Cafe Tu Tu Tango - dinner - April 6, 2003

In the past two years, I've really come to love the idea of tapas, dining where you order several small appetizers to share rather than ordering one big meal for yourself.  Perhaps it's that I'm used to having dim sum and sushi, but I rather like having many different tastes of foods during a meal rather than just one main course and a side dish or two.  I was introduced to tapas at a restaurant that I started going to in mid-2001, and since then, I've been interested in trying other tapas-based restaurants.  On occasion, my husband and I have even gone to regular restaurants and just ordered several things from the appetizer menu to share rather than ordering two complete meals.

We were at The Block in Orange ( on Saturday, and after having fun for a little while at Dave & Busters (, we did some browsing around the complex and then looked for somewhere to have dinner.  My husband knew about Cafe Tu Tu Tango ( though he hadn't eaten there before.  After perusing the menu posted outside the restaurant, we decided to eat there.

The decor of the restaurant is themed to a painters' loft and also serves as an art gallery.  The paintings hung in the restaurant are for sale, and there were even a couple of painters working on paintings in the restaurant.  After we were seated, the hostess brought over our menus (the full menu can be accessed via the main restaurant website listed above) and explained the tapas concept.  There were paper placemats on the table (more on those later), and the hostess had an ink stamper, and she stamped the empty space on the bottom right corner of the placemat with the "masterpiece drinks" (alcoholic) that were offered.  She also placed a Viewmaster on our table which had pictures of those very drinks, kind of like how they used to show the desserts at Spoons.  When the waitress came by, she brought a bit of hummus with pita bread and two glasses of water in double old-fashioned drink glasses with a small carafe of water for refills.  The smaller bar glasses and carafe made for a much more "artsy" feel to the place, and I really liked that.  There was also a stack of small plates on the table, like bread plates, to use in serving yourself once the food arrived.  Many of the dishes are served on what look like painter's palettes, adding even more to the theme of the restaurant.

Once we had placed our orders (the waitress had us keep one menu in case we wanted to order more later - you don't have to order everything at once), I spent a bit of time looking at our surroundings and further examining my placemat, which turned out to have a glossary of terms on it.  Not only were there helpful descriptions (including definitions of chutney, cumin, fresco, pesto and plantain, among others) but some funny ones as well ("opaque - something you can't see meat").

In addition to the regular menu, there are several special items that change each week, and for every one of these items purchased, $.50 is donated to the Boys and Girls Club of Orange/Santa Ana.  (There are five locations of this restaurant, with the other California restaurant located at Universal CityWalk, and each location has changing specials and donates to a local charity.)  We had ordered one item off this list, the roasted garlic and tomato bruschetta, which was quite good.  We had also ordered the tuna tartare and smoked salmon spread, and being sushi lovers, we particularly liked this dish.  We also ordered the mandarin pork potstickers, which were quite tasty in their citrus-chili ponzu sauce.  There were a number of other dishes on the menu that sounded quite good (including the baked artichoke and crabmeat dip, the sesame seared tuna sashimi, the dynamite shrimp spring rolls, the oriental marinated steak skewers, the spicy mango chicken wings and the Barcelona stir fry).  This is a restaurant we will definitely have to make return trips to so that we can try everything we want.

There is a special menu for children 12 and under, and children are also given not your normal coloring sheet with crayons, but instead, it's a sheet of paper and a small cup of water and a small paint brush.  The sheet of paper has spaces with several different colors, so the kids can dip their paintbrushes in the water, move them over the colored spots, and voila - water color.  How clever that they would give the kids water colors to use rather than regular crayons.

When it came time for dessert, the waitress brought over another separate sheet with the dessert choices. We decided to split the crazy bananas, which was wonderful and more than enough to share.

During the course of our meal, we were alerted to several parties with someone celebrating a birthday.  They would make the person stand up (in the case of a shorter woman, they actually had her stand on her chair), and then they would call for everyone's attention to announce the person's birthday.  No singing, just hollering and clapping and good wishes.  How fun.

In addition to the good food and wonderful service (our waitress kept coming back to check on us to see if we wanted to order anything else, if we wanted more drinks or water, etc.), the ambience and special entertainment are also terrific.  I really liked the music they played in the restaurant, as I'm very partial to 80s music, which is what they mostly played.  During the course of our meal, one of the entertainers also came out.  He stood in the middle of the restaurant and was a fire-eater, so he did a few things, to the applause of everyone.  After he was done, he wandered through the restaurant and turned out to be a magician as well, doing various tricks for different tables.  When he got to our table, he performed a few other tricks, and because we were both wearing Mickey watches, asked us if we were Disney fans, and when we said yes, he mentioned that he also worked in the Entertainment Department at the Disneyland Resort.

At the end of our meal, the waitress also told us about their equivalent of a frequent dining plan. She gave us a card and told us that we could get a stamp for each person at the table during a visit, and once we had gotten 50 stamps, we would get $50 to spend at the restaurant.  As if I needed more incentive to return to the restaurant!

I was very pleased to have discovered this restaurant, and we definitely plan to return.  We spend a lot of time at the Disneyland Resort, and since The Block is only about 10 minutes away further south on the 5 freeway, and with a Dave & Busters there and a Farrell's scheduled to be open in summer 2003, we figure on being there quite a bit in the coming months.

With all the wonderful elements I've mentioned above, this restaurant gets a definite recommend from me.


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