Sunday, January 13, 2013

Dinner Date With Lola

Lola Gaspar
211 W. 2nd St.
Santa Ana, CA 92701

Every time we come to Downtown Santa Ana, we always leave wondering why we don't come back up here more often. I guess the answer is simple geography, but we are always game to travel for a good meal. It seems that our wish list of restaurants to try always has lots of Santa Ana places on it. Mil Jugos, Playground, Pop's Cafe, and Chimichurri have all been on our list so long, they are floating to the top of it. This place was near the top also, but we can now erase it, because we finally made it to Lola Gaspar.

Lola Gaspar is located in the burgeoning Artist Village area of Santa Ana. If you are unfamiliar with this area,  the Village is located between Broadway and Sycamore, on 2nd. This area of 2nd Street is closed to cars, and this has created a very quiet, urban oasis in this area. Paved with red bricks and a fountain in the middle of the walkway, this area is now home to art galleries, dance studios, theaters and of course restaurants.

Lola Gaspar has been located in this area since 2008. The inside of this restaurant is very small. We briefly walked inside to talk with the hostess, who pointed us to a very cramped table inside, or a more spacious table outside, next to the heat lamps. No surprise, we headed outside. The patio had a great vibe, with all of the white lights strung above it, along with the shrubbery that obscured part of the view of the Artist Village. It was reminiscent of the patio at Habana.

We were meeting up with my good friend Ed, who I have known since kindergarten. He lives in Philadelphia now, and he wanted to check out what was going on in Downtown Santa Ana these days. He was of course running late, as usual, so it gave us plenty of time to check out the menu. Their menu is kind of a mash up of Spanish/Mexican food, that is then tweaked by the chef to include other cultures culinary influences. Very unique, but not on the large side, I knew what I wanted very quickly. Unfortunately, Ed was a half hour late, so we ordered two appetizers to tide us over until he made his appearance.

I ordered one appetizer and Katie ordered one as well. See if you can guess which one I picked out. This is the Cured Chorizo and Goat Cheese Flatbread ($12). Not only did this have chorizo and goat cheese, but the base of this flatbread was whole milk mozzarella, plum tomato, and fresh thyme. When this came out I was reminded of those Stouffer's french bread pizzas that we had as kids, but this one had more pop to it. The cheeses were very fresh, the chorizo had almost a pepperoni quality to it, but was more meaty. The tomatoes were very subdued and the thyme added an earthiness to this flatbread. The bread portion of this was strong enough to hold the contents, but still let the toppings be the star of the show. Not a bad start, and something pretty different.

I guess that after you see this picture you can tell that this is the appetizer Katie ordered. Big shock that I wouldn't order this, I know. At the top of Lola's menu they feature three different market vegetable selections. Katie wanted to try the Roasted Rapini ($6). The rapini came out in a skillet and was joined by reggiano shavings, lemon and olive oil. To be blunt, I was not a fan of this. This had far too much lemon for me, and the rapini was very bitter. Not a good combination. Katie liked this a little better than I did, but probably would not order this again. By this time, Ed had finally made his appearance, so let's see how are dinners turned out.

We might as well start out with my dinner, the Burrito Mojado ($10). This wet burrito came with carnitas and  potato hash inside, and mozzarella, sour cream, and guacamole on top of the burrito. To be honest, when this burrito came out I was less than thrilled. The tomato sauce had a real pungent tomato smell to it. I was also skeptical about the use of mozzarella cheese in a burrito, but everything turned out to be fine with this dish. The sauce actually went well with the inside of the burrito, and the mozzarella cheese blended in here better than I imagined. The inside of the burrito had some tender pork, but the potato hash kind of got lost here. This is not your typical carnitas burrito with big pops of flavor, but it was flavorful and more subdued than other burritos. I also thought all of the ingredients were very fresh on this plate.

Both Katie and Ed ordered tacos at Lola Gaspar. These are the Grilled Rock Fish Tacos ($9) that Katie had. These fish tacos came with a pomegranate pico de gallo, cabbage, and guacamole.  Katie felt these tacos had a fresh, tangy flavor from the pomegranate. She was a little put off by the pomegranate seeds, but she liked the serving size of these. The fish was cooked well, but kind of got pushed to the background with the pomegranate on these.

Ed went for the Pastor Tacos ($10) here. The pork is prepared yakatori style, and topped with cilantro, creme fraiche, and a green salsa. Ed was pretty stingy with this meal, so I did not get a bite of it. He was also was pretty stingy with his thoughts about these tacos, only calling them. "good". Way to be descriptive there big guy.

At Lola Gaspar, they only have two deserts on the menu, so we ordered both of them. The Butterscotch Pot De Creme ($6) was the clear favorite at our table. This dessert was as smooth as Fred Astaire out on the dance floor. The flavor was spot on too. This pudding like dessert had a very good butterscotch flavor, which was not too over the top with sweetness. The Espresso Affogato ($6) was liked by us, but not as much as the pot de creme. I am not a big espresso fan, so my opinion of this dessert could be a little biased. It was a soft ice cream, with hot espresso poured over it, then topped with a good amount of whipped cream. Not bad, but too much coffee flavor for me.

When we came to Lola Gaspar I was not sure I was going to like it. I thought that the menu was going to be too small, and the chances of me getting something I liked was going to be against the odds. The menu is small, but almost everything we tried on this night was very good. Another positive for Lola Gaspar was that it's different from other places we have been to. Sure they have burritos and tacos, but they put their own spin on it. They are not like the burritos and tacos you can get just anywhere. It is also pretty impressive that they make all of their food out of such a small kitchen, with just electric cooking equipment. Maybe because of this our food was served in stages, instead of all at once. My burrito came out first, then after a three minute delay, Katie's tacos came out next. Poor Ed had to wait another ten minutes after that to have his dinner brought out to him. Always a little awkward to have food sitting in front of you, but having to wait for the other food to get to the table. Other than this issue, we had no problems with the service at Lola Gaspar. I have heard that this restaurant can fill up quickly, and wait times can be pretty long. We were here on a weekday night, and had no such problems. Glad we made the trip to Downtown Santa Ana for this restaurant. Hopefully we can get back soon enough to experience other great places in Downtown Santa Ana.

Out of five yellow feathers, (because in the song Copacabana, by the great Barry Manilow, Lola was a showgirl, with yellow feathers in her hair), five being best to zero being worst, Lola Gaspar gets 3 yellow feathers.

For more information about Lola Gaspar, click here:

Lola Gaspar on Urbanspoon

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