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Road Trip Review: Panini Cafe, L'Hirondelle, Gabby's, Mas' Islamic Chinese, Tudor House and Others

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Howdy, all! I thought I would give a quick trip report to my visit to Orange County with a side trip into L.A. I had some wonderful finds as well as a few duds, but I hope this information is helpful.

Panini Café – Aliso Viejo: After getting into town and renting a car, I went to my other half’s place of employment and picked him up and drove only a couple of miles to the Panini Café in Aliso Viejo. We were looking forward to a pleasant lunch and the weather was gorgeous. We were seated at a spacious two-top. The menu had a sizable number of Panini choices and I selected the Pesto Chicken Panini and J. went with the Salmon Panini. We also decided to start with the hummus and tzatziki plate. Service was cordial and friendly and we had no problems. Our hummus arrived and the large plate had plenty of goodies on it. The hummus and tzatziki were very flavorful, but the plate was blazing hot and the tzatziki was warm, not cold. Blah. Still, we tried to make the best of it. Our paninis arrived and they were huge, but I was exceptionally disappointed because this wasn’t a Panini, but a sandwich with grilled bread. The individual pieces were fine, but the sandwich was cold in the center and the Swiss cheese wasn’t even close to being melted. The same thing could be said regarding J.’s Salmon Panini. He liked it better than I liked mine, but talk about disappointing. The only salvation was the Cous Cous that was filled with dried fruits and herbs and had a great flavor. The total bill was about $40.00 for a hummus plate, two paninis, and two beverages. A hefty tab for a bust of a meal.

L’Hirondelle – San Juan Capistrano: It was Friday night and we had decided to have a nice evening out. So, we went to L’Hirondelle in SJC, a sort of French/Belgian fusion restaurant. Upon entering, we loved the charming atmosphere and the architecture. We were seated in a booth and noticed how quiet the place was due to the lack of customers. Our server arrived and took our order of the Brie and Fruit Plate, the Beef Bouguignon for me and the Lamb Shanks for J. Our dinners came with a choice of soups. I had the French Onion and J. had the Carrot. Both soups were winners although I would give the nod to J.’s soup. The Brie Plate was fantastic although the Brie should have been set out a bit longer. Still, the fruit and accompaniments were wonderful. My Beef Bouguignon was rich, dark and thick with plenty of beef and vegetables. It was super fresh and delicious. The addition of the Dutchess potatoes to my plate was over the top and I was struggling to finish my meal. J. was enthralled with the lamb and loved the potatoes as well. Due to the richness of the meal, we skipped dessert. Service was attentive. Our total bill was $93.00 including tax and tip and worth every penny.

Mas’ Islamic Chinese – Orange: We had been wanting to get to this place for ages and finally got the chance. I was a bit surprised because I was expecting a strip mall eatery. Instead, I was surprised at how large Mas’ was. The building was massive and the entry foyer was very pretty. I think I shocked the host a bit when I offered him the traditional Islamic greeting. We were taken to a booth and given menus. We pretty much took the advice from here and ordered the thin Sesame Bread, the Five-Spice Beef with Leeks and the Lamb with Pickled Cabbage. We threw in a side of rice. The first thing to arrive was the Lamb with Pickled Cabbage. It was filled with bold flavors and I loved the sour nature of the pickled cabbage. It was a great start. But as much as we liked the lamb, the Five-Spice Beef with Leeks was killer. Wow. What a great dish and packed with flavor. Delicious. But as much as we loved the beef, we were in pure heaven with the Sesame Bread. This was proof of a loving deity. Earthy, salty, nutty. Just wonderful all the way around. (A special thanks to Das Ubergeek for all the suggestions on here!) Our bill was about $45.00 and was cheap for the quality of the food. We had plenty of leftovers and were in love with the sesame bread. Service was okay, but nothing special.

Assal Pastry - Irvine: We decided to have an afternoon treat and stopped into Assal Pastry to get a box of items to munch on through the day. Filling our box with various pastries of all shapes and sizes, we were very pleased with the quality. I thoroughly enjoyed the fruit tarts and the custard selections. A very small shop, but efficient, fair value and very delicious.

Gabby’s Mexican Kitchen – Orange: We made a later reservation for Gabby's and had trouble finding parking but were able to be there on time. However, we were a bit put off by having to wait a while for our table. Twenty minutes after our reservation time, we were finally seated. We were presented with chips and a spicy salsa that we both liked. Our meals started with a House Margarita for me and a Caipirinha for J. Both were delicious and soothed over the wait. We began our meal with the Trio of Empanadas and the Chicken Mole Tostaditas. Stellar on all fronts except I wish the food had been just a bit hotter temperature wise. The mole was wonderful and we were thoroughly enjoying out meals. Our entrees were the Puerco Poc-Chuc and the Chile Rellenos and were supplemented with the Elote Mexicano and the Plantains. Both entrees were very good, although I would have liked the pork to be a bit more tender. The flavors though, were wonderful. We both loved the plantains and the elote which were exceptional. Too full from our meals, we passed on dessert. The total was $86.00 including tax.

Tudor House - Santa Monica: We decided to check out Santa Monica since we hadn't been there in ages and found, due to the pleasant weather, a sea of people clamoring to get onto the 3rd St. Promenade and take in some shopping and entertainment. We headed to Tudor House for a British lunch. We started with some crumpets and jam and enjoyed those. Our entrees included Welsh Rarebit for me and a Ploughman's Lunch for J. Both were decent and were served with a side salad that was enjoyable. Sadly, service was plodding and indifferent. How many times does one have to hear that flatware will be brought out shortly before it actually is? Our meal was about $30 and change. We then ventured over into the British goods shop attached to the restaurant. Some interesting items to be found, but the layout was horribly done and incredibly cramped. We left with nary a purchase and were glad to get onto the street to have some room to breathe. All in all, a disappointing time at Tudor House.

Honda-Ya - Tustin: Ah, was a gem for us. This has become one of our reliable places for dinner and it has yet to disappoint. Our meal had plenty of variety, but the standouts were the Garlic Greens, the Ramen with Extra Port, the Sausages Wrapped in Pork Belly, the Shrimp Shumai, and the Pork Tonkatsu. What a wonderful meal and just a fun evening. Service was quick, efficient and friendly.

So, overall, a great time and some wonderful finds. It is always good to get back to Southern California and find new places to satisfy our hunger.

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Ma's Islamic
601 E Orangethorpe Ave, Anaheim, CA 92801

Honda Ya Japanese Restaurant
556 El Camino Real, Tustin, CA 92780

L'Hirondelle
31631 Camino, Capistrano San Juan Capistrano, CA

Tudor House
1403 2nd St, Santa Monica, CA 90401

Panini Cafe Aliso Viejo
26611 Aliso Creek Rd, Aliso Viejo, CA 92656

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  1. Having just dined at Gabbi's last week I am in pretty close to total agreement with your review. We too thought the drinks were stellar and the starter of empanadas was very tasty. The only miss, and unfortunately it was a big miss, was the lobster and crab crepe with the pipian green verde sauce and creme fraiche. The crepe was much too delicate in the taste department and the sauce was over powering and too bitter to add insult to injury. But good salsa to start and okay chips. We finished with a Mayan Chocolate Tart. I thought I was going to like the tart more than I did. It wasn't bad, just a bit too much of one note (heavy, dense fudge like chocolate).

    They have a huge parking lot out back, so parking shouldn't have been a problem since Gabbi's seems to be the only business in that block open at night from what I noticed.

    1. One additional note about Mas'. They were not enforcing the "no shorts" rule when we were there. We were wearing slacks but there were three other people in the main dining room in cargo or jeans shorts.

      1. Glad you had such good eats!

        I've noticed people in shorts in Ma's lately. It doesn't offend me, I just thought it was interesting the one time I went. I wonder if perhaps a special (and conservative) group were dining in there that one time.

        One suggestion for next time (you are coming back to visit again, yes?): skip Gabbi's and head for Mariscos Puerto Esperanza instead. :)

        1. Totally agree on the two from your list that we've tried, L'Hirondelle, and Panini Cafe.
          Panini Cafe is near us, & opened in my former local fave spot Pasta Pomodoro.
          We went there a month or so after it opened & were mostly disappointed. We tried dishes from the Mediterranean side of the menu, but virtually all were bland ,devoid of flavor. L'Hirondelle was the polar opposite of Paninis.