The Place: Citrus Cafe,1481 Edinger Avenue, Tustin, CA 92780-6249, (714) 258-2404; www.citruscafe.com.
The Hours: Tuesday to Saturday, 3 p.m. to close, at the lounge only.
The Deal: Soju-based cocktails (Apple Martini, Bloody Mary, Margarita, Cape Cod, or Screwdriver) $4. House wines (White Zin, Chardonnay, Merlot, Carbenet Sauvignon), $4. Draft beers (Lost Coast Great White, Green Flush IPA, Pyramid Hefeweizen, Anderson Valley Boont Amber), $4. Bottled beers, $3-$5. Select lounge menu appetizers and flat breads, $5 with an alcoholic drink purchase.
The Scene: This, above all else, is a neighborhood diner cut from the same cloth as Carrows and Cocos. The booths are plushy, the customers are largely white-haired and bespectacled. Happy Hour, it seems, is the new Early Bird Special here. The vibe is decidedly low-key, since the restaurant does most of their business during breakfast and lunch hours, filling bellies with egg dishes and sandwiches. In the early evening, there's a family-oriented feel to it, which is all but confirmed by actual families eating with kids in tow.
The Sauce: Their draft Hef is crisp and lemony, even without the lemon. Most customers choose wine over anything else. But the cocktails are the most interesting drinks of all. They're made from Ku Soju, which can be technically called vodka since it is fermented from potatoes. But its slightly lower alcohol content (24%) and its origins (Korea) allow it to be served by restaurants like this who only hold a beer and wine license. The loophole is, by the way, highlighted on the Ku Soju website Q&A. It reads:.
What makes this legal to be sold by Beer and Wine Licensees?
Ku Soju, a distilled Hard Liquor classified by the ATF, can legally be sold by on-premise licensees (California ABC Act 23398.5 and article 6 Special Provisions # S-81-3 New York ABC) The law requires that soju (which is made from grain, sweet potato or potato) must be no more than 24% of alcohol by volume, made in Korea, and made from agricultural product. Soju .is a distilled spirit and the only "hard" liquor that can be sold to "on-premise" beer and wine licensees in California and New York
But oh what a sweet loophole it is! The Margarita is easily drunk, not as biting or bold as those that are tequila-based, but still refreshing. The screwdriver, however, tastes and hits you like a screwdriver. Too many and you're screwed if you drive...
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The Food: Your waitress, who most likely be a lovely lass named Corinne, will tell you that the cheeseburger sliders are better than the pulled pork ones. She's right even though they seemed to have changed the formulation of the patty recently. Last time, it was hand-formed; this time, they used standard pre-formed and pre-measured ground beef discs. Either way, an order comes with four under nicely toasted glossy buns. The square-shaped flatbreads, especially the steak with blue cheese crumbles, are trusty gut-fillers; and the Buffalo wings aren't as crispy as I prefer it. But the thing to order is the fried calamari, which was downright orgamic with a light, lemon-butter-cream sauce that drapes the crispy curls. And if you expected the ahi poke to suck, you'd be wrong. Served with crunchy-fried wonton triangles, the raw, marinated fish cubes turned out to be extraordinarily fresh, bright and tasting as if it came from Hawaii itself.
The Verdict: Citrus Cafe is the underdog for a town that has no shortage of Happy Hours (thanks to The District's many eateries). Go to have a quiet drink, a nice un-frou-frou meal, then go home with your eardrums and wallet in tact.
The Grade: B+.