At Irvine’s new Hello Kitty Grand Cafe Bow Room, I’m not sure which is more consumed: the delicate tea-service bites or megabytes of cellphone and camera data. Each morsel is served on a three-tier serving platter with minimalistic precision, posed just right for a photo, then delivered to one’s mouth after careful National Geographic-like documentation. I can almost hear the British-accented narrator in my head: “Here we see an Instagrammer in his natural state: arriving like a caterpillar, leaving like a butterfly.” The instinct to prove you were actually here is at least half of the experience.
And here I am, checking into the new 30-seat Bow Room, with my husky, Jim Gaffigan-like dadbod, Japanese-made mirrorless camera in one hand and mini egg salad cone resembling a savory blunt in the other. The tea tray is a good mix of sweet and savory. My favorite was the bow-topped raspberry macaron filled with fresh berries, which I chased with a cup of fresh-brewed Earl Grey. That macaron, by the way, is worth fighting over.
Tea service is $55 per person and has several reservations available per day. As a booze writer, I went into the Bow Room elated knowing OC Weekly’s 2017 Best Bartender Emily Delicce helped to craft the cocktail menu. Seeing some of her R+D drinks from the past reach full bloom, such as the Hello Kit-Tea, is akin to seeing a movie after reading the book.
Using yuzu, jasmine tea, Suntory Toki, Depaz syrup and cream, Hello Kit-Tea is like an Irish coffee if you’re a cocktail-drinking panda bear. Under the foam lies a whiskey-filled, Keroppi-colored delight that’s served with a matcha macaron and an aromatic dollop of fresh, warm jasmine tea leaves. Dip the macaron into the cream just as any true drunken panda would.
You can almost taste the smoky flame of Hello Kitty’s crush in Dear Daniel, a Rayu Mezcal and El Jimador Tequila drink that looks more like a sundae than a cocktail. “Dear Daniel? This is more like DAMN, Daniel,” I say to my server, making her laugh politely. Salted coconut foam with candied beads top the pastel-blue masterpiece. Eat the foam with the steel straw, sip the drink, then go back to the foam for a few scoops. Is it possible to have a crush on a drink?
Lastly, I tried the 1974, a cocktail crafted for Hello Kitty’s birth year. Chilled with a clear Hello Kitty ice cube, you get a choice of old fashioned or negroni. I requested, “Whichever one is pinker”—a regrettable sentence, I admit—but the blend of gin, Luxardo Bitter Bianco and Cocchi Rosa is possibly the purest essence of Hello Kitty: minimal, kawaii and, most important, topped with a bow.
Hello Kitty Grand Cafe & Bow Room at the Irvine Spectrum, 860 Spectrum Center Dr., Irvine; www.sanrio.com/pages/hellokittycafe-grand. Reservations required.
Greg Nagel has been writing about beer since 2011, is an avid homebrewer of wine, cider, and beer, is a certified Cicerone Beer Server, a podcaster with the Four Brewers Show, and runs a yearly beer festival called Firkfest.