3/5 Stars

As a sort of habit, I have a tendency to check Yelp reviews of a restaurant before I eat there. They either offer me a mouth-drooling experience to look forward to, or serve as a proper warning to keep away from their dishes. In the case of Woodfire Cafe, I found myself painfully counting down the days of the week until my plans to finally pay a visit to the restaurant would come. It would be an understatement to say that my expectations were high after taking note of their 4.5 star rating on Google and Yelp.

My friend and I eagerly — but safely — drove down Market Street in Downtown Riverside after a long, stressful day of exams in hopes of eating away the misery of our failed midterms. We arrived after 6 p.m. for dinner with growling stomachs. The evening sky set a cool and comfortable tone for the two of us as we strolled around the corner to find the restaurant hidden alongside a row of other shops in a dull, white building. Upon entering the restaurant, we noticed that only a couple of other tables were silently occupied at the two ends of the room as the waitress gestured for us to seat ourselves.

The interior contrasted greatly with the stark outer image of the restaurant as the walls were coated in a vibrant, deep shade of orange to simulate a warm and homely backdrop. In the dim light, I observed a sporadic array of paintings strewn across one of the walls, which I discovered were displays of local artists’ pieces for sale. Below that, was an Aztec chevron-patterned bench. The opposing wall exhibited a large chalkboard that listed their specials, as well as their list of domestic and imported wines and beers. A full view of the chef tossing slabs of dough into midair before a large, old-fashioned open brick oven was visible behind a counter as well. Overall, the setting was somewhat cozy, yet confusing with what theme they attempted to convey, and could’ve used better lighting.

After reading recommendations on Yelp, my friend and I decided to share an appetizer of fried zucchini alongside a chicken alfredo pesto pizza and the popular turkey, bacon and pesto panini. The fried zucchini arrived in no time to my grumbling tummy’s delight. What my stomach didn’t appreciate though, was that only a stingy handful of six slices were laid out beside a dipping dish of ranch that took up the majority of the space on the plate. Still, I excitedly reached out for a fry, but as soon as it was lifted up by an inch, the over-fried batter casing the vegetable quickly crumbled off. I was left forking up the fried bits to accompany my zucchini that was at least still juicy.

Soon after, the waitress dropped off a plate of what looked like the end piece of a loaf of bread that had been repeatedly run over by a truck as she hurriedly strode back into the kitchen. I decided to give this panini a shot before I completely misjudged it based on its appearance. Aside from the somewhat dry turkey and excessive fat on the bacon, the panini wasn’t quite as unappetizing as I had expected.

By this point, I felt completely deceived by the critics of the online reviews and was disappointed in the quality of their dishes, but then came the saving grace that was the 12-inch pesto alfredo chicken pizza. Though a little too much on the oily side, the pizza crust was just the perfect balance of doughy suppleness and crispness. If you love cheese as much as I do, then you’ll experience a small glimpse of heaven too when you take a bite of the soft pizza only to find yourself pulling apart stretches of gooey, stringy cheese. We can definitely attribute this heavenly pizza to their real wood-burning oven, which lent a rather cushiony texture not found in ordinary pizza ovens.

If it weren’t for the scrumptious chewiness of the pizza, I would’ve immediately declared a proclamation to never return. Although Woodfire Cafe didn’t exactly meet my expectations, what with an almost five star rating it was given, I was still able to eat away my academic stress — goal accomplished! If anything, I will probably return next week to scarf down an entire pizza by myself, when I fabricate more stressful scenarios to eat away