Hyatt’s TusCA: An Oasis For Italian In Orange County

Spinaci-Ricotta (bread-based) Gnocchi with Brown Butter, Sage Cheese Vellutata

It seemed to be sort of a mission when I was asked to do a tasting in Orange County – but it wasn’t the first time. I’m intrigued, though, when there’s enough confidence to invite writers to dine inside a chain (albeit somewhat upscale) hotel. Perhaps there’s enough substance there to warrant a splash. Or clatter.

Suspended "glass bubbles"
Suspended glass bubbles

The garnishes at the bar and even some of the herbs used in the kitchen are grown in their burgeoning roof-top garden. They stress that it’s small but I can appreciate any and all efforts to keep ingredients as local as humanly possible. And despite their hotel chain business structure, you can see that TusCA in its 3rd, U.S.-wide Hyatt installment differs with their added focus on using fresh ingredients. The Antipasti are solid – homemade marmalade, real honeycomb, homemade garlic paste, cornichon, whole grain mustard and fig jam round out your cheese, charcuterie and bread accompaniments.

Market Salad With Sweet Basil Vinaigrette

But as it turns out, there’s something special inside this glass-encased super hotel that – dare I wax Los Angeles behind the Orange Curtain here? – is very Beverly Center. As your silverware clinks against your china, there’s an echo to follow each and every clang. But none of this is to discount the originality and inventiveness of the bread-, not potato-based, gnocchi. Still rich and indulgent but not overwhelming – as often the potato gnocchi are – and still packed with amazing flavor.

Funghi Misti Pizza

And TusCA does well with the basics, too. The roasted tomatoes (not to be confused with the sun-dried variety) are delightful bursts of flavor in the Market Salad, dressed with Sweet Basil Vinaigrette. The flatbread Neopolitan pizza is solid. My favorite was the Funghi Misti – topped with amazing Fontina cheese, a little Taleggio and thyme and a variety of mushrooms are deliciously roasted into the pie. There’s a good selection of toppings and all are pretty fabulous, including the original TusCAn (Marinated artichoke, roasted garlic, olives and mozzarella) and Prosciutto (Asparagus, tomato, mozzarella and egg). Of course, it’s the flatbread that forms the basis of each pie and their fire brick-roasting oven is no detail to their success.

Seared Halibut, thyme, fennel and orange salad

The seared halibut was also a surprise with how well it was prepared, with the citrus in the side orange salad complimenting the still-tender, juicy filet. A solid Secondi, overall.

Affogato (Vanilla Gelato, Espresso and Shaved Chocolate)

Rounding out the end of the meal was an impressive rendition of Affogato al Cioccolato, with real shaved chocolate and a strong shot of espresso to pour over our vanilla gelato. As with all affagato, just be quick to eat the delicious dessert before it melts away.

TusCA is a surprising oasis in a well-appointed chain hotel whose clientele waffles between Disneyland visitors and perhaps Disneyland (or other) corporates. Just above the restaurant were the plans for EuroDisney conceived and developed in former office spaces-turned-suites. So there’s no mistake that the space indeed is very Orange County – but thanks to Chef Laura De Martin and Executive Chef Sayed Moalemi, the cuisine itself will take you to North Italy.

All food and wine were hosted. Additionally, a night’s stay was provided.

TusCA – Hyatt Regency Orange County
11999 Harbor Blvd
Garden Grove, CA 92840
714.740.6047

Dinner menu

Breakfast: Mon – Sun: 6:30 AM – 11:30 AM
Lunch: Mon – Sun: 11:30 AM – 2 PM
Dinner: Mon – Sun: 5 PM – 10 PM

Touring Little Saigon With Chef Danhi

Rarely do I travel to Orange County – willingly, that is – for anything other than family-related events or weddings. I know – I said “travel.” It’s just so far. But when I got invited to a Northern Vietnamese food tour, my interest was piqued. Where else to learn about Vietnamese food than in the largest and highest density of congregate Vietnamese outside of Vietnam?

We started out at Lee’s Sandwiches with a refreshing, sweet coffee and of course a bánh mì to start. It was a good, spicy sandwich and left my lips burning afterwards! What I like most about bánh mì is the combination of daikon and pickled carrots. But there was just the right amount of sweetness in this sandwich and it was easy to bite.

Pork sungAfterwards, we roamed around the Vietnamese grocery store and got our education by the very knowledgable Chef Robert Danhi. We started off in the front, where they sell beef jerky and other preserved foods. The beef jerky was reminiscent of my childhood, actually, because it is much the same as Chinese beef jerky my family and others’ would commonly gift one another. It’s fuzzy, a touch spicy and has always been more favorable to my palate than the salty Pemmican ever was (the price point also reflects this). It was followed by an Americanized (read: sweet) BBQ jerky, which was tasty, and by pork sung. Pork sung – that is, shredded pork – is an interesting texture if you’re not already familiar with it. One thing I’ve always liked to do is insert a tuft of pork sung in my Pillsbury Crescent Rolls before rolling them up and popping them in the oven. 😉

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