27741 Crown Valley Parkway #329-23
Mission Viejo, CA 92691
It's hard to review a restaurant that is located in the Kaleidoscope and not mention my thoughts of what is wrong with this shopping center, which is situated overlooking the 5 Freeway in Mission Viejo. It's especially difficult now since you can see that the people that run this center, some would say cursed shopping center, are really trying.
We've made a few recent trips here and the escalators have been working fine each time, which was a big gripe I've had with this two-level shopping center. Yes, the lighting in the underground parking structure is something right out of a horror movie, and the lack of good retail stores and giant anchor retailers is something that is really holding this center back. You can still see them trying to make this ill-conceived center work.
Besides the functioning escalators, the big addition at the Kaleidoscope is, of course, Union Market, which is a collection of small, independent retailers, and more importantly to me, specialty restaurant and food purveyors. I'd guess that the biggest draw to Union Market is the Portola Coffee Roasters, and for me, a non-coffee drinker, the fantastic Mr. Holmes baked goods that they sell there. The cornflake cookie and the salted chocolate chip are amazingly good, as long as you get there early enough to grab them before they sell out. This visit to Union Market was not for coffee or cookies, but to give one of their restaurants a try and meet up with my aunt and uncle for a long overdue dinner. We decided to give R.T.E. a try.
R.T.E. stands for Ready To Eat, and this is a barbecue on a stick restaurant. With the exception of their ramen and sides, everything comes on short skewers here. The skewer portion of the menu is divided into three parts, land, ocean, and garden. Prices range between $1.95 to $4.95 for the scallops, and they do offer a combo which includes three skewers, pickles, and your choice of rice or salad. They also offer a happy hour in which pre-selected skewers are priced at a dollar off, and so are all the sides. Happy hour is every day from 4 to 7pm. Other menu items include sides like salads, peppers, rice, tater tots and more. They also have a couple of dessert items, and be sure to check the chalkboards behind the bar for other specials they are running. Let's see what we ended up ordering on this evening.
The food at R.T.E.came out to us in waves and the first group was some of the sides that we had ordered. It might have been because I was pretty hungry, but the Tater Tots ($5) really satisfied. These little barrels of potato came out perfectly, crunchy on the outside and soft inside, with a touch of truffle sea salt to keep things interesting. The House Salad ($6) was underwhelming. A spring mix of leafy greens was paired with a very mild sesame dressing. The dressing needed to be punched up a bit in the flavor department to make it more noticeable. The Shishito Peppers ($6) were a pleasant surprise. They were lightly fried, dusted with a little sea salt and had a great flavor. There were a couple peppers in there that really packed some heat. The Edamame ($4) was fine, but I did not really get my fair share of them because my cousin Chris had a big pile of the empty edamame pods stacked on his plate, almost to eye level. Thanks for sharing Chris.
Both Katie and my aunt Hiroko got a Bowl of Tonkotsu Ramen to go along with their skewers. Hiroko is a ramen expert, and she really enjoyed this version, which is not on the regular menu but was listed as one of the specials on the blackboards behind the bar. It featured a hard-boiled egg and plenty of green onion. A perfect vehicle for a rather chilly evening.
To be honest, I was not totally full after our skewers, so Katie went back up to get me a few more meat options, and she also came back with a few more things. I liked the Brussels Sprouts ($2.95) but thought they needed to be cooked a little more, as they were kind of hard to bite through. The Fried Plantains ($3.95) were mushy, but Katie seemed to like them well enough. The Hojaldre ($2) which is listed on the menu as a Panamanian fry bread was good, but it needed a little something else to go along with it. The second round of sides ended up not being as good as our first.
R.T.E. was good, but not really great for big eaters like me. I liked the food here, but I did not think it was a great value for what we paid. Not sure how we ended up paying $95 for our first round of food, even though it was happy hour. With the five of us it worked out to almost $20 per person, and I still had to go back and have another two chicken skewers and some of the sides that Katie got on her second go around. The sides, for the most part, were okay, but the standouts for me were the peppers and the tater tots. As far as the proteins, the red meat options were best, but the pork belly was overcooked and did not have that characteristic pork belly feel that I have come to love. One thing that did shine at R.T.E. was the people that they have working here. Service was first rate, and they made sure we had everything that we needed during our stay, even though we were seated behind the restaurant, out of their eyesight. Pretty impressed. Just like we are impressed with some of the changes going on in the Kaleidoscope Shopping Center within the past year. At least they can say that they are not the worst shopping center in OC anymore, that honor now goes to the Anaheim Garden Walk by a mile.
Out of five remote controls, (because RTE is also the abbreviation for the public broadcasting system of Ireland), five being best to zero being worst, R.T.E. gets 2.5 remote controls.
For more information about R.T.E., head to their website here: https://www.rterestaurant.com/