Caribou Cafe

I’m bad at making reservations. Especially on weekends.

So even though I knew for months that my parents were coming for UPenn graduation weekend (where my lovely and talented wife officially became a doctor of veterinary medicine), I had not made reservations for their first night in town.

As anyone from Philadelphia can tell you, this is a big mistake. Restaurants are booked solid throughout that weekend as proud parents wine and dine their graduating progeny… and themselves.

Fortunately, this mistake was easily rectified with a last-minute reservation at Caribou Cafe. I had heard great things about this place but could never muster up the enthusiasm to give it a try, especially with so many restaurants ahead of it on my “need to try” list.

I’m pleased to report that only one visit to Caribou completely cured me of that enthusiasm problem and I’m well on my way to recovery.

When we arrived for a 6:00 reservation, I was happy, although a bit apprehensive, that the restaurant was only sparsely populated. We were immediately seated at one of the comfortable inner booths and were impressed by the authentically casual French bistro ambiance. It felt as if we had walked in off the streets of Paris. (Not the Texas one.)

After discussing wine options with our especially convivial waiter, the ‘rents dove right in with a couple appetizers. Mom ordered the soup du jour, which I believe was a cream of mushroom, although my memory is a bit faulty on that one. My dad ordered the Salade Au Roquefort (arugula, red and golden beets, sliced apples, roquefort cheese, olive oil dressing). Both were delicious and quickly devoured.

It was a flush of fish for our main entrees, with both my parents opting for salmon and me for the rainbow trout. Of the salmons, I enjoyed dad’s off-the-menu preparation (grilled fish, tomato vinaigrette, vegetable pistou) better than my mom’s more simple prix fixe option (which only came with tartar sauce). However, at $30 for three courses (or $16 for two on the lunch menu), mom’s pri fixe choice is a great way to go.

My Truite Meuniere (rainbow trout fillets, olive oil mashed potatoes, roasted red pepper, spinach, almonds) was truly out of this world. Not over-buttered (which is always my fear at any French restaurant), the fillets were delicately prepared and plated in a target-like pattern around the potato mound. The peppers and spinach were a perfect match for the fish and I enjoyed swirling my fork around the plate to collect all of the flavors in each bite.

Although I hadn’t planned on getting dessert, when the waiter suggested the house-favorite chocolate mousse (made from the chef’s mother’s recipe), I knew I was powerless to stop myself from ordering. After all:

  1. It was chocolate
  2. It was originally made the mother of a chef

It was easily one of the best chocolate mousses I’ve ever tasted, just edging out the one I lapped up on the last night of my honeymoon in St. Lucia (a primary source of cacao plants and, therefore, chocolate). The mousse was rich, smooth, with a pure chocolate taste that many mousses tend to downplay.

My mom’s mocha pot de creme was almost equally as good. Generally, you can’t go wrong with pot de creme (a mousse-like, spoonable dessert), and that’s why it’s offered so frequently around town. But this one had an amazing flavor and consistency that raised it above the standard.

As we headed out the door, I marveled at how the meal couldn’t have worked out better. And I also ridiculed myself for ever underestimating the ways of the Caribou.

I’ll definitely be back and might even try the escargot. Maybe.

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