Secret hideaway a delightful place to dine

If you’ve never heard of the Coast Cafe, it isn’t because the restaurant is a newcomer to La Jolla. Coast Cafe has been serving diners for about 18 years.

Coast Cafe is ensconced in the lobby of the Embassy Suites Hotel, which may be part of the reason some don’t often discover this delightful place to enjoy a leisurely lunch or a fine dinner.

There is plenty of parking at the hotel, and the beautiful atrium-style lobby offers guests a striking welcome before they even enter the restaurant. The lobby features a jungle-like setting with flora and fauna and a rolling brook that wends its way around the center of the space. Large colorful fish swim peacefully by as you pass. If you take the children - you really should - they will have a ball tossing fish food into the pond. You can purchase the food for a quarter from a machine in the lobby.

The interior of the restaurant is attractive and very comfortable, with lots of room between tables. You might also choose alfresco dining on the huge outdoor patio of the hotel. The outdoor dining area is perfectly suited for lunch this time of year.

Food and beverage director Paul Ghahremani has a fine staff and a well-designed menu for the restaurant. You can also see him at the restaurant checking on guests and making everyone feel special.

Coast Cafe offers soups, salads, sandwiches, pastas and a nice sampling of the chef’s signature entrees, such as snapper and chips ($11), mahi mahi tacos with roasted sweet peppers, tomatoes, onions and crumbled cheese ($12), and charbroiled Angus beef piled high with sauteed Bermuda onions, sweet, roasted, red bell peppers and field mushrooms ($16).

Among the interesting starters on the lunch menu are roasted garlic hummus ($5), creole prawn cocktail with a spicy cocktail marmalade ($8) and crab cakes made of Alaskan snow crab ($8). We tried a few appetizer standards on the sampler platter ($7.50). That included crispy chicken strips, calamari and fried mozzarella sticks with a nice ranch dressing and marinara sauce for dipping.

You can have a Caesar salad for an entree ($8) or just add it to lunch as a side dish ($5). It is one of several enticing salads, including a Pacific Rim and a gyro salad. Any of them can be topped off with charbroiled chicken ($3), broiled bacon-wrapped shrimp ($6), New York steak ($6), flame-roasted prime rib ($6) or skewered shaved lamb ($4). Not a bad selection for people who like to design their own salad.

Palakia swordfish is available on

bruschetta for an appetizer at $8, but we decided to try a swordfish steak on a sandwich. Priced at $11, it turned out to be a huge slice of swordfish, with lettuce, tomato, red onion and pickle, served on a hefty onion roll. The chef will prepare your fish the traditional way or blackened.

Another excellent sandwich selection on the menu is the San Felipe fried prawn sandwich ($12). This is not your typical shrimp sandwich. Instead, it features fried gulf prawns on a grilled hoagie roll. The roll is topped with mild green chiles, avocado and Monterey jack cheese. The dressing served on the side is a tangy chipotle citrus. Try this one if you like your shrimp with a different personality.

All the sandwiches come with crispy potato wedges, fresh fruit, potato chips or homemade potato salad.

The dinner menu offers several great starters in addition to the ones available on the lunch menu. Among those are the broiled bacon-wrapped prawns with a smoked jalapeno barbecue sauce ($9) and crunchy three-cheese quesadillas, made with Tillamook cheddar, Monterey jack and parmesan ($6).

The entree list has seafood, beef, lamb and poultry preparations, all priced in $17 to $27. Four selections are featured under the category of Chef’s Specialties. They include Key West rack of lamb ($27), Mardi Gras chicken with Cajun spices and accompaniments, Texas rib eye ($22), and fresh king salmon sauteed with mushrooms and other vegetables, then tossed with penne pasta ($16).

Angus prime roast beef, slow roasted for seven hours, is a standout at $21, the porterhouse is listed as the restaurant’s finest steak ($26), and mahi mahi Samoa ($20) puts island fruits and flavors into the mix.

Coast Cafe is in the Embassy Suites, 4550 La Jolla Village Drive. For more information, call (858) 431-2113.