Café Pechugas has the embryo of a good idea; now to work on execution ...
| From front: Cafe Pechuga's Sundried Fruit Pechuga - chicken breast stuffed with apricots, cheese, onions, and bell peppers, topped with a sweet mango sauce and served with herbed pasta, red cabbage, pickles, and bread stick; cream cheese flan; and homemade tortilla soup. (Photo by Mark Greenberg)
Dad admits that the idea may have sprung from the chicken Cordon Bleu of his hotel training days, but he's taken the classic dish a step farther: Chicken breasts are pounded out, layered with a little ground chicken, and filled with a mix that can be as simple as the ham and Swiss original with onion and bell pepper, or as elaborate as the Southern Pechuga with black beans, corn, ham, jack cheese, onions and bell peppers. The breasts (by now you've figured out that pechuga means breast, right?) are then baked, sliced, and sauced for presentation on black plastic plates. It sounds promising, especially at the low price of $6.75.
So here's the issue: This is 2005, as my dining companion observed. Much of America has grown up on Julia Child, has subscriptions to glossy food mags, watches the Food Channel, and has access to Central Market-type stores. And even if Café Pechugas' audience doesn't identify itself as part of the foodie set, the rising tide does indeed float all boats - if only subliminally. What this means is that a creation such as the Southern Pechuga, though it's assembled with care, needs to have a more confident attitude: It was generally good, but lacked any real distinction, and we never figured out what the paprika-spiked sauce was supposed to be. The Sundried Fruit Pechuga, with apricots replacing ham and cheese, was better and had a more distinctive taste, but its mango sauce appeared to have been made with a canned product - and this is prime fresh mango season. Think salsa here. A vegetable model with spinach and mushrooms is also available, and all of the above can be had in sandwich form. Plates come with a choice of starch: The angel hair pasta with bits of dried oregano and the mixed white and wild rice were both acceptable, as was the tart red cabbage with cranberry juice. Simple sautéed carrots and green beans - not overcooked, but somewhat bland - completed the plate.
| Café Pechugas
15104 San Pedro
10:30am-8:30pm Mon-Fri. 11am-8pm Sat
Price range $5.25-6.50
Credit cards accepted
That ethnic dessert referred to way back is cuajada con melao: fresh cheese served with a brown sugar syrup. (In Colombia it would be presented with a syrup of panela, the equivalent of piloncillo, but it crystalizes too easily, we were told.) It's good enough on its own without the canned whipped cream and maraschino cherry. A simple, but moist and lightly sweet tres leches cake is also good, along with a cream cheese flan or fresh fruit. And, Colombian coffee is featured.
So, to recap: The place is charming, the service is friendly, and the price is right. Right there we have three good reasons for giving Café Pechugas a chance. A few more fresh herbs and sauces, and a little more courage in the preparation of the primary product - more incubation, in other words - and there could be a real winner here. I'm thinking chain. •