Since moving to North Orange County several years ago, I haven’t had much chance to try new restaurants opening up south of Irvine. While a lot of South OC isn’t known for it’s food scene I grew up in the Laguna Niguel/Aliso Viejo area and this blog exists partially because of the food there. Urbane Cafe is a sleek modern spot that specializes in it’s house baked foccacia sandwiches; they’ve been slowly popping up around Southern California since 2003. The aesthetic
The Urbane Cafe Gourmet Grilled Cheese & Chimichurri Steak
Urbane Cafe’s house baked foccacia is their staple, it’s a dense and flat Italian bread that has some similarities to pizza dough. It’s not my favorite bread for sandwiches (you’ll read more about that next) but Urbane Cafe’s bread is good right out the oven. It’s warm and soft, thick and billowy, the qualities you’d want in a good blanket in the winter. It works with bread too, but I have to admit that foccacia isn’t at the top of my list for sandwich breads. Either way, their signature bread is good on it’s own, especially when eaten warm.
I tried two Urbane Cafe sandwiches: The gourmet grilled cheese and Chimichurri steak, both on their foccacia bread. This meal was a reminder of why bread plays such an important role in a sandwich, because I had two different experiences with these sandwiches:
Gourmet Grilled Cheese
A grilled cheese sandwich may seem simple, but there are things that make it distinctly what it is. Urbane’s gourmet grilled cheese is filled with ingredients that would make up one hell of a good grilled cheese sandwich, other than the bread. The density and softness of the foccacia makes sense for a lot of sandwiches, but it’s texture muddles the melted cheese too much. I could taste cheese, feel the slight grease and fat of the cheese, but nothing distinct came out of this sandwich. I can see the attempt at making the grilled cheese sandwich seem “gourmet,” but sometimes it’s the simple things that are the hardest to innovate.
As I ate the grilled cheese, I realized that the ingredients have to try a little harder when it comes to foccacia bread. The Chimichurri steak accomplished that with a very interesting balance of pepper spice and subtle sweetness. Urbane Cafe’s house roasted Tri tip steak has a good texture and strong seasoning. The feta cheese really stood out with it’s tangy and salty flavors, especially mixed with the peppery flavors of arugula. The fat of the steak and oil-based chimichurri was cut nicely by the cheese and greens, which is a much needed balance for a sandwich like this.
The gourmet grilled cheese was finished with a tomatillo, a savory green tomato salsa. It’s tangy flavors work well the cheeses and it’s slightly smokey/peppery finish gives the sandwich some character. You don’t quite taste it as much when it’s hot, but I saved half of the sandwich for later. When it cooled down, the tomatillo was stronger allowing for the spice to show more.
The steak sandwich was marinated and covered in chimichurri, An Argentinian sauce of oil, parsely, garlic, and other spices. I like everything that is in chimichurri and the fact that it is covering tri-tip steak doesn’t hurt either. The beauty of it is that it doesn’t mask the meat like a lot of sauces do; It enhances the things that make steak so flavorful. The addition of the cranberry chutney aioli, while I think was unnecessary for a good sandwich, made things more interesting. It’s more sugary sweet and a great pairing with the feta cheese.
It doesn’t always seem like it, but I have a system to collect the necessary data to write these blog posts. A lot of it comes from taking photos and writing notes to be used later. What I DIDN’T notice until it was too late was that the menus at Urbane Cafe didn’t have prices on them. So I really can’t comment on the prices here, but I’d like to think that is the prices were outrageously high (or low) I’d remember it enough to mention it.
I think Urbane Cafe has a lot to offer on it’s menu, some of it works better than others, but it seems like a safe choice for most people. The thing that ties it all together is their bread, which admittedly isn’t my favorite, but it’s still worth your time. You can call me a shill for the baguette fat cats if you want, but I like what I like. Also, as a Vietnamese person, I have a small bone to pick with their “banh mi,” but I didn’t try it, so I won’t comment on it here.
[Click on thumbnail to enlarge sample menu]
Urbane Cafe Aliso Viejo
26921 Aliso Creek Road
Aliso Viejo, California 92656