Savor a great meal in the company of great artists at Caf

Take one Italian from New York City, one art gallery, and a collection of recipes from the world’s greatest cities – mix with care and what do you get? Café Des Artistes – the colorful, delightful, art-focused Fallbrook restaurant.

Michael Calvanese, proprietor, relates, “It has been ten marvelous years – it has been a treat and the real treat has been getting to know people in Fallbrook.”

Growing up in New York City, Michael would follow his mother to the markets and bakeries taking in the sights and scents and learning the value of fresh food. The fish from the market would still be alive when his mother chose them for the evening meal. The bread from the local bakery was fresh and warm.

“When you grow up in a melting pot you get exposed to different kinds of food,” he noted. “Food is a high priority for Italians.”

Recipes used in the restaurant were gathered from Michael’s travels in Europe, South America and throughout the United States. “I would remember things along the way that I liked,” he commented.

Visit the café with friends, or even on your own. Dining alone will allow you to study the details of Brett Stokes’ lively wall mural depicting various famous artists. Yes, there is Salvador Dali with a melted watch in his pocket. You might recognize the painting of a painting – Monet’s “Bridge over a Pool of Water Lilies.” Vincent van Gogh is having coffee at a table graced with a suspiciously familiar vase of sunflowers. This is not a work of art that one can just ignore – it demands that its presence be recognized.

Michael has high regard for organic, as well as fresh food, and uses much of it in the restaurant’s creations. One of the outstanding creations is fresh-baked focaccia bread which is used in many of the sandwiches and is also made into croutons.

All the soups are made from scratch. Pierce the creamy layer of cheese on the French Onion Soup and you will find that it is bursting with sweet onions and freshly-made focaccia bread croutons.

The café boasts a soda fountain with root beer floats and other nostalgic beverages. Twenty varieties of tea are also available – fresh loose teas are used. “There is a huge difference between freshly brewed tea and bagged tea that you get out of a box,” Michael explained.

The establishment’s coffee beans are custom roasted in Escondido. Michael knows what works and what doesn’t because he attended coffee roasting school. “We use beans that are at their maximum flavor,” he noted.

I settled in next to Vincent van Gogh (I could reach out and touch the sunflowers on his table) to enjoy my “Caesar Salad with Wild Alaskan Salmon.” A base of organic greens is tossed with freshly-made focaccia bread croutons, grated parmesan cheese and marinated, grilled, salmon.

The salmon is marinated overnight in extra-virgin olive oil from Italy, along with pepper, hand-minced organic fresh garlic and other spices. The marinade makes the difference. Every bite bursts with flavor. I even savored the croutons, which are toasted to perfection. This is a salad that will cause you to linger. Oh…and thank you Mr. van Gogh — you were a great luncheon companion!

Find Cafe´ des Artistes at 103 South Main Ave. in Fallbrook, Calif. The telephone is (760) 728-3350 and the web address is: Private parties are welcome; and “dog friendly” patio dining is also available. On February 6 from 5 to 7 p.m. Café Des Artistes presents, “An Evening of Wine and Chocolate,” featuring handmade chocolate and fine wines.

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