Old Vine Café
This Costa Mesa restaurant fully satisfies.
The four-course tasting menu at The CAMP’s Old Vine Café had taken our hunger and upped us a course beyond our capacity. The forks-down, expanding waistline submission occurred midway through course number three, right in the middle of a delectable lamb chop that, had it not been for our gluttonous behavior on the previous two rounds, we might have gracefully danced our way through and on to dessert. But as it was, there was no returning to our former dignified selves. A half-eaten lamb chop looked sullen on the plate, surely not accustomed to this type of surrender.
As it turns out, nobody at Old Vine Café is used to capitulations of this sort from diners. After we had half-heartedly grazed through dessert – a dark chocolate cream cheesecake – we had, in our satiated state, forgotten about the remaining lamb chop that was supposed to accompany us home. As we were getting up to leave, a server rushed over with a box, explaining that he, too, had disregarded the leftover, accidentally throwing it away. As a concession, he had asked the kitchen to make us an entirely new one.
This most unusual and unprovoked action is a feather in the cap of a restaurant already proven by its culinary prowess. Surely we would have left Old Vine Café never the wiser that our neglected lamb chop had wound up as scrap. Instead, we were walking out with an entirely new one, which basked luxuriously in its dried blueberry-Syrah demi-glace and had been sprinkled with crispy fried yucca. Despite our fullness, we had appreciated the dish, its grilled char nuances a rustic counterweight to the sophistication of the silky, fruit-forward sauce.
That was how we ended the meal, but it began just as auspiciously. A first course of eggplant burrata – small piles of panko-crusted eggplant, burrata, grape tomatoes, and pesto – layered complementary textures and familiar flavors, while a dish of Indonesian-style prawns provided a cultural and taste-driven diversion from Old Vine’s primarily Italian-focused menu. Sautéed in soju (a distilled beverage from Korea) and finished with lemongrass curry sauce, the prawns made a dramatic entrance with their dome of tangled flash-fried noodles and dots of black sesame seeds, which floated through the carrot- and pea-studded sauce like fish in a sea of colorful barges. It was quite a contrast to the eggplant burrata, but a worthwhile one.
The second course – a large raviolo filled with smoked duck, goat cheese and porcini mushrooms, was likely where we indulged a bit too enthusiastically. Constructed from handmade pasta, the raviolo took up the majority of the plate, cutting an appetizing figure. Smothered as it was in brown butter and sage, it was an indulgent mid-course, filling but full of deep flavor, each bite surrounded by toothy pasta. Handmade pastas are a specialty at Old Vine; chef/owner Mark McDonald trained in Calabria, a region in southern Italy known, like much of the country, for its exceptional cuisine. That experience is evident not only in the restaurant’s menu, but also in the relaxed eating schedule, which can last up to two and a half hours for a four-course tasting menu.
Third course: petite filet mignon. Don’t let the “petite” moniker lead you astray. After two previous scrape-your-plate rounds, by now the full effect of satiety was making itself known. Miraculously, we ate most of it (likely a leading cause of why the lamb chop went partially uneaten), leaving just a smudge of Bleu de Basque demi cream sauce behind.
If our discomfort was any indication, this was a successful meal. Timidly approaching the graham cracker-crusted chocolate cream cheese cake, the fourth and final course, we remembered not only what had transpired on our taste buds, but what had materialized in our hands: a freshly charred lamb chop.
Through the Grapevine
Travel the World
Or just go to Italy. Join Old Vine Café for a 10-day excursion to Calabria and Sicily March 20-29, 2014, focused mainly around – surprise! – food and Italy’s epicurean delights.
Get Tossed, Part I
Not in the mood for pasta? Not a problem. Old Vine is an old hand at crafting a number of delicious, fresh salads. Particularly recommended is the artichoke hearts of palm salad with seasonal greens, artisan-cured ham and aged pecorino tossed in creamy tarragon dressing.
Get Tossed, Part II
Old Vine’s wine list is too good to leave at the restaurant. Order some of the restaurant’s coveted selections from its website and get a box of six wines for $60.
Il Conto, Per Favore
Four-course tasting menus are $65-$80, including wine pairings with each course. Menu items can be ordered a la carte as well. Salads: $11.50-$14.50; pasta: $12-$17; small plates: $13-$22.
714.545.1411 :: oldvinecafe.com