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Copley's California Cafe is not so trendy as it is tasty


California Caf.

130 Dartmouth Street, Boston.

Entres, Sandwiches, and Pizzas $4.25-$7.50.

By Ann Ames
Arts Editor

As a Californian, I scoffed at first sight of the words "California Caf" painted in the window of this frightfully trendy-looking restaurant next to Copley Place. I expected to see on the menu a list of over-priced standards with a stereotypical Californian twist: Spaghetti With Tofu Balls, Roast Beef With Avocado and Alfalfa Sprouts, and maybe an Organically Grown Tomato, Lettuce, and Citrus Salad to start.

Predisposed to finding such offenses, the reality of the restaurant was a pleasant surprise. All the entres are Mexican-American and inexpensive. The Salmon Burrito, with Black Beans, Scallions, Basil, and Tomatoes is the most expensive, but at only $7.50 it should be considered a bargain. Several sandwiches offer a twist on deli classics like smoked turkey and the b.l.t., and all are under $5. They come with couscous salad flavored with cilantro and lime -- the perfect food for an oppressive, humid afternoon.

Adventurers might want to try one of the "exotic" pizzas, priced at $5.75 or $6.25, like Roasted Eggplant, Hummus, Red Onion, Mozzarella, and Goat Cheese, or Fresh Basil, Polenta, Peppers, Tomatoes, Mozzarella, and Romana. Unfortunately, Moka's tasty garlic pizza has been taken off of the menu. Any garlic lover who goes there to find that it has reappeared should definitely give it a try; it will leave you tasting (and tasting of) garlic for the next 24 hours.

Of course, there are such disturbing options as the Pineapple Ginger Roasted Malibu Chicken Wings With Honey-Chili Yogurt Sauce (Yes, this lengthy title belongs to a single dish.) for $5.50, the most expensive appetizer on the menu, and the Brie, Fresh Pear, and Watercress sandwich for $4.50. The management also seems to think that everyone who would eat a dish with "veggie" in the title must like eggplant, but there are plenty of other vegetarian options for those who do not fit that description.

To further fit the Californian profile, there is no beef on the menu, and all espresso drinks are available in decaffeinated form. The variety of drinks expected from a '90's caf is available here, including plenty of frosty, frothy beverages to battle the sultry summer weather. This is where the overpricing happens, as some of the more elaborate concoctions cost $3 or more -- typical for such drinks, but that does not make it reasonable. Of course they serve regular coffee, at a regular price, as well, and it is very good.

The menu claims that the place is reminiscent of a Malibu Beach caf. With its eclectic, wildly colorful dcor it would more likely be found on Venice Beach, but that is a picky point, and in the restaurant's favor besides. When the heat isn't blistering, you can sit at an outside table watching skate rats do their thing at the edge of the shady brick walk of the Southwest Corridor for even more of a Venice feel.

This is a great choice for a light meal in Copley Square, which is otherwise largely devoid of good, inexpensive restaurants. It would be the perfect place, for example, to sit and talk about 32 Films About Glenn Gould after seeing it at the Copley Place cinema, or any time you want to get off campus and hang out in the Back Bay for awhile. It's good, it's cheap, and it may make you think of cooler, brighter shores.