Review: Caroline’s Café at UCSD Scripps Institute

Caroline’s Café serves up healthy options at the UCSD Scripps Institute.

Caroline’s Café Exterior

Caroline’s Café serves up healthy options

Unexpectedly nestled on the water’s edge of the UCSD Scripps Institute of Oceanography Seaside Forum, Caroline’s Seaside Café fits the bill. The restaurant is another winning concept from local culinary guru Giuseppe Ciuffa, who also owns the Museum Café located in the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, the Sculpture Court Cafe located adjacent to The San Diego Museum of Art in Balboa Park, and his own tremendously successful Fine Catering business.

Just steps north of the La Jolla Shores beach stands a simple and contemporary eatery, where you are welcome to enjoy breakfast or lunch while soaking-up the endless ocean views extending far beyond Scripps Pier. Caroline’s is an excellent example of the healthy spirit that continues to define Southern California lifestyle. Here you will find plenty of UCSD students and faculty, as well as beachgoers, surfers, tourists and local foodies. Each may enter with a different objective, but none will leave without bolstering their happiness and savoring a meal meant to satisfy every craving, without sacrifice for quality and taste.

Caroline’s atmosphere is reflective of the UCSD Seaside Forum, with a relaxing contemporary look and a laidback feel. The outdoor patio boasts a bistro-style charm and is the perfect place to dine alfresco, soaking up the warm sun under a tall terrace, complete with an up-close and personal view of the grand Pacific. Want a respite in full shade? Choose to sit at a table lining the walls in a modern and spacious indoor space with an equally impressive and breathtaking ocean view. The interior décor is based on the environment surrounding the building, and focuses on fresh and crisp seaside colors with lots of warm wooden accents.

Bring a group of friends and take a minute to scan the simple and focused menu. The cafe features a fresh selection of daily, seasonal specials. The healthy and creative California-style cuisine focuses on organic and sustainable sources, as well as hormone-free meats and poultry.

“First and foremost the food is clean,” Ciuffa said. “Everything must meet the strict UCSD requirements. This place is a machine. It’s always busy with lines around the building during the peak hours.”

I was lucky during my visit one Saturday, as there were plenty of seating choices between the morning and lunchtime rushes, but it’s clear that Ciuffa has a long-standing group of UCSD regulars.

“Everything on the UCSD campus is health-oriented,” he explained. “The days of surfer dudes eating burritos is over. Now it’s scrambled eggs and healthy food.”

Because of its location, Caroline’s gets a variety of athletes stopping in daily, including cyclists and runners, as well as locals who simply just love to walk the beach. These diners crave fresh and “clean” food.

The café serves my preferred Bird Rock Roasting Company espresso drinks and fresh baked goods at the front counter all day. An excellent morning meal is the Mediterranean egg scramble, with feta, tomato and garden basil, accompanied by fruit, or potatoes and toast. A great lunch choice is the natural turkey Cobb salad, with hormone-free turkey, organic leafy greens and eggs, bacon, pickled onions, tomatoes, avocado and blue cheese dressing. My favorite choice is the pan-seared salmon salad, with organic greens, avocado, pineapple salsa, toasted sesame seeds and a tangy citrus vinaigrette. For a more hearty meal, order the Mary’s Farm Panini, with Mary’s Farm Chicken, tri-color peppers, onion, Swiss cheese, baby greens and balsamic vinegar. Another popular item that’s great during any part of the day is Caroline’s Parfait, featuring house-made granola, berries and low-fat organic vanilla yogurt.

Ciuffa uses the seasonal touch, ensuring the menu changes often to take advantage of the freshest local ingredients. His personal and favorite place to pick up produce is the locally owned Chino Farms, and he also is a member of the Specialty Produce Farmers Market Program, where he can pick and choose his menu items.

“I like to create all of the menus in my business,” Ciuffa said. “My idea of healthy eating is to incorporate everything your body needs: protein, fat, grains and fruit. When I put together a dish, I make sure every category is included. I don’t believe in diets, I believe in discipline and regime.”

As an avid cycler and outdoorsman, it’s clear that Ciuffa takes this philosophy seriously. And it appears that many of his patrons have the same idea.