It's always a good sign when you see owners dining in their own establishment, as I did one evening at Press 101. There were Bill and Orly Whitaker (he the seasoned restaurateur and former owner of the Crispers sandwich chain; she the comely proprietress responsible for Press 101's slick, contemporary style) enjoying classed-up salads, sandwiches and vino with friends under the swirling fans of the café's outdoor patio.
In fact most patrons, if presented with a choice, would opt for the relaxed environs outside, which is decidedly less polished than the jazzy-swank décor inside, with all its eye-candy abstractia. Just staring at the serene waterwall behind the bar can lull you into a catatonic stupor, unless it's lunchtime, when your trance will, inevitably, be broken by the elbow of a leisured 40-something MILF, undoubtedly in search of a table at which to enjoy lunch with her leisured 40-something MILF friend.
Yes, a frenzied scene takes over at the stroke of midday, with a queue snaking out the entrance and lunchers vying for table real estate. Dinnertime is a more subdued affair; an expanded French-inspired menu aims to keep après-work wine-lovers in their seats a little while longer. One such item is the lavosh bread stuffed with filet tips and wild mushroom slivers ($9). The sandwich is cut into quesadilla-like slabs oozing fontina, cheddar cheese and truffle essence, and served with a thick horseradish dip.
Stylishly presented asparagus salad tossed in olive oil and balsamic vinegar ($10) had plenty of substance as well. Texturally perfect green ingots layered with diced tomatoes, tarragon, basil and Maytag blue cheese are livened with liberal use of fresh garlic. Pair it with a glass of floral and citrusy Marlborough Riesling ($11) for a energizing lift.
The soup and sandwich crowd have plenty of options, with baguettes and ciabatta bread providing the canvas for creative renditions of grilled cheese, muffuletta and Reuben sandwiches. Green apple slices lend a tart finish to the smoky essence of the turkey and brie sandwich ($8.50), and intermittent bursts of jalapeño and cilantro temper the sweetness of the mango chicken sandwich ($8.50). The outstanding herbed baguette elevated the flavors of the provolone-gooey French dip ($10), and homemade horseradish sauce gave the ensemble a savory swagger. Hearty vegetable soup ($3.50), comprising a peppery broth of red beans, celery, corn and diced potatoes, is one in a long line of can't-miss soups.
A pastry chef comes in two to three times a week to prepare a bevy of confections. The peanut butter cup ($6), a creamy tart with crumbly graham-cracker crust, bore no resemblance to Reese's, a decent cup in its own right. I also sampled the crepes ($6): The paper-thin pancakes were fan-folded, then bathed with a chocolate-citrus sauce, crunched with pecans and walnuts and flavored with fresh raspberries. A dollop of vanilla ice cream finished it off. No regrets.
I, like many, initially viewed Press 101 as a place to grab a decent sandwich during lunch hour, but after a thoroughly enjoyable dinner experience, I've come to learn that this is not your average sandwich café. Food is clearly the focus here, and it's nice to see the Whitakers so seriously committed to quality. If wrinkles ever did exist, they've all been ironed out.