Sunday, April 6, 2014

Restaurant Review: I Java Cafe

Summary: Two thumbs up for an extensive menu, delicious food, friendly service, and a really pleasant atmosphere after a noisy, crowded morning at the CDM.

If you've parked in the Auzerais lot under the Highway 87 overpass when visiting the Children's Discovery Museum in San Jose, you've almost certainly seen the I Java Cafe. It's located on the corner of Auzerais and Delmas, a block from the CDM, and its signs advertise a 10% discount with your CDM receipt.

I've noticed the cafe time and again during my CDM visits over the past year, but it never struck me to go in -- I figured it was just a coffee shop, and if there's one thing Toddler X doesn't do well, it's sit patiently in a chair while I leisurely sip a latte. Instead, Toddler X and I usually just eat lunch at the CDM's cafe, which is relatively good (for museum food), or bring snacks and eat in the courtyard by Discovery Meadow.

But last week, a perfect storm of conditions made us deviate from the norm. Combine spring break, multiple schools' field trips, a Friday (the most crowded weekday) and the actual storm dumping down rain, and -- surprise, surprise -- the CDM was packed. By the time we realized we were hungry and headed toward the CDM's cafe around noon, the line was winding around the center of the museum and every table was at capacity. There was no way we were eating there.

Given the rain, there was also no way we were eating in the courtyard or walking to a downtown restaurant, and I dreaded the thought of loading Toddler X in the car and then unloading him for a lunch stop. We were too hungry to just go home. As I walked to the parking lot and pondered my next steps, I saw the I Java Cafe ahead. I figured they would at least have a bagel or something that Toddler X could nibble on, and I could get a latte. My expectations were relatively low.

What a pleasant surprise, then, to get inside and discover that I Java has a full, and delicious-looking, menu! Salads, panini, Mediterranean favorites, breakfast options (served all day), plus smoothies, a huge array of coffee drinks (Mayan hot chocolate...mmm!), drool-worthy baked goods, waffles with toppings (Nutella, banana and strawberry -- oh my!), and -- if your morning at the CDM has just been too much for you -- beer (on tap!) and wine. Oh, and they have bagels too.

Even better, after a few hours at the CDM with the boisterous and noisy rainy day crowd, the restaurant was spacious and peaceful. Of the seven or eight tables and three couches inside the cafe (there are a few more outside), only three were occupied when we arrived, and the layout was such that I could maneuver the stroller through with ease. Though CNBC was on the TV, it was mercifully muted, and I found myself immediately calming down after the hectic morning. I swear, even Toddler X breathed a sigh of relief.

We ordered at the counter (a roast beef panino -- yep, that's the singular -- with avocado added, a Thai iced tea, a fresh squeezed orange juice and a banana), and settled down on a comfy couch -- stupidly, I assumed that a coffee place like this wouldn't have high chairs. As we waited, though, another post-CDM mom/toddler pair walked in, and this woman clearly knew what she was doing -- she walked to the hallway next to the bathroom and emerged with a high chair in hand! Turns out there were two more where that came from, and I got Toddler X settled just as they brought the food out to the table. The panino was delicious. I am really, really picky about my roast beef, and this was just exceptional. The bread was tasty, the cheese was gooey, the toppings were fresh, and the meat was perfect. There was plenty for sharing with Toddler X -- I'd describe it as a generous portion. I would absolutely, 100% order the same thing every time I go back (and I will go back -- in fact, I'd be surprised if I ever visit the CDM again without stopping by), except for the fact that everything else looked really good too. Seriously, those Nutella, strawberry and banana waffles are calling my name...

The service was very friendly. When I told the gentleman who served us how much I enjoyed my food, and let him know that I was going to give a positive review on my toddler blog, he let me know that they're always happy to make a kids' sandwich with a pita and either cheese or turkey -- it's not up on the menu, but you just have to ask. But honestly, many of the normal menu items -- an English muffin with egg and cheese, beef kabobs, a hummus plate, oatmeal -- are very toddler-friendly, so there may be no need to resort to that.

The prices were reasonable -- I believe $7.95 for panini, but, like I said, they were large in size -- and the food was infinitely better than the CDM's. And, of course, there's that 10% discount with your CDM receipt.

Any negatives? Well, when eating with a toddler, peace and quiet can sometimes feel like a negative -- you don't want your kid to be the only one in the room making a lot of noise. But though there was a woman studying at a table, and two people having a quiet discussion at another, I didn't feel like Toddler X's toddlerism attracted attention in any way (except for as we were leaving, when he refused to get back in his stroller...but then it was mostly sympathetic glances). Like I said, there was another mom/toddler pair in there, the service was very friendly, and given that I Java Cafe specifically advertises discounts for CDM attendees, it's not like they're surprised to have kids walk in the door.

Anyhow, I highly recommend this yummy spot just a block from the CDM. I plan to stop in for a coffee drink the next time we're CDM-bound, and I'll certainly plan to grab lunch here again -- either in the cafe or, if the weather is nicer, perhaps a to-go lunch for a picnic in the courtyard in front of the CDM or Discovery Meadow. I wouldn't be surprised if there's Nutella involved.

If you're leaving the CDM to come grab lunch at I Java Cafe and plan to return to the CDM, remember to have your hand stamped for re-admission. And at the cafe, remember to show them your CDM receipt for 10% off and ask about a pita with cheese for your kiddo if you're interested.


Update: While I was writing the review last night, I got so excited about those Nutella waffles that when the family woke up this morning, I insisted we head over for breakfast and coffee. We arrived at 7:45 -- only too discover that they don't open 'til 8:00 on Sundays. Bummer for us, but not a big deal for the world in general -- just want to give you this tip in case your toddler, like ours, is an early riser.

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