A new year, and another new restaurant for Chef Chris Tzorin. The last couple of years have been a whirlwind for Chef Tzorin, with a stint at Tortilla Republic after leaving Savannah Chop House, then returning to Savannah, before anchoring himself at Kutsi. The new spot is housed in the old Memphis spot in downtown Santa Ana in the historic Santora Building, one of my favorite structures in OC.
Kutsi Cocina is a concept featuring dishes from various regions of Mexico. Each item lists the area it is from and a brief description. Before your meal arrives, a basket of warm tortilla chips is set on the table along with a house-made bean dip, and smoky chunky salsa. It is difficult to resist, but I advise you not to overindulge as we did.
Start with a few drinks from the bar — there are many styles of margaritas to choose from, as well as other choices such as a this tequila-based Mule, and Old Fashioned.
We begin with Chorizo ($10), bites of fried chorizo and manchego cheese served on baguette slices with a dollop of citrus fig jam. In parenthesis, I see “De Mi Pueblo” which means “of my people” — I’m assuming it’s something the owner of Kutsi, Janett Mendoza grew up eating.
Chorizo Clams ($12) from Oaxaca is a bowl of sauteed Manila clams, immersed in chorizo crema, and served with toasted baguette slices. This is possibly my favorite appetizer of the evening. The sauce is bold and so piquant I can’t get enough of it. We dip the bread into the chorizo crema sauce and try to lap as much of it up as possible. In the end, we resort to spoons so we don’t waste any of it.
Naturally, I can’t resist corn, and when I see Mexican Sweet Corn ($11) on the menu, I had to have it. The grilled elote is cut into manageable chunks, enveloped in Sriracha mayo, then coated with queso seco. It is a respectable Mexican street corn. The menu says it’s Uruapan Michoacan, but I’ve had it in Tijuana, as well as downtown LA, so I think it’s now expanded all over the country. This is good stuff.
One of the very first articles I wrote after moving to the US was for the Palo Alto Weekly. I remember having to eat several moles as part of the research for the story and realizing how much I dislike the dish. I am generally not fond of anything sweet in a savory dish, so Steak Mole ($22) turns out especially pleasant. The pistachio-crusted flat iron steak is well executed in an excellent mole sauce that has only a hint of sweetness. Major kudos to Chef Chris who has surprised me on more than one occasion of late.
The Shrimp Enchiladas ($16) is so memorable my son has asked me if we can go back to eat it again. The enchiladas are stuffed with plump shrimp, and covered in suiza sauce — tomatillo reduced with chipotle cream. Even though the sauce is rich and creamy, it is neither heavy nor cloying.
As tasty as the enchiladas are, it is the Seafood Relleno ($24) which blows me away. A whole fresh pasilla pepper is stuffed with fresh scallops, shrimp, crab, and sits on a bed of Spanish rice smothered with el diablo sauce, drizzled with sour cream. This dish from Zihautanejo, the fourth largest city in the state of Guerrero. I love that it is not encased in batter and fried. I love the extremely well-balanced flavors, and it is one of the most sophisticated chile rellenos I’ve ever eaten.
Even though Kutsi Cocina is still in its early days, the restaurant is on the right track. The little taste of Kutsi we experience is a good one, and we are eager to return for more. If my son had his way, we’ll be there right now.
201 N Broadway
Santa Ana, CA 92701