Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Last Meal of the Year at ECCO

ECCO Pizzeria and Bar
2937 Bristol St. #A103
Costa Mesa, CA 92626

There's lot of pressure when picking a restaurant on New Years Eve, even for a semi-informed food blogger. Not that you ever want a meal to be bad, but you especially do not want your last meal of the year to be mediocre or awful. Luckily, I have a list of restaurants five pages long that I am trying to get through. Not that these are guaranteed hits, but they have been recommendations from readers of the blog and food writers that I read on a regular basis, so I had good reason to be optimistic.

I went to my list, and picked ECCO as the restaurant for our last meal of 2013. I went to Open Table to see if they had any openings for 8PM on New Years Eve. Yes, that's a little late for dinner, but Katie wanted to get her nails done, and for some reason this seems to take about two hours. I will never understand why it takes this long, but it would also keep us up later, and give us more of a chance to be awake at midnight, when the ball drops. It seems that we have not been awake when the calender changes to the new year for awhile, (yes, we are getting old).

We were in luck, ECCO had openings for the time we wanted, so after Katie was done with her nail appointment, we made the trek up to The Camp in Costa Mesa. If you have been to this shopping center, you probably know the horrible parking situation that goes on here, but we were lucky, and found quite a few spots available. Maybe we were ending 2013 on a high note.

ECCO has been around for close to three years now, and has won big praise from the food community of OC. They were named one of the top 10 restaurants by Orange Coast Magazine. ECCO got their name when the owners of this restaurant were touring Italy, and frequently heard the chef say the word ecco when they presented the food to the table. Ecco means, "here it is", and kind of shows the confidence of the chef.

We were sat on the patio in the back of the restaurant, but luckily, thanks to the strategically placed heaters, the cold night air would not be an issue for us. Being on the patio also afforded us the opportunity to talk with each other, as the inside of ECCO was pretty loud, with lots of activity going on. Lending to the hip, but not so over the top vibe here, was the young staff manning the restaurant. They had a special New Years Eve menu offering, but also had their regular menu to choose from, which is the way we went. The menu is dominated by a large number of pizzas, with a few starters, pasta dishes, entrees, and sides to choose from. After some perusing of the menu, this is what we came up with.

Wanting something warm to start us off, we selected the Housemade Meatballs ($6). These came three to an order, and were served with a marinara and grana padano, which is the cheese perched atop each of the meatballs. Both Katie and I really enjoyed these. The meatball was fork tender, without being too mushy, a very hard balance to achieve. The marinara was very solid here as well. It was not too tangy, and allowed the meatball to shine through, while adding a nice mild flavor.

Katie is crazy for Caprese Salad ($10), so it was no surprise to me that's what she got. She also probably knows I'm not a fan, so she can have this all to herself. This is a pretty traditional version of this salad. Big slices of tomato, fresh mozzarella, basil, olive oil, and sea salt. This was a pretty generous size for just one person. The tomatoes had a beefy flavor, the salt and pepper helped cut some of the acidity, and all of the ingredients here were pretty fresh according to Katie.

As much as Katie is into Caprese salads, I am probably way more into Caesars ($9). This version at ECCO was good, but not great. The salad was a classic Caesar, but they used an olive tapenade, which was spread on top of a crostini. I would have liked the tapenade to have been mixed into the salad, to make the saltiness a little more even. The dressing was good here, but I needed more of it. Just like the Caprese, this Caesar was pretty good sized.

Katie actually took what I was going to order, but it was New Years Eve, so I did not put up too much of a fuss about it. She snagged the Orecchiette Salsiccia ($15) from me. This dish used orecchiette pasta, sausage, Swiss chard, crimini mushrooms, basil, and olive oil. This had some positives going for it; the basil was fresh, but did not over power, the sausage had a nice, subtle spiciness to it, and the pasta was cooked to a nice tenderness. What Katie did not like was that this was dry. It needed a sauce of some kind, more than what the olive oil could have supplied. Not awful, but this needed to be tweaked a little more.

It was my last meal of the year, so I went with steak. This Skirt Steak ($25) was cooked to a wonderful medium rare. The beef was tender, so it was no problem that I did not receive a steak knife with my meal. The sauce used on the basil pesto potatoes was heavenly. Luckily there was enough of it on here, that I could use the excess to compliment the steak. Besides the basil pesto sauce, the sides were just okay. The asparagus was unreliable, being too bitter in some spots, and the potatoes needed to be cooked a little longer, as it was tough going trying to cut them with my fork. Great steak and sauce though.

We also took a chance on the Mac N' Cheese ($7).  This came out hot, and stayed that way, thanks to the cast iron skillet it came out in. The mac and cheese was not too heavy, with some nice pieces of pancetta hiding among the noodles. I am not too keen on shell pasta, as it lends to an uneven coating, but this warmed us up on this chilly night.

A special dessert that they had on their New Years Eve menu was this Chocolate Budino ($7). Whenever we order budino, there is never enough for the both of us. This one had a real nice smoothness to it, which was a little more sturdy than a traditional pudding. The whipped cream and chocolate flakes were a nice added touch with this.

We both really liked our time at ECCO. We look forward to coming back again soon and trying more of their menu, including their Neapolitan pizzas, with ingredients sourced directly from Italy. Their menu is always changing with the seasons, so we look forward to what Executive Chef Carlos Abarca has in store for us on future visits. The service was a little spotty for us on this busy night. Our waiter took awhile to check on us, but the food made it out in a timely manner. ECCO was a great place to have our last meal of the year.

Out of five dolphins, (because there's a video came back in the 90's about a time traveling dolphin, who battled aliens in the oceans, and the dolphin's name was Ecco), five being best to zero being worst, ECCO Pizzeria and Bar gets 3.5 dolphins.

For more information about ECCO Pizzeria and Bar, check out their web site here:

Ecco Pizzeria & Bar on Urbanspoon

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