27 Dec Room for Crema: Crema Espresso and Wine Bar serves coffee, food and drinks in a place unlike any P.G. has seen.
By James A. Foley
From a pair of brand-new plush leather chairs overlooking Lighthouse Avenue in Pacific Grove, you can nestle in and watch cars roll by at the easy pace of waves flopping on the beach. I’m sitting in one of these chairs – on the second floor of new Crema Espresso and Wine Bar – thinking of spending the whole afternoon here with a book and coffee. That’s probably exactly what owner Tamie Aceves wants me to do.
Too bad it’s a Tuesday and Crema is meant to close in 45 minutes, at 2pm, kind of funky for a coffeehouse. That might be because Lighthouse Avenue doesn’t need another coffeehouse – it already has three – which also might explain why Aceves and Chef Jon Moser are creating more than a coffeehouse.After Crema opened in August for coffee and morning bites, its wine bar opened the first weekend of December.
As a wine bar, Crema keeps it humble with an intimate list of local wines sold by the glass ($7-$10) or bottle ($21-$30, priced at the cost of three glasses). And a weekly changing lineup of small bites in the $5-$13 range are thoughtful, enticing and pair well with vino.
The menu is seasonal and ephemeral, so what you read here may well change by the time you make it down there, but on our visits Moser showcased fun stuff like spiced beef kabobs ($6), short rib picadillo empanadas ($6), as well as charcuterie and cheese plates ($13). The butternut squash arancini ($6) – breaded and deep-fried balls of creamy blue cheese, squash and risotto – takes the prize for most delicious thing I ate that day, which included stops at First Awakenings and Fandango. Also, you can get under-the-radar wines from labels like Josh, Mer Soleil and Sofia, and there’s uncommon beers like Sam Smith’s Organic Chocolate Stout for $5 or the Barcelonian lager Estrella Damm for $4. The open-four-nights-a-week wine bar also brings to the sleepy P.G. scene a welcome addition to the limited list of places to go for just a drink.
As a coffee spot, Crema delivers an à la carte lineup of specialty coffee drinks like peppermint white mocha ($4.95) and the “Fogbreaker” ($4.25), plus morningtime baked goods at mostly fair prices. Two people can get drinks and something filling for less than $20.
Cheddar bacon biscuits ($3.25) taste as good as they sound but would be even better if served right out of the oven with a spread. Quiches ($5.25) are made daily and good enough for Aceves to bet they’re the best you’ve ever had – the broccoli cheddar quiche has a golden, flaky crust, butter-rich flavor and is admittedly out-of-this-world-good, but it’s heavy and would have been nice with fruit to level it out.
Staples like lattes, mochas and cappuccinos ($3.75-$4.75) all appear on the menu, though brewed coffee does not; you’ll have to order an Americano ($2.75) instead. All right if you like an Americano – I sure do – but not selling a plain cup of joe is a bold move for a place that’s trying to court the coffeehouse crowd. There’s also a limited range of quality hot tea at around $3.
Many months ago, some locals lamented the closure of Lighthouse Coffee Company in Pacific Grove because it meant the loss of what were arguably the best breakfast burritos in town. Michael’s Grill and Taqueria made the burritos especially for Lighthouse Coffee, and (despite my own pleas to Michael’s) once the coffee shop closed, the burritos were finished.
Former Lighthouse Coffee owner Katie Minafo began managing Crema, right across the street from her old digs. I asked her about getting one of those burritos but she said they make their own.
Self-proclaimed “breakfast burrito snob” Aceves offers sausage and vegetarian varieties ($6), and says she’d consider it a major personal victory if people made a point of coming specifically for them. “I want to have the best breakfast burritos in town,” she says.
That same ambition is found throughout Crema – it bleeds into details like all organic foods, fair trade coffees, local wines and interior decorating that would look right at home in any glossy magazine or model showroom – which is exactly what puts the place on a different level. Yet such lofty ambitions demand that we hold Crema to a high standard, a precarious place to be when you are the new kid on the block.
The smattering of tables and chairs around the espresso bar make the space feel even tighter than it is. Signage directs patrons to more seating upstairs, where Crema unfolds into a menagerie of nooks and dining rooms and warm spaces. If you want to fly solo, you can easily find a corner of your own; if you’re in a big group, you’ll be accommodated just fine. The décor is beautiful, rustic and chic, with incredible attention to detail, but it’s also contrived and awkwardly self-aware. The music, probably a coffeehouse playlist from Pandora or Spotify, might seem like a good play, but the vibe is so capricious and the airwaves so polluted with sentimental garbage that after four visits to Crema I wanted to get up and leave every three songs.
The great expanse of the 1800s home also houses Aveces’ catering company, La crème. The space, also known as Casa de la Crème, is potentially perfect for the right occasion: a wedding reception, a private tasting, a PTA meeting. Lots of promising possibilities.
You might say that, as a fluid, working eatery, Crema is cute baby. There’s a lot to like about it, but you can’t wait until it gets older and can really come out to play; you want it to grow and be healthy and succeed and have a good, long life. As for those burritos, there’s no replacing Michael’s. But I do recommend you go to Crema and try ne for yourself.
CREMA ESPRESSO AND WINE BAR 7am-2pm Mon-Wed; 7am-9pm Thu-Sun. • 481 Lighthouse Ave., Pacific Grove. • 324-0347.