Santa Ana is going through a great urban renovation. Old buildings are being turned into offices, condos and restaurants. At the Santa Ana Arts District, the streets look more lively it seems like. Starting in the mid 90′s, the artists rented out undesired buildings as workspace. Soon after, the area saw a growth in artists and art galleries. This new and hip reinvention of the city also brought along different kinds of restaurants. Lola Gaspar, for example provides great regional food without the pretense. Situated in the historic Santora Building, it is in the center of Santa Ana’s Artist Village. At Lola, they specialize in small plates with dishes made from scratch. Specialized in Latin and European classics, they use only local ingredients. They are open late for those who like to drink and snack late into the night.
I took advantage of their small plates and had a snack. Their smoked bacon wrapped dates were great, and I would order them again. Stuffed with bleu cheese, the inside was hot and creamy. Though I would have liked a more pungent blue cheese flavor, the bacon shined. The salty bacon contrasted well with the subtly sweet dates. The sherry mustard emullsion on the side did a great job in balancing the flavors. It added enough of the extra sweetness that this dish needed. It was a great start. I would just bring my own blue cheese, because we all know how much I love blue cheese.
Their baked flatbread was interesting and honestly, I kind of thought it would be better. Everything was fine. The cured chorizo was exceptional — it had a smokey, yet complex flavor. The mozzarella was fresh and left me wanting more — the goat cheese tasted gnarly and strong as heck but still added to the experience. My only gripe about this flatbread was the dough. Their dough sucked. They put all these marvelous ingredients on top of a flatbread dough so plasticky and uninspired. It was as if they just got water, flour and oil and made some kind of makeshift dough. I really wanted a good bite on the dough and sadly didn’t get it. If it weren’t for the dough, this would have been an amazing experience.
Lola Gaspar is a great tapas style eatery with a nice bar and outside seating. Drinking my favorite juice, grapefruit, and eating small plates, I was experiencing the full Santa Ana Arts District environment. Amidts all of the night’s wonders and lights, the history of it all filled me with a feeling of ease — the simple flavors and organic ingredients surrounding me all culminated into something special. I realized then that the food itself was only half of the whole. Once you are in the area, you are taken to a different place. This is what Santa Ana Arts District is all about. Using the old to push the ideas of the new in a classical way, restaurants here like Lola Gaspar keep the history alive. Come for the history, come for the scenery — For me, I came for the food.