The silverware is piled nicely in a canister on the table. The napkins are a rainbow of jewel toned colors. The plates are mix 'n match, and the decor is pure local artist eclectic.
Welcome to Café Tu Tu Tango.
“We started it because it was fun,” says owner Paul Kraft.
And, from the Spanish Antipasto all the way through the build-your-own S’Mores, the fun is in the food . . . and the place . . . and the people. What else would you expect from a man who left a big corporate job in order to concentrate on his passion? Kraft says, ‘We had 5,000 employees and I couldn’t know any of them. I began investing in restaurants and they began doing well. Now I know the people I work with.’
He also knows his food, like the Sweet Pie Pizza, a dish of Brie, roasted pears and balsamic. ‘We invented it at our house,’ he recounts. ‘just goofing around. It went over big at a party, so I figured, why not try it here!’
‘Here’ is in a place in Orange County known as ‘At the Block,’ where California is perhaps at its best. ‘It’s really a nice, easy-to-get-to area,’ says Kraft. ‘It’s in the center of a lot of things, and the outdoor space is incredible.’
Café Tu Tu Tango has made its mark on that space, and is known as THE place in the O.C. to have a first date. ‘There are several companies that hook people up,’ says Kraft, ‘and they hold their events here. Then,’ he adds with a smile, ‘those couples have their anniversaries here.’ He even cites the example of the couple that met at the restaurant, had their wedding rehearsal dinner there, and, recently, their first anniversary.
Kraft, along with the servers, says they know their patrons by name, and have a lot of repeat customers. They also have nine commissioned artists who showcase their talents during evening events.
‘All of our art is done by independent artists,’ says Kraft. ‘Some are fairly famous, and some do it as a hobby. With our commissioned artists, we get the experience of the live painting—they are all painted live right here, and all are for sale.’
On any given night, you may be treated to an artist at work, a belly dancer, a balloon artist, or a quick demonstration of the tango—you never know what may happen.
It’s that kind of energy and innovation that comes through in the food, too. ‘It’s not pretentious,’ says Kraft. ‘We are casual, comfortable, and everything’s made from scratch.’ The restaurant cuts its own steaks and seafood, makes its own empanadas, pizza dough, and more.
The person behind all of that work is Executive Chef Marco Garcia.
He chose some of the Tu Tu Tango favorites for us to sample, starting with the Baked Crab & Artichoke Dip and the Roasted Red Pepper Hummus, served with the house-made Sangria. The Spanish Antipasto was billed as a Café Tu Tu Tango favorite with Serrano Ham, Spanish chorizo, manchego cheese, olive tapenade, roasted red peppers, marinated artichoke hearts, red onion, all served with warm rosemary flatbread.
Having fun now?
Next was the Grilled Sesame Chicken Salad, with bok choy, napa cabbage, romaine, water chestnuts, cashews and fresh orange segments tossed with tamari-ginger vinaigrette. We moved from there to a local favorite, the Mango Duck Quesadilla, with manchego cheese and mango salsa. The Paella had nice portions of clams, mussels, shrimp, calamari, andouille sausage and chicken all served over a delicious saffron risotto and served steaming hot.
Presentation was clever and fun, including the Oriental Marinated Steak Skewers, drizzled with ginger-soy aioli and the Cuban Steak Skewers—grilled beef tenderloin with a peppercorn rub, served with a poblano mashed potato quesadilla. That’s only two of the six varieties of skewers; you could also go for the Salmon, the Dijon Chicken, the Crispy Shrimp, or the Carne Asada.
Kraft lists the pizzas among his personal favorites, and we tried the Grilled Pepperoni and the Shrimp and Pesto, made with a thin crust recipe and baked in a brick oven.
And, he says the Sopa de Leon, with its roasted chicken, chorizo, celery, garbanzo beans and carrots is, ‘All you’d ever need to survive.’
Finally, there is the dessert presentation, complete with artwork to help you make your choice—one of the local artists did a piece to showcase each selection, and servers now bring that to the table to supplement the menu. ‘It’s our version of a dessert tray,’ says Kraft.
There was the Kahlua CrÃ¨me Brulee. The Almond Flan. Those fun S’Mores with their own mini campfire. Chocolate Cake, Cheese Cake, Crazy Bananas, and more. No wonder people keep coming back—they have to try them all.
Kraft, who says he grew up ‘on the streets of Detroit,’ acknowledges he is fortunate to be able to have fun with his job and tries to give back to the local community. ‘Twenty percent of our art proceeds and all of our golf tournament proceeds go to Children’s Hospital of Orange County,’ he says. “It’s just so rewarding—we visit, and the kids will sit in your lap.’ He adds, ‘It’s hard going in; harder to leave.’
While there are other restaurants franchised with the name, Kraft is not part of that chain. ‘We’re a small company, but do want to expand,’ he says. In fact, they are in negotiations for another location in Arizona.
‘We’re all about creating more value for the consumer,’ says Kraft. ‘We don’t have a lot of turnover; we have good staff, and we have fun. This is the restaurant where all the other restaurant employees come after work.’ He adds, ‘Personally, I’m having a blast. It’s a great environment, and our guests are here to have a good time.’
Let the fun begin.
See our blog from the Los Angeles tour, here.
See the video, here.
Visit Cafe Tu Tu Tango when you are in the Orange County area:
The Block At Orange
20 City Blvd. West
Orange, CA 92868
This is a Raves & Faves Featured Restaurant.