Save for the luxe lonchera Barcelona on the Go, there are few ambassadors of Spanish cuisine in Orange County. For a complete Spanish experience–and I do mean, like, with flamenco dancers and the Gipsy Kings as the constant and only soundtrack–one must go to Long Beach to Cafe Sevilla. Here you will sit in a darkly-lit romantic space evoking the passion of Spanish culture, drink more sangria than you ever drank, and graze on tapas, those bite-sized, meant-to-be-shared “small plates” that were around before every restaurant in America started serving everything as “small plates”. The dish everyone orders is the “three tapas” sampler–a long platter with, yup, three generous helpings of the restaurant's most popular tapas dishes. With toothpicks as your eating utensil, you snack on salchicas, which simply means assorted sausages; gambas al ajillo, shrimp cooked with garlic and wine; and patatas bravas, roasted potatoes.
There's a remarkably good albondigas soup here with a submerged poached egg you can't wait to puncture with a spoon and about a whole head's worth of sliced garlic in the broth. There is, of course, paella. But you should hold back on it or anything else that might make you too full to take on dessert. Specifically, you need to save room for the leche frita. What is leche frita? Essentially, it's fried custard–a traditional Spanish dessert that's like the Ringo to flan's and crema Catalana's John and Paul. It's rather plain-looking, made by cooking flour, milk, and eggs together in a pot, letting it cool to set, cutting it up, breading it and then frying the pieces in oil. The unremarkable outward appearance masks its greatness.
When you take your first forkful, you realize it shares the properties of other desserts. The outer crust has a churro-like crispiness while the middle is soft, melting, with the tenderness of crepe and the creamy richness of flan. So far I've found leche frita only here, and nowhere in OC. My hope is that those OC Fair deep-fried hucksters who brought us the deep-fried Twinkie are reading. They need to come here, taste this thing, then start tinkering with the recipe. Think of it on a stick! And they need only translate the Spanish title to English to sell it. It literally means “fried milk”.
Before becoming an award-winning restaurant critic for OC Weekly in 2007, Edwin Goei went by the alias “elmomonster” on his blog Monster Munching, in which he once wrote a whole review in haiku.