Saturday, May 04, 2024

Hello Kitty Grand Cafe (Irvine, CA)

The Bow Room at Hello Kitty Cafe
860 Spectrum Center Dr, Irvine, CA 92618
Sat 05/04/2024, 05:35p-06:40p

Hello Kitty Grand Cafe Exterior

I recently attended a birthday party in Irvine, and following the fête, made my way over to The Spectrum to check out Hello Kitty Cafe, which I'd been intrigued by ever since its opening in September 2018. My visit was especially well-timed given that Hello Kitty celebrated her 50th anniversary this year, having been created by Sanrio in 1974. HK Cafe actually comprises two distinct spaces. The first is the cafe portion, which offers a menu of cute pastry items and non-alcoholic beverages. However, I was here for The Bow Room, an area in the back that serves both afternoon tea and transforms into a cocktail bar in the evening. Reservations are strongly encouraged for both experiences, and book up surprisingly quickly.

A bit of history: The story of America's first Hello Kitty Café actually begins with Hello Kitty Kitchen and Dining in Taipei, Taiwan. In 2009, Hello Kitty superfan Urania Chien visited the spot with husband Charles Chien, and following, decided that she wanted to team up with Sanrio and start a similar concept in the United States. She thus began contacting the company relentlessly for licensing rights, and in 2014, they capitulated, and allowed the Chiens and their partner Allan Tea (of Irvine's Capital Seafood Restaurant) to launch a food truck. The Hello Kitty truck debuted at the first-ever Hello Kitty Con that October, and was a near-instant hit, eventually spawning a second truck focused on East Coast operations.

Its success also allowed for the opening of a shipping container-based Hello Kitty Cafe at The Irvine Spectrum in July 2016. This was followed in April 2017 by the debut of an outpost at Arcadia's Westfield Santa Anita mall, though it shuttered a year later. Meanwhile, a Hello Kitty kiosk at the Victoria Gardens shopping mall in Rancho Cucamonga bowed in late 2017, but appears to have been shut down by early 2019. The shipping container in Irvine closed down in January 2018 and relocated to the Fashion Valley mall in San Diego that May, operating for about a year. The reason for the relocation was that Hello Kitty Cafe was moving into a permanent home at The Spectrum, which is what we see today.

There was also a Hello Kitty Mini Cafe at the Santana Row development in San Jose, which lasted from June 2018 until early 2020. In addition, Las Vegas boasts two HK locations, one at Park MGM (open July 2019) and one at Fashion Show Mall (open July 2022). However, in these cases, I don't believe that Tea and the Chiens were involved.

Hello Kitty Grand Cafe Interior
Here we see the actual café portion of the business, which was actually much smaller than I'd pictured, and surprisingly, didn't contain any seating.

The Bow Room at Hello Kitty Grand Cafe Interior
After being let into The Bow Room, I was placed at the leftmost position at the bar. Shown above is the view from my seat.

The Bow Room at Hello Kitty Grand Cafe Cocktail List The Bow Room at Hello Kitty Grand Cafe Mocktail List & Wine List Hello Kitty Grand Cafe Menu Hello Kitty Grand Cafe Merch Menu
And now we see The Bow Room's cocktail list, mocktail offerings, and wine options. You also get a selection of theme-appropriate sweets and, naturally, Hello Kitty merch. Click for larger versions.

Tarobly Cute
Tarobly Cute [$18.00] | aquavit, taro oatmilk, vanilla, salted cream, nutmeg
I chose my first drink primarily for its use of akvavit, which I didn't expect to find at a Hello Kitty-themed cocktail bar. The spirit's trademark caraway was pretty restrained, and instead, the focus was the back-and-forth between the nuttiness of oats and the unmistakable sweetness of taro, with the aquavit's herbaceousness peeking through on the back end. Meanwhile, I detected a bit of a salty edge imparted by that cream, as well as the cozy warmth of nutmeg.

birthday cake
birthday cake (cut open)
birthday cake [$9.50] | vanilla bean cake, sprinkles, buttercream
I ordered a few sweet treats with my drinks, and this birthday cake fit the bill. It wasn't overly sugary as I'd feared, was fairly moist, and did a pretty good job capturing the essence of the classic dessert.

Let's Taco 'bout Hello Kitty
Let's Taco 'bout Hello Kitty [$21.00] | tequila, mezcal, blood orange, agave, lime, warming spices
Served in a Hello Kitty tiki mug, this next cocktail presented smoke and citrus at the fore, accented by smidges of heat and sweet spices.

5 piece macaron set (box closed)
5 piece macaron set
5 piece macaron set [$17.50] | strawberry, passion fruit, vanilla, pistachio & chocolate
Given my penchant for macarons, this was a must-try for me, and turned out better than I expected. Texturally, the confections featured delicate, shattery, uncommonly nutty cookie shells, while their fillings tended toward robust and jammy. I will point out that the yellow macaron was lemon-flavored, not the advertised vanilla.

Matcha Sour
Matcha Sour [$17.00] | japanese whiskey, matcha, lime, aquafaba
In my third cocktail, the earthiness of matcha linked up easily with the concomitant earthiness of the whisky, the whole thing perked up by hits of citrus.

chocolate chocolate cake (in the box)
chocolate chocolate cake
chocolate chocolate cake [$9.50] | chocolate cake, chocolate ganache, dark chocolate layers
The requisite chocolate cake delivered texturally, as well as with its rich-yet-restrained notes of cacao.

Kyoto Old Fashioned
Kyoto Old Fashioned [$16.00] | japanese whiskey, fennel citrus syrup, vermouth
For my final cocktail, I wanted something boozier, hence this old fashioned variation. I found the drink citrusy and herbaceous on the nose, while taste-wise, the fruitiness of the whisky really made itself known when taken against a backdrop of fennel and vermouth. Also, do note the ice cube, engraved with a special 50th anniversary Hello Kitty motif.

sugar cookie - 50th anniversary
sugar cookie [$5.25] | butter sugar cookie with royal icing
Last up was a special, all-pink 50th anniversary edition of the cafe's standard Hello Kitty sugar cookie. Think crisp, crumbly, and not too sweet, with most of that sweetness coming from the icing. I will say that the biscuit was somewhat difficult to remove cleanly from its plastic wrapper.

Hello Kitty Cafe Bag
A very befitting bag was provided for my leftovers.

I came here mostly for the novelty factor, like many other people I'm sure, but the cocktail bar experience turned out better than I was anticipating, although admittedly, expectations were low. The drinks weren't overwhelmingly sweet as I was afraid they might be, while the desserts were of decent quality, though food-wise, I'd prefer more savory items, as they'd be more conducive to drinking. Service, headed up by my bartender Patrick, was also very friendly. It turns out that Hello Kitty and booze is a pretty good combination.


Blogger H.Peter said...

As a patriotic Austrian with maybe the best patisserie creations in Europe, I am going to sit this one

Saturday, June 29, 2024 10:04:00 PM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

Haha indeed. Now is Hello Kitty popular at all over in your part of the world?

Monday, July 01, 2024 8:37:00 AM  

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