Just relaxing on an islet in the Caribbean

Friday, December 30, 2011

Coffee, Tea and Tulips

As I entered the small restaurant, the chef gazed intently at me from behind his kitchen counter. Affectionately known as the “Moody Chef”, he can throw down against any expert pastry maker. The clotted cream and scones are handmade daily by this cantankerous culinarian. She is a dark-haired, classic beauty who pours over 15 types of tea and runs the front of the house. With the congeniality of a doting mistress and the contrasting command presence of a Marine Corps Drill Instructor, my hostess had me feeling instantly at ease. Together, this ying-yang duo own and operate Coffee, Tea and Tulips, a shabby-chic tea parlor and petite bistro in Mission Viejo.

I was promptly seated in a comfy corner of the restaurant with a full view of the buzzing bistro. The hot teapot of Midnight in Paris tea bellowed steamy fumes of ginger, crème de coconut and vanilla flavors triggering endorphins and similar feel good chemicals in my brain. At Chef’s Michael’s recommendation, I ordered the freshly made orange scone with sides of clotted cream and raspberry imported jam. My scone was light and crispy on the outside and warm and tender on the inside - similar to a southern style biscuit. Moody Chef’s ability to whip up a mean scone and equally rich and thick clotted cream caught me off guard! How could an obviously brash personality create such a delicate and delicious scone? After all, his nickname was the “Moody Chef”.

Several years ago, Chef Michael Samawi left his corporate job and with his wife Lina (also hostess and waitress), once a missionary travelling the globe, opened Coffee, Tea and Tulips offering full tea service and internationally inspired dishes. “Tea and scones before any meal” is Chef Michael’s motto. Chef Michael and Lina’s concept is to cook healthy, homemade and sustainable food items serving the dishes “fast food” style – in a timely manner.

The charming parlor and bistro is nestled between an arts and crafts store and bowling alley in the confines of a large commercial shopping center. The setting is “country cottage” - a dried flower wreath and small pictures hang on walls, dining chairs sport comfy back pillows and a rustic armoire filled with tchotchkes rests against one corner of the restaurant. Each table setting is unique and a menu, as thick as a coffee table book, graces each place setting. Recipes are inspired by Lina and Chef Michael’s Middle Eastern heritage with many options from which to choose. Sandwiches are made with artisan bread and tortilla wraps are meticulously rolled and stuffed with crisp ingredients. The Tomato Bisque is thick, rich and velvety and served with a topping of big crunchy croutons.

My tapas of sliced hard boiled eggs, bright red Roma tomatoes and a hearty anchovy filet was drizzled with quality extra virgin olive oil then sprinkled with finely minced black olives. The briny flavor of the anchovy filet and salty black olives are the perfect spice for the otherwise bland tomato and plain boiled egg.

Ninety-five percent of the menu is vegetarian with many vegan alternatives available. The Roasted Vegetable Sandwich, a favorite of mine, is over-stuffed with an abundance of roasted veggies and pungent blue cheese. Lina’s Organic Spinach salad is fresh and filling. A towering pile of organic spinach, thick avocado slices and bacon pieces along with chunks of white skinless-boneless chicken breast overflow on my plate. The spinach salad is very good and a nice combination of lean protein, complex carbohydrates and healthy essential fatty acids.

Despite a busy “walk-in” lunch crowd, Lina managed to maintain a controlled calmness while taking precious time to greet each patron individually. In spite of Moody Chef’s intense demeanor and apparent nonchalant attitude, it is evident by his cuisine Chef Michael has a docile soul with a passion for cooking. Along with Lina and her heart for service, Coffee, Tea and Tulips will be recognized as a dining haven where guests may enjoy traditional tea service and healthy meals in the comfort of a warm, inviting setting.


Coffee, Tea & Tulips on Urbanspoon
Open daily - except Monday
Tuesday – Saturday: 9 a.m. – 3 p.m. Sunday: 9 a.m. – 2 p.m.
Serving breakfast and lunch


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