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Panini Cafe puts the “Meh” in Meh-diterranean

December 27, 2009

We’re still on intermittent-holiday-post mode here at the MHK, so today we present another in what’s becoming a series of restaurant reviews.  Enjoy!

It’s common to find a casual restaurant that serves panini, usually along with sandwiches, burgers, etc., but not with traditional Greek and Mediterranean dinners.  It’s also common to find Greek and Mediterranean restaurants that serve traditional dinners, but do not serve panini.  The Panini Cafe in Sherman Oaks, which occupies the space formerly leased by Cafe Pomodoro and is one of a small chain in the L.A. area, has decided to combine these two ideas into one menu.  The unfortunate effect is that instead of focusing on one area and doing it well, they focus on two and the end result is average, uninspired cuisine.

The menu does look impressive at first glance, with a large selection of panini offerings of Italian and Mediterranean flavors and ingredients.  The entree selections feature various traditional Greek and Mediterranean dishes like kabobs, moussaka and falafel.

My dining companion and I started with the Open Faced Insalata, a light salad of mixed greens, tomatoes, foccacia with melted gorgonzola cheese and the wonderful addition of warm, roasted red peppers.  The amount of vinaigrette was perfect, and those peppers really made the salad.

Most of our party ordered panini – a simple mozzarella, tomato and basil; a chicken with tomato, basil and brie cheese; a prosciutto with tomato, artichoke hearts and fontina cheese; and mine, with hummus, grilled eggplant, tomato, basil, mint and feta cheese.  Mine was the most disappointing, for although it was titled the “Hummus Panini,” there was so little hummus on the sandwich it was as though someone merely wiped the knife off on my bread after spreading hummus on something else.  The ingredients worked well, the tomatoes were fresh and juicy, but it really needed more hummus to bind it all together.  The other panini were fine, the ingredients were nice and fresh, but the sandwiches really weren’t anything you couldn’t make just as well at home.

One person in our group ordered from the entree menu – the dolmades (stuffed grape leaves) platter, which came with a side Caesar salad, pita wedges, hummus and tatzkiki (cucumber-yogurt sauce).  The dolmades were very good – warm, aromatic and flavorful.  The salad was very average, as were the hummus and tatziki.

If you’re looking for a long, spread out meal, Panini Cafe is not the place.  Our food order had barely escaped our lips before it was being served to us.  The downside to this was we ate so much so fast that no one had room to try dessert.  But the value for the amount of food is quite good – the panini are all around $10, the entrees range from $10-$18, and most everyone had some leftovers to take home.  So all in all, Panini Cafe is not great, but it’s not bad either.  I believe this dichotomy of emotion is properly defined as “meh” – in other words, the Mouse House Kitchen gives Panini Cafe 2.5 out of 5 stars.

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