Halumi is a not-soft white cheese typically made from a blend of goat and sheep's milk and is most closely associated with Cyprus; its firmness means that it resists melting under heat, retaining its shape and solid texture even while taking on a smokiness.
Grilling cubes of meat on skewers is common practice around the Mediterranean and elsewhere and at Café Mystique the mixed grill ($15) includes chicken and beef. Beef takes easily to the simplest preparations, such as grilling, while chicken typically needs some TLC to show at its best, so if I'd been asked to bet beforehand on which of these two contestants would command the plate, I would have chosen the beef. But the beef turned out to be rather tough, gray, and flavorless, while the chicken (boneless breast meat) was perfectly cooked, tender and juicy, with a nice dusting of spice. This uneven confederacy of flesh rested on a bed of couscous (which in its white coarseness resembled corn snow), and its chunks were interspersed with examples of grilled vegetables, among them onions, plum tomatoes, zucchini coins, and strips of red and green bell pepper. The bits of green and red on a carpet of white reminded me of Christmas trees and mistletoe wreaths left at snowy curbs in the Januaries of my youth.
Wilde might or might not have anticipated Elvis, but could he possibly have anticipated the Elvis crepe ($8), a gigantic dessert of bananas, vanilla ice cream, whipped cream, nuts, and melted Nutella sauce, all piled, ladled, and scattered atop an actual crepe? Plowing through this mass of sugary calories was a little like eating a banana split that had been neglected for an hour or so on the hottest day of summer. And a cautionary note on Nutella, the wondrous Italian spread of chocolate and hazelnut that appeared from the ashen privations of World War II: it used to consist largely of hydrogenated vegetable oil, i.e. trans fat, which, as we now know, is a no-no. I stopped buying it even when it was on sale. Have they changed the formula? Reading ingredient labels now involves considerable squinting.
Daily, 8 a.m.11 p.m.
464 Castro, SF
Beer and wine
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