I’ve yet to try dinner at What a Dish Cafe in Dana Point, but not from a lack of trying. One Sunday evening, I made the long trek from central OC. I thought that if we arrived at least half an hour prior to the 10 p.m. closing time advertised on their website, I’d be able to get in before last call. But alas, the restaurant was already dark, the doors locked. I called the next morning and found out that it’s only open until 8 p.m. Thursdays through Sundays. The rest of the week, the restaurant is closed by 5 p.m.
Later, I told the friend who recommended the place about my failed dinner attempt. He said he’d never thought of the restaurant as serving anything other than brunch. Now, I’m not so sure anyone actually goes to What a Dish Cafe for dinner. Judging by the crowds I saw the two times I visited during the morning hours, I think everyone was of the same mindset as my friend. People dug into omelets and sipped Bloody Marys from 32-ounce mason jars that might as well be jugs. Every seat was taken.
Those who weren’t there to eat breakfast were flipping through an album of wedding cakes, since What a Dish Cafe is also an event caterer called It’s All About the Cake. As proof that the place does double duty, stickers from the Knot website were displayed as prominently on its window as the ones from Yelp. It also probably helps the catering side of the business that the café resembles something you’d see in Martha Stewart Living.
But as far as I’m concerned, What a Dish Cafe is all about the benedicts, especially the one titled the East Coast, which has crab cakes in it. If I were served its components separately, each would still stand up on its own. The crab cakes were perfectly pan-seared and absent of any filler, the cooked asparagus spears were crisp and verdant, the poached eggs bled yolk-y lava, and the hollandaise didn’t overpower. But most important, the English muffin seemed to have been griddled to a browned crust in the same way that In-N-Out does its buns.
There were roasted fingerling potatoes on the plate as well, but since they tasted more steamed than roasted, they became background noise to the contrasting textures and flavors of that divine Benedict. I should probably tell you that you’re going to encounter these potatoes no matter what you order here. Virtually every dish includes them, even if it doesn’t say so on the menu. I didn’t expect anything to come with the huevos rancheros, but there they were, peeking out from underneath two discs of the lightly fried corn tortillas that sandwiched the black beans.
Frankly, the huevos rancheros could’ve done without the potatoes. It was already struggling—the draping of salsa couldn’t quite assert itself over the richness of the sour cream, cheese and fried egg. But then, maybe the mildness was by design. This is Dana Point, after all, and I’m not sure a salsa that registers even a blip on the Scoville scale would go over so well here at 9 in the morning.
Where the potatoes worked best was as a side to the El Capitan omelet, a flotilla of fluffy egg embedded with onions, tomatoes, cilantro and jalapeños, with tender shreds of beef short rib folded between the curds. One dish that didn’t come with potatoes was the brioche French toast. But you should probably skip it since the best part of the dish were the two shiny Aidells brand chicken sausages that came as a side—and you can order those separately.
I’ve also yet to see very many people ordering the sandwiches or the pastas here, but the Jordo Gordo—a slider with a dense grass-fed beef patty, a slice of Ortega chile, bacon and pepperjack cheese—was surprisingly satisfying. The next time I go, it’ll be for the fresh-baked muffins. The strawberry seems the most popular. I saw the couple next to us share one and immediately realize they probably should’ve ordered two when they got down to the last crumb.
I’ll also return for What a Dish’s exceedingly cordial wait staff. The hostess actually remembered us from the week prior. And on our last visit, our server gave our pooch a complimentary dog biscuit, even though the restaurant actually sells them for $2.50 apiece. It’s obvious these folks are morning people; so why did I even bother trying to catch them at night?
What a Dish Cafe, 24921 Dana Point Harbor Dr., Ste. B100, Dana Point, (949) 276-4884; www.whatadishoc.com. Open Mon.-Wed., 9 a.m.-5 p.m.; Thurs.-Sun., 9 a.m.-8 p.m. Brunch for two, $30-$40, food only. Beer and wine.