Restau­rant Re­view 35° North Cof­fee

Pasatiempo - - NEWS -

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.

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