Seventh Home Coffee and Tea House Shows There's No Place Like It
Have you ever had a sweet-potato latte? At Seventh Home Coffee & Tea House in Buena Park, you can sip it either hot or iced. I suggest iced. One part milk and two parts sweet-potato puree, this isn't so much a drink as it is a meal you suck through a straw. Thick as a vanilla milkshake, the flavor is as starchy as it's sweet and milky. Think of it as a Thanksgiving side dish whirred to the consistency of baby food and poured over ice in a pilsner glass. It's delicious, by the way, but also supremely filling; long-distance runners and competitive swimmers might wish to note that here is their perfect fuel. Every sip you take displaces one bite of food you won't need later. Koreans regard the wholly nutritious concoction with the same fondness Americans do malts and the Taiwanese boba milk teas, and this one has the properties of both.
There is perhaps no better venue to have it than Seventh Home. This coffee- and teahouse doesn't shoo away the lingerers, the Wi-Fi hogs or the squatters who can conceivably make a cup of coffee last for hours. The waitstaff is too new and too overwhelmed by the café's instant popularity to pay attention to you anyway. So sit idly and drink that latte slowly, sip by fulfilling sip, over meaningful conversation. Follow it with the homemade waffles, topped with chopped fruit and ice cream. Or better yet, get the patbingsu, a mountain of fruit-and-red-bean slush in an oversized crystal washbowl. You'll need to muster the cooperation of at least four people to conquer this shaved-ice Everest.
One night, a group of middle-aged customers crossed itself before attempting to scale the dessert. The prevailing demographic here, though, is young, female and Korean. It's rare to see a Korean boy without the company of a Korean girl, and Seventh Home has figured out the formula to attract this exact species of customer. In a space reclaimed from a residential house, it has carved out a mod main dining room, installed cushy velvet booths, manicured a small garden, and converted a few bedrooms for private birthday parties where someone can blow out a candle perched atop a dainty, hockey-puck-sized tiramisù cake.
If the quiet suburban block that surrounds Seventh Home Coffee & Tea House may not yet understand how a Korean coffeehouse managed take over a neighbor's house and yard, it's even more puzzling how Orange County, especially Buena Park, has been deprived of such a place when LA's Koreatown has more than a few. But save for a roster of teas, the patbingsu and a few dishes, Seventh Home is not a Korean restaurant. The most elaborate dish isn't even really Korean. For the Hunan-style stir-fried udon, the fat, slippery noodles are brought out in a sizzling cast-iron skillet, with shrimp and pencil eraser-sized nubs of scallops and mussels. The whole thing is coated in a spicy, syrupy chili sauce not unlike the bottled stuff egg rolls are dipped into at Thai joints.
The rest of the menu leans heavily on burgers and sandwiches, items designed to be gripped while you flip through a textbook or nibbled during a casual pre-first-date meeting. The chicken-salad sandwich bulges with poultry chipped off a roasted bird, mixed with mayo and raisins, and laid down like grout between toasted wheat bread, lettuce and tomato. The sandwich halves are stacked one on top of the other to look fashionably askew; paired with a side salad, the dish is good enough to constitute a light lunch. Thick burgers feature hand-formed patties cooked to your desired doneness (if the staff remember to ask), covered in melted Cheddar and presented open-faced using the good, sturdy brioche buns every new burger joint seems to use these days. Fries, compulsory with the burger, are served in cones with homemade ketchup that tastes more like homemade barbecue sauce. But add rosemary to these standard-variety shoestring potatoes, and what was fast food becomes fancy food in seconds.
If you're going to get a meal, you might as well order the donkatsu, a flattened, breaded, deep-fried pork chop that is eaten with rice and a bowl of dashi stock. Since the kitchen has dumped what seems to be a full serving of the house salad on top of the pork, this is a dish that keeps on giving. When you think you're done, you discover another piece previously hidden by a salad leaf. But take all the time you need to finish the thing . . . that is, if you're not already stuffed from the sweet-potato latte, that sweet, filling thing.
This review appeared in print as "No Place Like Seventh Home: This teahouse caters to Korean chicks, but you should go, too."
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