FL MORRIS / FMORRIS@STARBULLETIN.COM
Jereemiah Garcia serves the Marketplace Café's specialties at Nordstrom -- herb-grilled salmon, left, Tuscan roast chicken and grilled vegetables.
Nordstrom’s cafe handles rush with ease
Bless all you crazies out there. You're the excitable ones who MUST be first in line, who MUST be among the first to see any movie that opens or MUST be the first to rush to a new restaurant. You're the ones who make the world go 'round, and I'm usually RIGHT THERE with you. Except, I'm not really one of you. I'm just working.
I don't have the herd instinct so I can't understand why so many of you would wait in half-hour lines to get into Nordstrom's Marketplace Café during its first week of operation, but because you're there, I have to be there, and damn if you don't just get in the way sometimes. There are at least a couple dozen other dining options within the mall, so wouldn't it be more pleasant to wait a couple of weeks for some of the buzz to die down? I know I would if I could.
That said, Nordstrom's Marketplace Café is handling the daily lunch crowd -- up to 191 at a time -- with aplomb. Those waiting in line have been treated to strips of mozzarella-stuffed crust Margherita pizza, which is very hospitable at noon when people are already hungry before getting into line.
The cafeteria line setup, which should work when business starts running normally, is a big holdup right now because people -- who have time to study the menu before getting to the counters -- can't seem to make up their minds once they get there. It's an inconvenience, but this part I actually understand when the menu's words, describing new American classics, speak to the mind; the visuals go for the gut.
The first glass showcase presents fresh sandwiches of roast beef Romano ($11.50) with fontina cheese, arugula and balsamic marinated red onions; hickory smoked turkey ($10.25) with Swiss cheese, avocado and more on multigrain baguette; or Santa Fe chicken ($10.95) on sourdough. I nevertheless placed my planned order for a pesto chicken panini ($10.95). Of course by the time I saw the panini I wished I could have changed my order. It was all psychological of course. The panini, with sun-dried tomatoes, provolone and basil, was no doubt as tasty as any of the other sandwiches, but its flattened, grilled appearance could not compete with the ample pulchritude of the unpressed sandwiches.
With the single-file line, you can't see everything before ordering, so I was not the only one having regrets. Two women behind me, eyeing the salads, wished they'd ordered those instead of the sandwich and pasta dishes. Salads! How many times do people pine for salads?
Well, they do when it's a nicoise ($13.95) of organic greens layered with a appetizer-size portion of seared ahi, garnished with egg halves, kalamata olives and French green beans, topped with a Dijon balsamic vinaigrette. Equally appealing is a salad of romaine and organic baby greens, about six artichoke hearts and thin strips of sliced chicken ($10.75), goat cheese and kalamatas.
The salads are made before your eyes. Other dishes requiring more heating or assembly are brought to your table, such as pepperoni and wild mushroom ($11.25) or kalua pork ($11.50) pizzas. It was a good try at the kalua, though more heavily salted than necessary, and accompanied by a sprinkling of lomi tomato. Given the amount of salt in the pork, the intermittent portion on the pizza makes it more palatable than the kalua pork sandwich ($11.25).
Kids' meals of grilled cheese sandwich and tomato soup ($5.25), hot dog ($5.25) and cheese pizza ($6.50) are available, although I saw most parents sharing off their plates.
EVEN THOUGH it's essentially a self-serve operation, an army of eager wait staff on the floor can help carry trays, deliver straws and utensils to those who failed to pick them up and offer reminders about desserts. I rarely see such a hard-working bunch.
The decor is pure department store, comfortable, if somewhat claustrophobic when full.
The lunch and dinner menus are the same, though in the evening, you may be more willing to splurge on a specialty of salmon ($14.95) roasted with a thin layer of Dijon mustard and mild herbs. It's accompanied by roasted zucchini, summer squash, red potatoes and corn on the cob. Rosemary and garlic Tuscan roast chicken ($12.95) is another option, and if it's just the veggies and potatoes you want, they're $9.95.
Angel hair pasta ($10.25) is simply served with basil pesto, Parmesan and a roasted garlic tomato sauce. Mushroom ravioli ($10.95) is one of the dishes that seems "canned," with its heavy, overly processed Parmesan cream sauce.
At the end of the café line are those point-of-purchase desserts. "No, I don't need it," you say to yourself as you wait for the cashier. By the time it's your turn to pay, you're telling yourself, "Oh, why not?" in the face of fluffy chocolate muffins studded with squares of velvety chocolate, juicy lemon bars and glossy creme brulées. After more than 100 years in retail, they sure know how to appeal to impulse.