was borderline offensive, though — a variation on the colonial French-in-Indochina sandwich that features roast beef, shredded carrots, cilantro, sliced jalapeños, and Sriracha mayo on a “brioche hoagie” with the doughy consistency of a hot-dog bun. 35° North’s version of this stellar export is an anemic cultural appropriation, lacking the spice of Vietnamese chili sauce or the crusty heft of a baguette.
More successful are the beignets, light, powderedsugar-laden fritters served with a robust raspberry coulis and/or chocolate dipping sauce. These proved a crowd-pleaser back at the office, earning high marks for their tart, seedy raspberry sauce along with comparisons to sweet sopaipillas and elephant ears.
In all, a strain of bewilderment (on the part of the customer and occasionally, it seems, the employees) punctures the airs of this beautiful café. It’s wonderful to see a prominent restaurant group experimenting with the brewing methods and hallmarks of third-wave coffee, and they’re clearly eager to succeed: Customer-satisfaction surveys occupy a prominent place at the front counter, and how many coffee shops come with their own tagline? (35° North urges you to “Find your lattitude,” whatever that means.) But without proper barista training and a better-executed menu, I’m afraid that 35° North may remain a dry run.