XA Sweet and Savory Cafe
424 South Main Street
Orange, CA 92868
My parents were headed to Ruby's on a recent Monday night, so that left Katie and I to fend for ourselves on our usual night when we eat at my parents house. We still had to go bowling, so I scoured my list of places to eat in between Katie's work in Irvine, and the bowling alley in Anaheim. One place jumped out at me, with a note I had made next to the name of the restaurant. I had written, "apple pie cookie", in the margin of the paper, and that was good enough for us to head to XA Sweet and Savory Cafe.
I have read about XA Cafe about a dozen times in the OC Weekly. This seems to be one of their favorite places to eat, as I have read about their menu changes, best of lists, chefs interviews, and of course their cookies. Keep in mind that this restaurant has only been open for a year and some months now, so all of this press is quite rare for a new restaurant. I was pretty excited to see what all the hype was about.
XA Sweet and Savory Cafe is a few blocks away from Main Place, in the same strip mall as Kaffa, Roma D'Italia, and book-ended by Carl's Jr. and Taco Bell. A few blocks away from CHOC and St. Joesph Hospital's, we saw quite a few medical workers come in during our early evening visit. XA Cafe is named after chef and owner, Shawn Xa, who came over and introduced himself after we were done eating. Shawn definitely has an infectious personality, and it's easy to see why so many people came by to say hello to him, and he knew a lot of his customers by name. When we talked to him, he wanted to make it clear that this is not a health food restaurant, but more of a clean eating spot. A place where you don't have to sacrifice taste by eating clean.
This restaurant is not huge, its pretty quiet, but a comfortable space. Maybe ten or so tables, ordering is done at the counter, and the menu is of the build your own meal style. Sauces and rubs change with the season, so the ones you are about to see in this review have now been phased out for the Spring offerings. This will at least give you an idea of what to expect when you dine here. XA Cafe also features sandwiches, breakfasts, salads, and of course their famous cookies that we will get to later. Let's see if all of OC Weekly's praise is worth a trip here.
When Katie's plate was sat in front of her, I was kind of blown away. This is more like something you would see at a four star restaurant, than in a small place in a strip mall. Even more shocking was the price of the Entree ($8.99). Both Katie and I ordered an entree, which means you get to choose your protein, a sauce or a rub, and then you get two side items. The chicken gets rave reviews here, so that's what Katie went for, with roasted garlic and herb sauce, grilled asparagus, and a garlic noodle. Her first comment when she bit into this chicken was to remark how moist the bird was. The garlic was not too overpowering, but it hung around the background. She was a little worried that the noodles would make this dish greasy, but that was not the case here. The asparagus was fresh, and grilled nicely. When I asked Katie for any negatives about this plate, she could not come up with any. She liked the lightness of everything, and would probably get this again.
Not looking much different from Katie's, I ordered the Tilapia ($8.99). For my sauce I chose the honey spice, which started out sweet, then bit back with a little heat on the back end. I really enjoyed that sauce. The tilapia, like the chicken, was very moist, but did not break apart too easily. For my side items I got the potato cake and brown rice pilaf. The rice was good, with just enough flavor, while the potato cake was a little unassuming. It kind of got lost here, because it was so light. I really liked this plate, but if I was pressed to say something negative, I could only come up with that I wished there was more sauce on the plate.
Right next to the register are numerous kinds of cookies all wrapped in cellophane. I should have written down all of the different kind of cookies that they have here, but I would have been writing for a long time. They had a Bacon Chocolate Chip, a Blueberry, and their most famous cookie, the Baked Apple Pie. I liked the cookies at XA Cafe, but I like a crunchier cookie, and these were more on the softer side. The flavors for the most part were dead on. The apple pie cookie actually did taste like apple, while the blueberry was probably my favorite, as it came across as a blueberry muffin in cookie form. I did not really get too much of the bacon from the bacon chocolate chip cookie though. I'm not going to lie to you, Katie really enjoyed these cookies a lot. She even took home a dozen, which we snacked on for the next couple of days. Insiders tip, if you tell them that it's your first time here, they will give you a free cookie with your meal.
I really enjoyed our visit to XA Sweet and Savory Cafe. The food was real good, the prices were more than fair, and we left here full, but did not have that real heavy feeling walking out the door. My problem with these build your own meal places is that I am always afraid that I'm going to screw it up, and pick something that doesn't go together. That was not the case here. The honey spice sauce seemed like it was made for the tilapia, just like the garlic and herb sauce was perfect with the chicken. I'm positive that if we flip flopped the sauces on the opposite meats, both would work just as well then too. I have a feeling that it would be impossible to have a combination not work here at XA Cafe. We are really looking forward to coming back again soon, exploring the flavor combinations, and finding our perfect one.
Out of five tumors, (because Main Place Mall is right down the street, and part of Kindergarten Cop was filmed there, and that movie had the famous, "it's not a tumor" quote in it), five being best to zero being worst, XA Sweet and Savory Cafe gets 3.5 tumors.
XA Sweet and Savory Cafe has a very limited website, which you can access here: http://xacafe.com/