Like an old friend, Calypso Café is back and it’s great to see

There is really no place like Calypso in San Diego and when it was closed for renovations it left a huge void in the dining and entertainment scene. It’s good to have you back old friend.
Cool is hard to manufacture and I can smell it a mile away when a business is trying too hard. Proprietor Gilles Knafo has defined cool at his Calypso Cafe with a dose of soul thrown in to keep things real. Walking into Calypso, you immediately feel a sense of warmth and energy that makes it very easy to relax and lose yourself in the music and delicious food. There is also a very international feel. Knafo is French Moroccan, and you can hear several languages being spoken on any given night.
Live music fills the air seven nights a week at Calypso with a wide variety of genres represented. Songwriting legend Jack Tempchin, who wrote several hits for the Eagles, has a standing gig on Tuesday nights. If you ever want to treat an out-of-town guest to a pure California moment, take them to Calypso on a Tuesday night and stick around until Jack breaks into “Peaceful Easy Feeling.” It’s a good thing. It’s too bad there is not a dance floor at Calypso as many of the bands really inspire movement and people do tend to shake it around wherever they can.
Other nights feature jazz, classic rock, salsa and every Sunday night is reggae night. Local favorites the Mar Dels, Jeff Moore, John Bennett, Michael Tiernan, Triple Shot and the Peter Sprague Trio all have regular gigs. All this talent and regular full houses makes every night feel like a weekend at Calypso. It can be tough to get a table between 7 and 9 p.m., so if that is your desired time to eat I’d suggest a reservation.
Both indoor seating areas are fun though the tables in the bar and music area tend to be a bit more high energy. It’s nice to sit outside on the sidewalk with the music in the background also.
The new Calypso still retains its old-school charm but has some nice new touches including a much bigger bar area. One of my favorite things to do is pop into Calypso early, grab a seat at the bar, order a drink and some food and listen to some music. Easy conversation with new friends almost always ensues and the staff is very friendly.
I have tried just about everything on the menu at Calypso and have narrowed it down to my current top five … that tends to change weekly as Chef Ryan Adams whips up some amazing specials. My current top five starts with Denisa’s Yellowfin Tuna Napoleon with sashimi grade tuna, crab, avocado and mango salsa. Next up would be the mussels. They offer them four ways and all of them are very nice. Henri’s Coq a Vin transports me to a French bistro every time.
The Poisson Au Sel is also named after Henri, who is Knafo’s father, and is a whole sea bass baked in rock salt and stuffed with rosemary. If you are lucky and Henri is around, he will expertly fillet it tableside for you, though the servers are well trained in this procedure also.
I’m also a big fan of the St. Pierre, which is a John Dory with a light, crispy exterior covering a moist and flaky fillet. So that leaves me one more. Why did I limit myself to five? I’ll have to go with Yvette’s lobster ravioli. It’s rich and decadent and very hearty.
Honorable mention goes to Michael’s roasted duck, Anna’s rack of lamb, Donny’s seared ahi tuna, and just about every soup and salad on the menu. I’ve seen roasted quail on the specials menu recently along with an amazing cabbage and sausage soup. I never seem to have room for dessert, but there are some good looking selections.
Entrées range from $18 to $30 and given the total entertainment and dining experience, it’s a good value. Knafo has started a very popular nightly happy hour from 5 to 7 p.m. and on Wednesdays happy hour goes all night long. Lunch will also be an option on weekends starting very soon.
Calypso Café is at 576 N. Coast Highway 101 in Leucadia. Check them out at calypsocafe.net or on Facebook.

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