Café Des Amis: Mangez Bien
By Vanessa Wolf
One pitfall of the restaurant business – if not life itself – involves attempting to be too many things to too many people.
On the surface, it looks like Café des Amis in Paia may be falling victim to this temptation – “They serve Mediterranean AND Indian food?” – but non, they actually have a firm handle on things.
Although a little bit incongruent on the surface, the cozy restaurant focuses its efforts on crepes, curries and curries-wrapped-in-a-crepe-like-material-that-is-actually-a-whole-wheat-tortilla, but somehow seems to fit into the overall theme seamlessly.
No need to live on love and fresh water, Café Des Amis is all but guaranteed to serve something that pleases everyone.
The Vegetarian Mediterranean Platter ($13.75) provides a generous portion of delights. Take a trip down Greek greatest hits lane with hummus, Kalamata olives, raita, feta, marinated garlic and mushrooms (beware the kryptonite-powerful garlic slices if you care about wilting flowers with your breath hours later), roasted vegetables, pesto and pita bread.
The house-made hummus and pesto are undeniable highlights, but not an item on the plate misses the mark.
The colorful platter is at once filling but healthy: the sort of thing you reflect back on hours later and think, “I’m glad I ate the whole thing… for once.”
The Mozzarella, Tomato, Basil And Parmesan Crepe ($9.50) is the Frenchified equivalent of a Margherita pizza.
The rich, milky cheese is perfectly offset by the fresh vegetables and eggy crepe. Why didn’t somebody think of this before?
Similarly, the Chicken, Avocado, Mozzarella and Tomato Crepe ($11.50) is similar, but the addition of Caesar dressing and buttery avocado instantly brings to mind quintessential California cuisine. The net effect is at once familiar yet unique, and it works.
Crepes are served with a simple salad of local greens tossed with balsamic dressing. Fresh and light, the greens nicely offsets the heavier main event.
The menu also offers a variety of curry dishes which can be ordered served over rice or wrapped in a whole wheat tortilla.
The Shrimp Curry ($17.50) has long been one of our favorites.
Neither a traditional Thai nor Indian curry, the coconut milk-based stew has notable ginger and garlic notes. An “everyman” curry with well-developed flavor and just a little bit of kick, it may very well please even those who normally eschew such offerings.
Will it destroy your tastebuds with either flavor novelty or heat? No.
Does it get the job done all the same? Indeed.
The wrap version ($13.50) is predominantly rice – we spotted nary a vegetable – but ours came with seven shrimp anyway.
The Organic Kale and Tofu Curry ($13.95), however, is chock full of vegetation. Along with the aforementioned tofu and kale, ours also contained zucchini, tomatoes and carrots. Creamier and milder than the shrimp version, there are also discernable lemongrass notes to this coconut milk-based curry.
The wrap version ($10.50) has notably less rice when compared to its seafood counterpart and a plethora of fresh vegetables. Heat? Only whatever is in the air around you.
Wraps are served with a cooling yogurt-based raita and spicy sweet – and truly addictive – mango chutney.
As a side note, Chutney would make an excellent name for a pet.
The restaurant itself has a large, inviting outdoor dining area and smaller indoor option. Service is efficient, but a bit harried and impersonal, particularly during busy hours and seasons.
Water is provided on the tables – a nice touch – but some of the vessels have seen waaaaaaaaay better days. Nitpicky we know, but we hope they’ll consider switching to some kind of containers – anything, really – that aren’t covered in peeling colored film.
If you still have room or simply don’t care what your bloated stomach has to say about the matter, Café des Amis also offers a variety of dessert crepes.
Crepe purists, we opted for the Maui Cane Sugar ($4.50).
Simple and sweet, it was perfectly done; just like you’d get from a street vendor in Paris, but with a twist of Maui-grown lime juice .
In fact, that crepe amply summarizes what Café des Amis has brilliantly achieved throughout the menu: traditional Indian and Mediterranean recipes reinvented and fused with local ingredients and subtle Hawaiian touches.
It’s the best of several worlds, and well worth a stop.
Cafe des Amis is located at 42 Baldwin Avenue in Paia. They are open 8:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m., seven days a week.