On a quiet night, Sunroom Café and Gallery (638 State St.) is the ideal place for a charming dinner. This modest restaurant serves basic but creative cuisine in a small, quaint room adorned with artwork of various genres. The art displayed is constantly evolving and consistently brightens up the otherwise utilitarian dining room.
With its homey décor, slim wicker chairs and granite tables, Sunroom feels like a European style café. During the day, the restaurant operates cafeteria style — a blackboard posts breakfast and lunch options and diners serve themselves. In the evening, the cheerful space transforms into a full-service establishment, the ideal atmosphere for a relaxing meal solo or with friends.
The informal establishment features tall pane windows overlooking State Street, offering diners great people-watching opportunities. The menu — a long list of globally influenced dishes — is carefully prepared with farm-fresh ingredients and homemade baked goods. A variety of dishes inspired by Mediterranean and Thai cuisine, as well as the California health-food fad, will be sure to please both carnivorous and vegetarian palates.
We started our candle-lit dinner with the Arabic sampler ($3.95), a round glass plate piled high with babaganoush, hummus and tabouli over a simple garden salad topped with warm whole wheat pita wedges — a rewarding appetizer or light meal.
While the food at Sunroom is always enjoyable, the service lacks consistency. After we completed the first course, our waitress forgot to bring the soup and salad included in the entrée prices. Instead, she arrived with the main courses a bit too early. But once we asked for the remainder of our appetizers, she quickly met our request and apologized profusely.
The house salad, an assemblage of huge leaves of uncut romaine lettuce, sliced carrots, tomatoes and cucumber, comes with a side of dressing — try the fabulously satisfying cucumber yogurt and skip the overly sweetened lemon poppy seed. The soup of the day, a quality cup of tomato bisque, was similar to a creamy tomato marinara sauce — a bit heavy by itself, but when paired with the complementary sourdough bread, it was a homey, comforting starter.
Our entrees were engaging and quite perfect. The almost overwhelming pasta with seafood sauce ($10.95) was spectacular — a lovely bowl of linguine, mussels, shrimp, thickly cut fresh ripe tomatoes and sliced mushrooms, all covered in a super-creamy pesto sauce and garnished with parmesan cheese.
The exceptionally fabulous paella was close to that of southern Spain. This generous but slightly oily sauté comprised of chicken chunks, sliced sausage, large shrimp, mussels and sliced green peppers, red onions, mushrooms and snow peas arrived over a large bed of rice.
The menu lists a number of Thai peanut stir-fry options, with a choice of shrimp, chicken, or vegetable, served with every imaginable vegetable, prepared in a light peanut sauce and garnished with parsley. Each version was equally notable.
The Thai tofu salad ($6.95), a more innovative version of the hot stir-fry, is a melody of romaine lettuce mixed with grilled tofu cubes, broccoli florets and carrots in the same, heavenly peanut dressing. The menu also features dozens of other modestly priced salads featuring grilled toppings.
For the penny pincher, the organic burger ($4.95) is a succulent, inexpensive and filling option — this entrée was immaculately grilled on a hearty homemade wheat roll, accompanied by six large, nicely seasoned oven-roasted potato wedges.
Despite irregularities in service and portion size, Sunroom, even on its most erratic day, never fails to please. For a seamless experience, avoid the student-infested weekend brunch and stop by mid-week.