Tonight, the Red Onion Cafe closed its doors for good. In a few weeks, it will be replaced by a new Korean BBQ restaurant that I look forward to sampling. Although I'll continue to mourn the passing of one of my favorite mom & pops, I should also give the new mom & pop that's opening in its place a fair shake.
This post, however, isn't about the end of a great Taiwanese eatery. Instead, it's about celebrating the life of a beloved, family-run establishment that nourished the bodies and souls of its patrons for over eleven years. Not a bad run in the Darwinian restaurant business.
Since it was the Red Onion Cafe's closing night, Cat and I decided to show our support and have a last dinner there. The cafe was offering meal sets of half-price as customer appreciation specials to thank their loyal clientele, many of whom had shown up to help close out. The place was hopping. The wait staff could barely keep up with all the orders.
As usual, we started out with the chitterlings. Deep-fried slices of pork intestines redolent with salt and pig-fat goodness. Artery-clogging, but what the hell? We weren't going to get another chance.
Cat really wanted to have one last taste of her favorite Taiwanese boiled dumplings, which were stuffed with chives and ground pork.
I got a triple order of the Red Onion Cafe's xiao long bao. Delightful morsels with resilient skin barely held back a tide of flavorful broth and pork filling in these amazing treats. The best xiao long bao in Irvine. I'm going to miss them.
Cat couldn't let the night end without an order of their Orange Peel Chicken. The use of Taiwanese fermented orange peel in this dish gave it a complexity and body unmatched anywhere else. Cat's been ordering this dish for close to eight years. Tonight's was as good as the first time she tried it.
The side dishes in Cat's meal set were the usual assortment of fresh, seasonal vegetables. Tonight's offerings were braised bamboo shoots and stir-fried Taiwanese cabbage.
I ordered the best noodle soup in the house. Thick dan dan noodles frolicked in a rich Taiwanese pork broth with bean sprouts and cilantro. Shrimp, a braised egg, a fish meatball, and a pork meatball provided tasty accents to this classic dish from the city of Tainan.
After our meal, Cat spoke with the manager, and he presented us with one of the cafe's embroidered aprons as a keepsake. I gave him one of my business cards as asked him to contact me when his family opened up their next restaurant. I don't know if they will, but I live in eternal hope.
The Red Onion Cafe may be gone now, but while it existed, it was a place of comfort and warmth. For me, it will always be the place where a homesick young panda took solace as he adjusted to his first year of college and life hundreds of miles away from his family. I'll always have a special place in my heart for it, along with pictures, an apron, and enough sweet memories to last a lifetime.
So long, old friend. Thank you and goodbye.
Previous Posts About the Red Onion Cafe: