The allure and lightheartedness of a summer romance is yours for the taking year-round in Balboa now that The Sliding Door Cafe and Bakery has arrived. Bringing genuine high quality bistro dining in a cozy, casual ambiance, this bohemian little gem near the Balboa Fun Zone was warmly embraced by locals happy to have a classy spot in the neighborhood. The Sliding Door’s aura of romance is quite possibly the natural outcome of the owners’ unique story of reunion and unrequited love realized decades later for owners Kevin Cahalan and fiancee, Natalie Sarle.
Thanks to Christopher Trela for introducing me and several other local food bloggers to the amazing scratch cooking emanating from the teeny-tiny kitchen of Chef Cahalan who prepared a spread for us one Sunday morning that showcased his creativity, passion for cooking, and true culinary skill. Yes, his resume is an impressive one, having graduated from the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) in Hyde Park and worked alongside renowned chefs, including Bradley Ogden and Wolfgang Puck. But to be able to produce what he does in the minimalist kitchen that came with The Sliding Door, this New Yorker takes the cake.
Yes, he makes all the desserts, too. Whether you’re chocolate obsessed, a New York cheesecake devotee, or die-hard carrot cake fan – once you’ve tried his desserts, you will be back!
Here’a a closer look at that carrot cake – so many carrots it’s gotta be healthy, right? Topped with a heavenly cloud of sweet fluff much lighter than your typical cream cheese frosting.
What just happened there?! I skipped right to dessert
It makes more sense to begin with a few starters. Before the parade of entrees, Chef Cahalan whet our appetites with a few Goat Cheese Fritters and servings of everyone’s favorite: Lobster Mac & Cheese. Fritters done right are little balls of love as far as I’m concerned and the Goat Cheese Fritters ($12) were done right: flash fried for a crispy exterior and creamy interior with a sweet chili aioli for dipping – these fritters were a delightful appetizer (begging for a crisp Sauvignon Blanc, but 10:00 in the morning was a tad early to start). Note: the goat cheese fritters and one of the salads on the menu could easily make a delicious satisfying lunch.
For all the young and not-so-young Mac & Cheese lovers out there, The Sliding Door’s Lobster Mac & Cheese ($13) is a deliciously gooey combination of four cheeses: aged cheddar, provolone, Jack and smoked gouda tossed with fusilli. The crunchy herb bread crumb topping, hint of heat from tasso ham, and big chunks of lobster really set it apart from all the other Macs around.
Always trying to highlight lighter, healthier options available to conscientious diners, there is much to love coming from Chef Cahalan’s kitchen. From the Pan Seared Diver Sea Scallops ($28) to the Brick Grilled Chicken ($21) every dish had a lovely balance of flavors and textures with never a dull accompaniment. The scallops were perfectly cooked and served alongside Israeli couscous with bacon, winter squash and mushrooms.
Pan Seared Diver Sea Scallops | toasted couscous, bacon, winter squash, mushrooms
In fact all the proteins were flawlessly prepared and each dish was artfully presented with colorful vegetables. I was particularly excited about Chef Cahalan’s use of a wide range of legumes, grains, and starches to mix things up from the usual garlic mashed or rice pilaf.
Brick Grilled Chicken | truffle mashed, broccoli rabe, root vegetables, green peppercorn jus
Vegetarians will swoon at the Carrot Ginger Risotto ($24) – a divine creamy blend of pecorino, romano and parmesan cheese, al dente arborio rice dotted with tiny chunks of sweet carrots and the earthy taste of exotic mushrooms. I love the wonderful umami taste that mushrooms add and chef’s liberal use of exotic mushrooms, particularly the trumpet mushroom, did not go unappreciated.
Carrot Ginger Risotto | exotic mushrooms and bok choy
I make salmon at home frequently – at least once a week – and have prepared it in every way imaginable. Unless I’m having a craving or the preparation is unique, I rarely order salmon when dining out. But, the Sliding Door’s Seared Scottish Salmon ($26) would definitely be something I would order again. Served crispy skin side up, the salmon practically melted in your mouth and the schmear of creamy cauliflower puree with a rustic lentil and vegetable mix were a delightful combination of textures with tangy red cabbage lending a hint of acid.
The Grilled Lamb Rib Eye ($32) was also a winner. I know this is the dish for Don when we return with the friends that we intend to take here (fellow Long Islanders). We both love lamb but it is also a meat that is not commonly marinated and can be grilled or roasted to order. The lamb was tender and cooked to a perfect juicy, pink medium rare. Served on a bed of basil almond wild rice, haricot verts (slender green beans), and carrots with a cabernet mint jelly that had me rethinking the whole mint jelly with lamb thing.
Open Tuesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., once you’ve savored their pastries or dined on one of Chef Kevin Cahalan’s superb entrees, The Sliding Door is sure to become a favorite spot.
When in Balboa, a leisurely stroll along the boardwalk is a must. If you happen to be with that special someone, a spin on the vintage ferris wheel high above the sparkling harbor can reignite that giddy feeling of young love.
Hot Tip for Date Night: The Sliding Door adds further value with their FREE corkage fee for one bottle of wine ($10 corkage fee for additional bottles).
The Sliding Door Cafe and Bakery
704 East Balboa Blvd.
Newport Beach, CA