Paninis in Europe are way better than paninis in America (yeah, it’s gonna be one of those rants). European paninis are made on a roll such as ciabatta, filled with some meat, cheese, and greens, and toasted lightly, if at all. American paninis tend to be made with slices of bread, filled with whatever ingredients the clogged American heart desires, and toasted to a crisp, or at least until a river of melted cheese starts to spill out of the sides. Panini Café lands somewhere in between these two versions. The restaurant is located at the end of the Park Place shopping center at Michaelson and Jamboree in Irvine, around the bend from the recently razed Fatburger (RIP). On a Friday afternoon the place is full of office workers from nearby buildings, with a wait already forming. We’re seated fairly quickly on the spacious, clean patio decorated with warm, golden tones and Mediterranean accents. Water arrives instantly and judging by the attentiveness of our server it’s clear that they aim for a high customer turnover. After a few minutes of wading through the sea of menu options, we decide on the Caprese Di Parma and Buffalo Mozzarellapaninis.
Our food, despite the place being packed, arrives quickly… maybe a little too quickly. The sandwiches are toasted but the bread is cold to the touch, leaving me to believe that they were either pre-made or that the bread was pre-toasted, which does not bode well for a place boasting about their fresh, healthy cuisine. Biting into the Parma I’m surprised by the high quality of the fatty prosciutto, but my suspicions about freshness are confirmed by the rigid, unyielding bread. The mozzarella is rubbery and a little too slimy, but still meshes well with the basil leaves and saltiness of the pork. You are offered quite a few salad options with your meal, and my choice of chopped romaine topped with avocado covers about two thirds of the plate (we’ve been through my salad rant already). After polishing off the innards of my panini and taking a few stabs at my salad, I’m left fairly unsatisfied and disappointed. Panini Café does offer a wide range of Mediterranean dishes along with Italian and Persian options. For the interest of the review I decided to focus on their namesake, but I might return to try some of their kabobs or breakfast options, which looked intriguing. I just won’t be going out of my way. Mile-High Club First-Class Business Economy 3041 Michelson Dr Irvine, CA 92612 (949) 260-9800 mypaninicafe.com Photography by Cristiana Wilcoxon