Favorite

Tiny, Hidden and Hip 

Liv strives for a certain vibe; it may be trying a bit too hard

Liv is sort of hard to explain. Tucked into the recesses of St Philip's Plaza at River Road and Campbell Avenue, this café and bistro caters to shoppers at the plaza. The menu offers sandwiches with hip-sounding names; salads that are fresh; a handful of breakfast items and smoothies; and coffees, wine and beer. For ladies who lunch, this is a perfect spot to pause from all that shopping at the plaza.

Certainly, Liv fits a niche, offering an alternative to its full-service neighbors (Vivace, Scordato's Pizzeria and Union Public House). Here, you can sit and sip, nosh on something healthful and chat with friends.

The room is tiny but there is a nice patio where several customers were using their laptops. There are paintings by local artists (some a little scary) and plenty of health-related reading material.

When we stopped in for lunch, we had to wait in line to order. The cashier was exceedingly cheerful, but she got it wrong when describing what came with the sandwiches. She said they came with chips, homemade cole slaw or pasta salad. Turns out the slaw and salad are 75 cents extra. No big deal, I guess.

Our other choice was the curry chicken salad ($8.75).

Smoothies are a big item here (as is coffee). We ordered a large Bright Eyes ($5.50) and the Chocoliv ($5.50). Small smoothies are $4.50; add protein powder for $1. The Bright Eyes has nonfat Greek yogurt, O.J., passion fruit juice, banana and blueberries. The Chocoliv has nonfat Greek yogurt, peanut butter, banana, cocoa powder and "a touch of low-fat milk." We were disappointed. The textures were uneven and peanut butter was the forward flavor in the Chocoliv instead of chocolate. (Call it Peanutliv and it might've worked better.)

The Thanksgiving sandwich ($8.25) had turkey, cranberry cream cheese spread, walnuts, tomatoes, romaine lettuce and red onions (there are lots of red onions on the menu) and was served on toasted multigrain bread. It was good-sized, but there was nothing about this sandwich that stood out. The cream cheese was barely noticeable and pecans might've worked better if the idea behind the sandwich are the flavors of Thanksgiving. The 75-cent pasta salad consisted of nicely cooked rotini in a mild dressing, but it was nothing to write home about.

The chicken curry salad also lacked any vavoom! (a wrap with the same ingredients is $8.25). While there was plenty of chicken in the scoop that sat on the greens, there wasn't much curry. The mandarin oranges and cashews added great texture, but the salad dressing was barely there. The menu said all salads are served with a homemade scone; I got four pieces of pita bread.

And the sandwich arrived well before the chicken salad. I'm not sure if that was a service issue or a kitchen issue, but not being able to get two items to the table at the same time seems like bad business.

Breakfast appears to be Liv's strong suit.

From a list of the usual coffee suspects we chose one cappuccino ($2) and one Americano ($2). They came in large, broad cups and we found both to be quite satisfying.

Our food choices were the migas ($7.25) and the stuffed French toast ($7.50), which is served only on Saturdays and Sundays.

The migas consisted of fluffy scrambled eggs tossed with tomatoes and onions and topped with creamy chunks of avocado and the house chile-verde sauce. There was a side of sour cream, which seemed almost unnecessary until you put some on top. Triangles of crunchy, crispy corn tortillas on the plate were the perfect scoop for all the food.

The batter on the stuffed French toast was tempuralike and light as air. Inside, the cream cheese and strawberry jam added hints of sweetness and creaminess. A sprinkle of powered sugar and a drizzle of syrup was all that was needed. The dish comes with a choice of bacon or sausage. We opted for bacon. It was OK, but I wondered if it was real bacon.

There were baked goods (scones and muffins and such; some are vegan) but none appealed to me.

Service was better at breakfast, but there was still a spacey aura about the place. Everyone was nice enough, but it seemed as though the crew was just kind of hanging out. On both of our visits, an inordinately large number of people were working, yet none seemed to be in any hurry to get involved with customers.

The more I write about restaurants, the more I notice that service is lagging in many places. Restaurant owners need to instill a sense of ownership in their employees; to make them feel a part of the place so that they take pride in their work.

The kitchen stops serving food at 3 p.m. but coffee, smoothies, wine, beer and some cocktails are available until closing.

Liv is a nice little spot, especially for the upscale St. Philip's Plaza, but I'm not sure if I'd return. The food was good—but nothing to get cravings for—and the service and attitude were just weird. There are probably a half-dozen places in the neighborhood that provide better, more involved service. Maybe that's just me. I'm sure there are plenty of people who will find Liv Café & Bistro the perfect spot to nosh and chat.

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