When you're in the Northridge/Chatsworth area, there aren't a lot of unique dining options--almost every restaurant is a large, loud chain. Cafe Orient is an oasis in the desert, serving homemade Chinese and Vietnamese food in a hand-decorated, cozy, lavender setting. Despite being small, the restaurant was uncrowded enough that we were able to be seated right away. Fortunately, we made it there before the 9:00 closing time.
(Note: I wrote this last year and just discovered that I had never posted it. Hopefully Cafe Orient has not gone away since then. Drop me a line if you know anything.)
The orange chicken had a delicate orange flavor and was sweet without tasting candied. Rather, it tasted like it was actually made with the juice of an orange and wasn't laden with cornstarch, unlike most of the Chinese food I've eaten. The charbroiled beef was flavorful and tender, but unnecessarily greasy and didn't quite taste like Vietnamese food. Though the meat could have used more lemongrass flavor, the nuoc cham and rice made the dish addictively good.
Overall, everything about the experience was hassle-free, even parking (there is a large lot in front). This restaurant is probably not your best bet if authenticity is what you're after, but for a comfortable dining experience with decent food, low prices, and uncannily fast service, Cafe Orient is a good choice.
Chatsworth, CA 91311
Cafe Orient Hours:
Tandoori chicken with yellow dal, fruit and mint chutneys, sauteed sugar snap peas and brown basmati
Robin's is an "eclectic" restaurant offering dishes from all over the world (sort of the Al's Pancake World of Cambria, if you will). When I first read Robin's menu, I thought, any restaurant that serves this many different types of food can't do any of them well. Unfortunately, I overrode my instincts and gave Robin's a try anyway since it was recently voted the best restaurant in Cambria.
If I lived in Cambria, not Los Angeles, and didn't actually know what the different cuisines represented on the menu were supposed to taste like, I might have loved Robin's, too. The food, while not bland, wasn't fully or properly seasoned, leaving my tastebuds unsatisfied.
Visually, though, the food is much more pleasing than most of its more authentic counterparts. How often do you see Indian food presented so well? (Of course, well-presented Indian food, in my mind, only means one thing: rising prices. I'm just waiting for the day when Indian restaurant owners collectively realize that they are undercharging for their food. Getting that much flavor for $7.95 can't last forever!)
Crispy Vietnamese Lumpia
In lieu of an entree, I ordered several appetizers. I started with the crispy Vietnamese lumpia with homemade kimchee. Despite the fancy name, it was really just standard spring rolls, albeit fairly flavorless ones.
Panko crusted calamari with Asian slaw, sesame citrus vinaigrette, and sambal aioli
The panko crusted calamari didn't turn out to be as much of an epiphany as I had hoped--I probably wouldn't have even noticed the panko if it wasn't listed as an ingredient on the menu. The squid was properly cooked to avoid rubberyness and the sambal aioli was a tasty complement, though it would have been better served on the side. The calamari were served atop the Asian slaw, which did not add anything to the dish and mainly got in the way of eating the calamari.
Robin's salmon bisque
The salmon bisque came recommended, but while eating it I kept thinking of my Alaskan friend from college who likes to mock the salmon most people eat, saying that it's what Alaskans feed their dogs. Needless to say, I didn't get too far on this dish. Also, is orange the right color for a dish that features salmon as its main ingredient?
The tandoori chicken was quite good, though it was not a good approximation of Indian food. The chicken breast was very moist and the dal still had a pleasant bite to them rather than being stewed into oblivion. Mysteriously, there was only one sugar snap pea in the entire dish. I wouldn't mind eating this dish again, but if I wanted the richly spiced flavor of Indian food, I would look elsewhere.
Robin's desserts come from the dreaded display case (meaning, as a rule, the desserts will be served at the wrong temperature and tinged with the stale flavor of display case air), which is why I picked the desserts that I knew weren't sitting in there (you can see the display case when you walk into the restaurant). The chocolate mousse was full of flavor, but the experience was dampened by a mound of canned whipped cream and a wilting mint garnish. I enjoyed the bread pudding more, which was drenched in sauce the way I like it.
The dining room is sort of creaky and homey, like someone's living room, and diners are casually dressed. This isn't quite a date restaurant, though in Cambria your options are limited. The restaurant is normally crowded and difficult to get into on a weekend night. If the owners of our bed and breakfast hadn't hooked us up with a reservation, we would have faced a 45 minute wait at 7:00. The service was pretty slow and indifferent, which isn't what I was expecting from a restaurant that was recently given an award by diners.
Though Robin's has been open for 22 years and is so popular that it opened a sister restaurant, Novo, in San Luis Obispo, I wouldn't go back and I wouldn't recommend it. I don't think that the food lives up to the expectations of LA diners.
4095 Burton Dr.
Cambria, CA 93428
Lunch 11:00 am - 4:45 pm
Dinner Sunday - Thursday 5:00 pm - 9:00 pm
Dinner Friday & Saturday - 5:00 pm - 9:30 pm
Sunday Brunch Specials