MISSION VIEJO, Ca. January, 2012—Entering Coffee, Tea and Tulips takes guests to a more tranquil time and place with flowered tablecloths, stuffed animals, pastel wallpaper, and tea accoutrements in cabinets along the walls. Quaint and cozy as the room may be, the restaurant comes to life with a greeting from Lina or Michael Samawi husband and wife owners.
Michael takes care of the food and Lina handles the front.
The personable and gregarious pair both have roots in Jordan and some of their food is Mediterranean/Middle Eastern. Michael developed his passion for food from his mother who cooked Arab feasts for the family on Sundays. Michael attributes his wide-ranging menu to living in San Francisco with its rich diversity of cuisines (see menu highlights below).
His menu goes from traditional bread pudding to Za’atar, feta, tomato and olive oil on a crusty tart; crepes from Nutella to raspberry chicken breast; Sandweeches from Amman: hummus, tapenade and red pepper pesto to Dormelles: chicken breast wrapped in spinach, Swiss cheese and bacon; and Salades from César’s spicy tuna to spinach strawberry.
The menus, at an ambitious 11 pages, are tucked inside coffee table art books or children’s books. A quirky touch, the books are fun to look at and underline the slow-food philosophy. Coffee, Tea and Tulips is a delightful break from the chains that dominate the Orange County dining arena. They serve delicious, eclectic food made with top quality ingredients at prices comparable to the average coffee shop.
Lina,a Jordan native, traveled as a missionary before moving to the United States. Her ministry took her to countries in that neighborhood not exactly friendly to Christians. Running the front of the house, she takes genuine interest in every guest and makes each feel special. Her warmth and natural hospitality add immensely to the dining experience at the restaurant.
Q & A with Michael Samawi
What are five of your favorite ingredients?
MW Ghost chilis - fresh and dried, sumac, cracked black pepper, fresh lemon, and crisp greens
What sells most at CTT?
MW Our fabulous Scones and Tea. We change scone flavors frequently in order to utilize the best ingredients that each season has to offer! We also have savory versions of our scones that are presented open-faced so guests can see the delicious infused ingredients.
Why “tulips” in your name?
MW Honestly, at one point there were flowers being sold here and we liked that idea! Including “flowers” keeps things cozy and adds more warmth to our beloved concept. Plus… it was Lina’s idea!
Why the creative spelling on your menu, “sandweeches”?
MW This is the spelling in Paris and pronunciation in the Middle East. Sandweeches is what Lina and I grew up with! It’s not a typo, I promise!
What’s your favorite place to dine out?
MW We actually leave Orange County and explore the world around us. In all our travels, our number one dining destination is San Francisco. Tadich Grill is one of our favorites. It is the oldest continuously running restaurant in San Francisco, having opened in 1849 as a coffee stand.
We just love a good story! Although we love living in Orange County, when it comes to cuisine… “I left my heart in San Francisco.”
What’s coming next on your menu?
MW We’ve got big plans for our menu in 2012! Guests can expect many experimental flavors and new flavors not familiar to this area. We’re going to take some risks and we’re confident our guests will welcome the change!
We’ll be creating unique plays on everyday ingredients like pomegranate molasses. We’re pulling more Middle Eastern Spices, heating things up with a dose of ghost chilis and adding more deconstructive elements.
What’s the last book you read? Cookbook or other?
MW Unfortunately, I have no patience to actually sit and read – a downfall of mine; nonetheless, I’ll reference everything, from Facebook posts and links with the hundreds of chefs and culinary people I’m friends with; and the several hundred PDF cookbooks I have on file. I also make it a point to scan San Francisco Chronicle’s homepage on a daily basis to read about the culinary happenings in my hometown Bay Area, looking for new inspiration.
What’s the last thing you learned?
MW How truly simple ingredients can really wow and impress - it’s all in the presentation and the audience palate.
What do you want to learn next?
MW Always wanting to hone my skill and attract new people into our restaurant. I may even start playing with some of these ideas that Ferran Adria is well known for - deconstructing actual ingredients using science.
Queen Victoria Tea $29.95
Tea, scone, Soupe, Tea Sandweeches, Lina’s Salade, fruit and pastry
Roasted Vegetable Medley Sandweech $7.50
Palo Alto Croissant with melted Swiss $6.25
Eggs, red pepper pesto, cheese, avocado, bacon, spinach; tomato
Nutella-Bacon Croissant $7.95
Eggs, feta cheese, green pesto, spinach and tomato
Tea Room $6.00
Clotted cream and imported jam
Salmuera Dip (Catalunia) $4.25
House made anchovy paste on sliced egg with capers and pita chips
Raspberry Chicken $8.50
Greens, strawberry, purple onion, raspberry vinaigrette, candied walnuts
Linzer Torte, apple or blueberry $2.35
Linda Mensinga was editor of Culinary Trends for 15 years, now a contributing writer to Great-taste Magazine. If you have a great restaurant, recipe or food you’d like to share please send an email. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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