A Sweet Spot
Diva Dulce is a very welcome newcomer to Wharf area.
Thursday, February 8, 2007
The next time I go to Diva Dulce’s new café and bakery near Fisherman’s Wharf, I’m thinking about bringing my toothbrush, some extra socks and maybe a few knickknacks. Nothing crazy. I just want to move in. This is something I decided last week over a plate of warm pear bread pudding as I gazed at the alabaster boats bobbing in the Monterey harbor, the mountains rising dark and silver behind. A little winter sunlight spilled onto my right arm through one of the café’s generous windows. The chill tones of the Garden State soundtrack were casting their spell, and I thought: I want to live here. Right here.
Perched on a gentle rise in the same little strip as Benihana, with a lovely view and a wide, gracious deck out front for trapping sunlight, Diva Dulce has an important component of a successful café nailed: It feels good to be there. Little white lights and a wood-burning stove, cool candle sconces and miniature potted roses—these things say, “We’re laid back but we’re good at what we do, we’re young but we’re not too young, we’re bohemian but we’re clean.” You’d expect nothing less from the granddaughter of Lolly Fassett, the founder of Nepenthe.
The Diva Dulce herself, Josie Rowe, has been selling cakes, truffles and tarts wholesale from her Del Monte Avenue kitchen for years, using organic ingredients whenever possible. I’ve visited her stand at the Tuesday farmers market and bought cookies there, but the café is a whole experience. For one thing, it has a full espresso bar and a wide selection of aromatic Mighty Leaf teas. The counter help is genuinely helpful. And Diva Dulce serves lunch.
The case is filled with sandwiches, salads, quiche and flatbread. Hungry for a sandwich, I passed on salami and tuna and opted for roasted eggplant with pesto and mozzarella ($5.75). My friend Kathryn settled on flatbread, also with pesto and mozzarella ($3.75), and we decided to split a bowl of turkey chili ($5.95) just because.
The sun was shining, so we headed outside to enjoy our drinks. I sipped an Meyer lemon soda ($1.75) plucked from a cooler filled with intriguing choices. When lunch arrived, the chili was great—rustic and hearty, chock full of kidney beans and tomatoes and delicious broth that neatly avoided the common tragedy of too much cumin.
My sandwich, meanwhile, had promise, but it could have used some love—namely in the form of more pesto and a moister cheese to counter all that francese. A thorough heating in a toaster oven (rather than a partial heating in a microwave) would have helped turn a so-so sandwich into a delicious one.
We loitered outside, talking and eating, until it began to cloud over. Clearly there was nothing to do but order an Americano ($1.95) and choose some dessert from a selection of beautiful scones, cookies, muffins, pies and cakes.
Rowe describes herself as a self-taught pastry chef, with a style that combines homemade American with rustic French. Whatever it is, it works. The desserts here are earthy, with lots of texture and bold flavors, but they’re also somehow elegant. The pear-and-berry bread pudding ($3.75) was moist and cloudlike, with a delicious caramel flavor and a drizzle of raspberry coulis. It came warmed, with a melting dollop of whipped cream. Luxury by the spoonful.
Being on an unending quest for the perfect oatmeal cookie, and loving ginger snaps, I couldn’t resist the oatmeal ginger cookie ($2). This is a treasure. It has heft and it’s studded with little gems of crystallized ginger that add the perfect amount of zing. The outer edge is hard, like a true ginger snap, but a few bites in the cookie turns wonderfully chewy.
I passed on the cheesecake square and the scones and turned my other cheek to the truffles, but the wheat-and egg-free coconut bar ($4.25) would not let me go. I’d tell you what was in it, but the evidence is all gone, though I do have a pleasant memory of moist nutmeats and a thin layer of pastry topped with coconut and drizzled with excellent dark chocolate.
Diva Dulce is a welcome addition to the neighborhood. From now through Feb. 17 (and possibly beyond), the bakery will stay open late on Saturday nights for 7pm poetry readings—just one more reason to stop in and let this charming new cafe work its magic on you.
99 Pacific St., Suite 255 C, Monterey (near Heritage Harbor Plaza) • 9am-6pm Mon-Sat; 10am-5pm Sun. • 649-4811.