Habana, Part I: Pastries in a soon-to-be signature pink box
The last on that list to open is Habana. We said it would debut summer of 2016. OK, so we were a bit off on its opening date, which turned out to be November of this year. Finally! Well, the wait was worth it, though the owners who had to pay rent to everyone’s favorite local landlord during the 16-month delay might wonder.
Irvine City News will review the full-service, sit-down aspects of the stunningly designed and intricately detailed restaurant in a future issue, as will every other Orange County publication that covers restaurants. We need to take time to get to know the lunch and dinner menu and let the staff and kitchen get comfortable and work out any opening issues.
Our first look instead is focused on the brand-new bakery, a key part of Habana whole.
Whether it’s a pre-office hours meeting, a quick bite and coffee or a more leisurely pace in the morning, many of us depend on and love a morning repast. Because where does one get breakfast at the Spectrum Center? There are the chains, of course, including Corner Bakery, the eBar outside Nordstrom, Ruby’s, Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf and a Starbucks.
Nearby there’s not much more. We like S’wich Bistro across from Blizzard HQ, and Whole Foods grab-and-go breakfast has its place in our morning rituals.
But there’s certainly nothing in Irvine that compares with the Habana experience. The bakery opens at 7 a.m., and that early hour is key. Starting weekday breakfast service at 8 or 9 a.m. is not enough. We hope Habana sticks to the early hours and allows its morning audience to grow, which we believe it will.
For those who know the Spectrum to be a parking nightmare, especially with the construction ongoing, at this early hour it’s nirvana. The bakery has its own entrance on the 5 Freeway side of the center. Park anywhere, walk in and one is transported to an experience both classic and contemporary.
The entrance patio and one just beyond the bakery are beautiful. Palm trees, tropical tile and vintage-looking furniture make the area an Instagram-appropriate setting. The bakery café itself has high ceilings and beautiful light streaming in through large windows and open doors.
The space is stocked with a beautifully curated selection of goods more usually found in Miami, from Cuban chocolate, candies and snacks to Latin American sodas and bottles of Spanish wine. There are newspapers for sale, which of course we heartily endorse, and the design includes two vintage televisions showing loops of old-school sports stars and celebrities, including Roberto Clemente and Carmen Miranda.
There’s selection of coffees, including café Cubano and café con leche, and an entire case filled with lovely house-made pastries, including some that I’m told are Cuban delicacies. The fruit tarts and passion fruit croissants are early favorites among the many sweet bites sampled do far. But when it comes to breakfast, we prefer more of a savory dish.
Habana does not disappoint, with a selection of several rich and satisfying dishes, including a breakfast sandwich with roast pork called Medio Dia; a delicious version of the hipster dish du jour, avocado toast; and the Ropa Hash Bowl, which is made with Habana’s signature ropa vieja stewed beef, along with an egg, red pepper Hollandaise and potato hash. This menu also includes a decadent French toast a la Habana: cornflake crusted brioche soaked in rum custard, served with guava jam and coconut syrup.
We do wish they’d add a few veggie-friendly choices to the menu. The Cazuelita de Mi Abuela is delicious, but the rustic dish is a bit bread-heavy for those looking for something light.
It’s fast-casual ordering, but the service was prompt, friendly and extremely knowledgeable. The hot dishes are eat-in only, with the exception of the breakfast sandwich, while the coffee and pastries can also be ordered to go.
One of the smartest things the owners of Habana did was design a lovely to-go box for the pastries. It’s a gorgeous rose gold color, and has a Habana logo in metallic script prominently set upon it.
We fully expect a box of goodies from the new morning star to be the new trend for what the stylish and savvy co-worker brings to share at office or the hostess gift to bring to the garden party.