Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The Heat Is On at Z' Tejas - CLOSED

Z' Tejas Southwestern Grill
3333 Bristol St. 
Costa Mesa, CA 92626

We go to a good number of media events at restaurants. I can usually judge how excited the food community is about a place, by who comes to a certain event. When we walked into Z' Tejas I knew we would be in for a treat. Almost every food blogger I have ever met, was in attendance on this night. A sure sign that most of them knew we were going to be in for a good meal. I mean, it is their business to know what is good to eat in Orange County, so I got really excited when I saw who was here on this night.

Z' Tejas, for those of you that do not know, is located at South Coast Plaza. They are kind of off by themselves, facing Bristol, in between Sears and Bloomingdale's on level 1. They have been in this spot a good many years. The first Z' Tejas opened way back in 1989, in Austin, Texas. They now operate 11 locations in four states. Lucky for us living in OC, their only location in California is this one. Their menu is heavily influenced by the Southwest of course, and it's something unique to the Southwest that has brought us all here on this evening, Chile Fest '13.

What is Chile Fest '13 you ask? It is a celebration of Hatch chiles, which are grown in of course, the Hatch Valley in New Mexico, and are in season for just a short while every fall. Every year Z' Tejas pays homage to the Hatch pepper by featuring specially created menu items using the hatch chile. As if eating these delicious menu items were not enough, you can also feel good on the inside by purchasing one of them, because for each Chile Fest item sold, Z' Tejas will donate a dollar to the Blind Children's Learning Center. This worthwhile non-profit was founded in 1962, and is dedicated to helping children gain independence and achieve their full potential into adulthood. You can find out more information about the Blind Children's Learning Center by clicking here. The food was being brought out from the kitchen just in time, as both Josh and I were very hungry. Let's see what they were cooking up for us during this years Chile Fest.

Starting us off were one of two appetizers on the Chile Fest menu, the Hatch Chile Onion Rings ($6.95). They slice up Hatch New Mexico chiles and onion rings, then fry them. The big mound of chiles and onions is then topped with Cotija cheese and cilantro. These are paired nicely with a barbecue dipping sauce, as well as a hatch chile sauce. These were not as greasy as I imagined they would be. The Hatch chiles provided a good amount of heat, but nothing that overwhelmed the appetizer. I am never too fond of barbecue sauce used as a dip, so I used more of the Hatch dipping sauce with this platter. I also felt they were more than generous with their serving size here.

Not on their Chile Fest menu, but you can never come to Z' Tejas and not have their Corn Bread Skillet. I am pretty finicky when it comes to cornbread, because I find most of them to be too dry. This was not the case here. It was very moist, without being too soggy. My buddy Josh ate way more than his fair share of this cornbread. That's what I get for bringing Josh "the Endless Pit" as my plus one on this night. Sorry to my table mates.

Hatch chiles were not just limited to the food. The creative mixologists at Z' Tejas also used them in their cocktails. The Skinny Smokin' Margarita ($8.50) was a lot of fun to drink. The bartenders combined Herradura Anejo, DeKuyper Peach, Grand Marnier, fresh lemon juice, agave nectar, and as an added kick, Hatch chiles. I appreciated the spiciness here, as it helped cut down on the sweetness. A very good drink, that could have been chilled a bit more. The more fruity of the two drinks was the Skinny Z'Smash ($8.50). This drink used the same Herradura Anejo, fresh oranges, lemons, mint and agave nectar. This one was a little too sweet for my taste, but Josh was more than happy to polish this one off for me.

When I had looked at the Chile Fest menu, I was immediately drawn to the plate that I eventually got, the Adobo Steak Relleno ($13.95). With this plate they roasted a Hatch Chile, then stuffed it with steak, jack cheese, and caramelized onions. It was then topped with a chipotle corn relish. I am not a pansy when it come to spice, but this chile was smoking hot. Josh and Steve who were at my table, could not even finish this, because it was so hot. I liked this a lot, even though I am not really a big fan of chile rellenos. The steak was pretty tender, and the chile provided all the flavor I could handle. This relleno was served with Hatch chile rice and spicy red beans, which both helped add to the spicy quotient.

For some unexplained reason, when it was Josh's turn to order, he went with one of the lightest things on the menu, the Tamarind Chicken Salad ($13.95). For someone with such a big appetite, I was shocked Josh ordered this salad. The salad was made up of mixed greens, grape tomatoes, sweet pickled Hatch chiles, candied pecans, goat cheese, and chicken breast, and was then tossed with a cumin vinaigrette. I thought the chicken was tender, and the produce was fresh, but I really missed the spiciness from the Hatch chiles in this salad. If you are averse to spiciness, and still want to order off of the Chile Fest menu, this is what you should probably order.

You thought there was no way they could create a dessert using Hatch chiles? The Hatch Chile Coconut Flan ($5.95) would prove you wrong. I really enjoyed this dessert. It kept my taste buds guessing. You see flan, and you naturally expect it to be sweet, but then you get some of the Hatch chile, and it throws a monkey wrench into everything. I would have liked a little more caramel sauce on this, but it was a pretty interesting dessert nonetheless, and a great way to finish out our Hatch chile experience at Z' Tejas.

Much like the Hatch chiles themselves, Chile Fest '13 is only around for a limited time. It runs through the end of this week, ending on 9/16. If you did not make it to the Hatch Chile Festival in New Mexico, this might be your last chance to experience Hatch chiles this year.

We would like to thank everyone at Z' Tejas for the wonderful food and service on this night. Everything was great. We also enjoyed getting to know, General Manager MatthewScroggins and Executive Chef Danny Stevens. We would also like to thank everyone at Groff-Hinman, especially Daniel Garcia for the invite to this great event. Thanks for thinking of us, both Josh and I had a really great time. Lastly, thanks to all of my fellow food bloggers who inspire me with their great writing, and make coming to these events even more special.

For more information about Z' Tejas, go to their website by clicking here: http://ztejas.com/

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