The Gossiping Gourmet: High quality combined with low prices

It is probably true that every chef dreams of owning his or her own restaurant someday, and James Peters is no exception, having grown up in the food business, working at his family's restaurant, then doing his time at culinary school and in fine kitchens in England and Orange County.

Returning to Fountain Valley, his hometown, Peters has opened a small, modest bistro at the end of a strip mall on Magnolia. As chef/owner he oversees every aspect of the business from décor to desserts. His concept is to provide high quality food at low prices, and he has succeeded admirably. His neighbors in Huntington Beach and Fountain Valley are in luck and if you live further afield, the price/quality ratio makes it worth the drive.

The casual atmosphere is warm, light and friendly. Our enthusiastic waitress Carly said of the staff, "We all feel like a family." Since they've only been open since June, the menu is still evolving, featuring seasonal selections and two daily specials.

Carly highly recommended the sweet potato ravioli, and it was definitely a winner! Looking more like cannelloni (in a log shape, rather than a square), the toothsome pasta was wrapped around an exquisite sweet potato puree, whipped into a state of sublime creaminess with an astonishing depth of flavor. And as if that wasn't enough, the nut-brown butter sauce with sage accents added a whole other dimension of mouth-watering delight. The final fillip were the crispy, deep-fried sage leaves on top. Unbelievably, the generous portion of four large ravioli was only $5!

Not your grandmother's potato pancakes are Peters' round plump mounds of crispy goodness. One of the things that make them so good is that they are shredded to a perfect thickness, giving them a wonderful texture. The five fat little rounds are cooked just right with a crunchy crust and topped with sour cream and chopped chives. For $2 extra, you can get a sprinkle of American sturgeon caviar, which provided a nice touch but not enough to make a difference. We would have liked a little more saltiness either in the potatoes or from more caviar.

For a $15 entrée, five large scallops is a real deal, especially when they are moist, sweet and beautifully browned, and then accessorized with a generous amount of juicy popcorn shrimp. They were served in a flavorful nage of creamy fish broth that was full of green beans, fresh corn, basil, chives and a particularly good baby new potato.

Another standout was the loin of Kurobuta pork (juicier and more tender than "the other white meat"). With a well-seasoned crust and a thin layer of crispy fat, the slightly pink meat tasted like pork used to taste before it was bred to be "healthy." It was served with a caramel butter, apple reduction sauce that complemented the meat admirably. Accompanying it was braised red cabbage with a nice hint of sweetness and a toothsome texture.

In addition to all the other hats he wears, Peters is also the restaurant's pastry chef. And he is as good as any we have encountered lately. Profiteroles have been resuscitated as a dessert of choice on many menus lately and we have been ordering them, longing for those of yore, and not finding them until now. His choux pastry is light and tender and instead of using ice cream, Chef James makes a proper custard filling and drizzles them with a nice dark chocolate sauce.

His hand with a mango tart was equally good, although he used puff pastry rather than making his own tart pastry. The crust was flaky, buttery and nicely browned and the caramel sauce that bathed it was luscious. However, the mango slices were bland.

The high quality of the food here at Café Grill quite exceeds what you might expect at these low prices. It's the best deal around!

Café Grill

Information: (714) 963-7925,

Where: 17900 Magnolia, Fountain Valley


Lunch: 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday

Dinner: 5 to 9:30 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday and Sunday; 5 to 10:30 p.m. Friday to Saturday


Appetizers: $4 to $6

Salads and Sandwiches: $6.50 to $9

Entrées: $13 to $16

Threes-course prix fixe menu: $24

Desserts: $4 to $6


Bottles: $20 to $135

By the glass: $4 to $6.50

Corkage Fee: $7

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