The Dish List: Panini Cafe

Mary Fouad | New University

In my opinion, there are some cuisines that should not be mixed. Not only is it difficult to blend two distinctly different cultures together in the form of food, but the results usually end up clashing and tasting awful. I mean, what sounds enticing about dipping green beans (Asian) in bleu cheese (French)? Each kind of cuisine has its own flavors and spices that are made to taste delicious, but is best separate. However, one visit to Panini Café convinced me that not all fusion restaurants are doomed to fail. Combine Middle Eastern tradition with European modernity, and you’ll have the diverse menu that is Panini Café.

This Italian-Mediterranean restaurant is tucked away in a quaint dining and shopping plaza referred to as Park Place, just off Jamboree and the 405 freeway. While it’s challenging to find parking in this popular shopping center, the frustration is worth it once you step inside. The restaurant has glass walls and outdoor seating, which gives the restaurant a nice, airy feeling. Various paintings, some of which include camels and Italian architecture, are mixed among each other and carefully placed throughout the restaurant — a representation of the fusion food it offers. The whole restaurant has such a classy café feel that it attracts lots of business, white collar-types on their lunch breaks or well-dressed couples on their date nights.

Panini Café is just as welcoming as its cheery, yet sophisticated, interior design. The hosts are quick to seat you as soon as you approach (and it’s a spacious restaurant, so no worries about waiting for an open table). The waiters are all friendly and accommodating, the bartender makes great conversation if you’re interested in happy hour and my meal was brought out soon after I ordered. I found the food to be sizzling hot, fresh from the kitchen and brought to me by one of the most charismatic waiters I’ve ever met.

The best thing about this fusion restaurant is the diversity of its menu. Offering meal items ranging from panini to salads to babaganooj and kabobs, Panini Café has something for everyone — even the picky eaters like myself. And the best part is that all of it is healthy and made from scratch with fresh ingredients. No dish will leave you feeling heavy and sluggish, despite there being carb-loaded pasta items on the menu.
For an appetizer, I indulged in an order of babaganooj, which is roasted eggplant smothered in garlic and onion. It had a smoky tang that was foreign to me, and the spices almost made me forget I was munching on one of my least favorite vegetables.

For dinner, I ordered their signature dish, the Chicken Panini. One big bite brought the satisfying crunch of the grilled filone and the zesty combination of sundried tomatoes, artichoke hearts, Italian Fontina cheese and pesto sauce. The twist on this traditional Italian dish? The Mediterranean grilled chicken. This panino successfully outdid every other panino I’ve ever tasted thanks to the bursts of flavor and different ingredients not normally used in sandwiches.

I also ventured over to the Middle Eastern entrées and sampled my friend’s Charbroiled Chicken Shish Kabob; it too was juicy and abundant with the right spices alongside rice and a grilled veggie skewer.
Dessert was Banana Bread Pudding, which did not disappoint. The bread itself was moist and rich with banana and chocolate swirls. The whole dish was topped off with a refreshing scoop of vanilla ice cream.
Most surprising was the large portions that Panini Café served. I even had leftovers to take home. The side salad or soup available for each meal was offered at reasonable prices. The café also offers a wide variety of appetizers like the Exotic Hummus Trio and desserts such as tiramisu, and is even open for breakfast if you enjoy omelettes or poaches.

Panini Café’s best feature is the freshness and flavor of their dishes that they (rightfully) boast of. Combine that with prices friendly to your wallet, a gracious staff and a calming atmosphere, and Panini Café is the perfect place to go to for some fusion food.