Thursday, February 18, 2016

Eclipsing Our Expectations at Kutsi?

Kutsi Cocina Lounge and Bar
201 North Broadway
Santa Ana, CA 92701

I feel like Chef Chris Tzorin and myself are playing a game of hide and go seek. It seems like I have been chasing this guy all over the county. I never ate at Savannah Chophouse during either of his two stints there. I never made it to Tortilla Republic when he was in charge of the kitchen at that Laguna Beach restaurant either. When I heard that he has moved yet again, I knew I had to make a real effort to try his new place, Kutsi Cocina in Santa Ana.

Kutsi is located in the old Memphis spot in Downtown Santa Ana. Occupying part of the historic Santora Building, I have read glowing reviews for the food here, which is no big surprise when Chef Chris is heading the kitchen. He's become quite the celebrity chef as of late. With appearances on two Food Network Shows, winning some culinary competitions, and lots of positive press for his latest venture, I was pretty excited to make the journey to Kutsi on a recent Friday night, with our fellow food blogging friends, Tom and Daniele.

I'm probably one of the few people that had never made it to this address when Memphis was here. I always went to their Costa Mesa location instead, so I really don't know what kind of changes they made when they took over. I did like the feel of this restaurant though. It kind of had contrasting feels to me, which I liked. On one hand it really conveyed a mellow energy, but then you have the single light bulbs dangling from the ceiling, along with the guitar player set up in the corner, and it helped bring this space to life.

Also bringing the space to life is the menu at Kutsi. Their website describes their food as, "modern Mexican, representing cuisine from all over Mexico". There are plenty of appetizers and starters to choose from and a limited number of entrees. When we talked to Chef Chris, he mentioned that the menu will probably be changed a bit the next time we visit, but he assured us that mot customer favorites will remain, at least in some incarnation. Let's take a look at what we had on this evening.

We were out with Tom and Daniele, so of course drinks were in order. I only took pictures of our first round, as with this couple, I could use up all of my space describing the drinks that they had. Just kidding Tom and Daniele. Tom started things off with the Spicy Margarita ($10). This uses Torado Reposado tequila, which I learned means it's aged in an oak barrel, and also utilizes jalapeno to make it spicy, along with cucumber and lime to help cool it down. Tom drank this very quickly, so I guess I can assume that he enjoyed it. I went with a fruit based cocktail, which is a little out of the norm for me. The very photogenic La Morena ($10) also uses a reposado tequila as its base, and then includes muddled berries, triple sec, lime, and jalapeno. I did not really get the jalapeno heat here, but I do believe it helped balance this cocktail out a bit. More of a one and done drink, I liked this, but think I'd probably try something else on my next trip here. After much deliberation, Daniele selected the La Flaca ($12) for her first beverage of the night. This was made with Partida Blanco Tequila, Partida Organic Agave, and fresh lime juice. She was pretty unhappy with this tart drink, until she got some Sprite to sweeten this up a bit. The sweet soda allowed her to enjoy this until completion.

Before we get to our appetizers, here's a quick shot of the Chips and Salsa that was brought out as soon as we sat down. The chips shined here, as they were more puffy than regular tortilla chips, and they had just a hint of grease on them, which tells you they were fried fresh. I always appreciate when a bean dip is presented with chips, and this was a good one. The salsa is not a spicy one, and it kind of brought to mind the red sauce that was served at the Huntington Beach food stands where I had the iconic strips and cheese when I was a kid. Good flavor, but if you're looking for heat, it's not here.

We actually got this Chorizo Clams ($12) as a mistake, but I was rather happy I got to try this popular starter. We ordered another chorizo appetizer, which you'll see next, but our waitress brought this one out to us first. This rather generous serving of sauteed clams came with one of the best sauces I have had this year, a chorizo crema. I needed a few more toasted points to sop up this delicious sauce. Very well done, even though some of my clams were a little on the gritty side. I'd get this again, just for the sauce.

This was the Chorizo ($10) dish we had originally wanted. I have to admit, this was a little different than what I was expecting. Toasted bread is topped with chorizo, manchego cheese, and a citrus fig jam. This was okay. The fig jam ind of overpowered, and the chorizo kind of got lost in the shuffle. Not bad, but we'd probably skip this on our next visit.

Daniele was not feeling either of these two appetizers, so she selected this Beet Salad ($11) to start with. This good sized salad was made up of baby spinach, oregano, goat cheese, fresh raspberries, candied walnuts, and drizzled with a raspberry vinaigrette. She enjoyed this salad, but enjoyed it even more when she asked for some extra goat cheese to help cut the sweetness. She did managed to finish this salad, while still talking a mile a minute. Very impressive D.

Entrees hit the table next, and let's start with Tom's choice, the Chicken Enchiladas ($12). With the enchiladas here, you have your choice of protein, (beef, chicken, or shrimp), and you also get to choose your sauce, (red, green, or mole). As you can see, Tom went with the mole with chicken inside. He really enjoyed the mole here. It was not as sweet as others, but still added a good flavor to the dish. No complaints from Tom with this.

Katie also got the Chicken Enchiladas ($12), but a different style. She claims that these were in the upper echelon of chicken enchiladas that she has encountered. She loved the green sauce, which provided a lingering heat, the chicken was tender, and she really enjoyed the marinade that it was cooked with. She'd definitely get these again.

With the big salad that she ate, Daniele could only manage to finish one of her three Chicken Tacos ($9). These street sized tacos came out filled with chicken of course, but also, cabbage and a very well done Sriracha creme fraiche. I also spied some onions, peppers, and cheese in these as well. The menu fails to let you know that there are three tacos to an order, and at three dollars per taco, Daniele exclaimed that this would definitely be included on her website as a Dani's Decadent Deal.

One of the most popular dishes according to diners on their Yelp page is this Steak Mole ($22), and after consuming this, I can see why. The steak here was a flatiron, which was encrusted with pistachios. It was placed upon a pile of jalapeno mashed potatoes, and then surrounded by a moat of mole and chimichurri. I found the mole here to be a little less complex than at other places, but that does not diminish it at all. I really enjoyed this simpler version, which went well with the tender flatiron. I was glad it was as tender as it was, because I was not offered a steak knife to cut it. The chimichurri was a nice touch, but kind of got pushed to the sidelines with the mole taking more of a starring role. The potatoes claimed to include jalapeno, but there was no spice here to speak of. Still a very good plate, and one that I hope will remain on their menu after their menu overhaul.

After our dinner, Chef Chris came out and talked with us for awhile, and since Daniele was with us, she also asked for a few dozen pictures with him. After speaking to him for awhile, it's easy to see why this guy is one of the most loved chefs in OC. He's so nice, answered all of our goofy questions, and was so open about his journey so far. He also produces some pretty good food as well. I really enjoyed the time we spent at Kutsi. I thought the prices were more than fair, and the vibe here really meshed well with the Downtown Santa Ana scene. Our waitress Brenda really kept things moving along for us, and you can sense the pride that she has in this place. I'm glad that I finally had the opportunity to catch up with Chef Chris, and look forward to coming back to Kutsi again real soon.

Out of five moons, (since Kutsi means moon in one of the indigenous Mexican languages), five being best to zero being worst, Kutsi Cocina Lounge and Bar gets 3.5 moons.

For more information about Kutsi Cocina Lounge and Bar, check out their website here:

Luna Kutsi Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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