Monday, July 14, 2014

Food Fit for a King(pin) at Tavern+Bowl

Costa Mesa 55 Tavern+Bowl
1875 Newport Blvd. Ste. L1-11
Costa Mesa, CA 92627

I will admit that I was burned out, and probably still am since I did not even bring my own ball and shoes here, even though I knew I would be bowling. The last time I held a bowling ball was in April. That might not seem like a long time to most of you, but for me it is. I had been in a bowling league for seven or eight years. Every Monday night we trudged up to Anaheim to bowl. I made it worth my wild, as I would also make time to see my parents and family while we were up this way, but it just got to be too much. I wanted freedom from the obligation, so we decided to take an indefinite break from bowling until we got the invite to come to Costa Mesa 55 Tavern+Bowl.

Tavern+Bowl is located in the rebranded "The Triangle", which of course most of you still know as Triangle Square, which is located at the end of the 55 Freeway. Gone are all the retail shops, now there are new restaurants and entertainment venues. Saddle Ranch, Black Knight Gastro Lounge, and the much anticipated La Vida Cantina, which will open up shortly, have joined long-time resident Yard House to bring new life to this often troubled center, which has appeared to turn the corner based on all the foot traffic we experienced on this recent Wednesday night. Tavern+Bowl can probably be credited with some of that turn around here as well.

Tavern+Bowl has been opened since early March, but this is not their only location they operate. This is now their fourth spot, with the other three all being in San Diego County. General Manager Ray Ha says, "we are a sports bar first, but with a bowling alley". This space is big. They occupy over 14,000 square feet of space, have 26 TVs, they can get almost any game imaginable, including UFC fights, and have ten state of the art bowling lanes, with an easy to use and fun scoring system. Katie really had a great time switching between themes during our bowling battle.

Just as I had finished getting my first turkey of the night, (I'm totally lying about that), drinks started making their way to our table. Not only does Tavern+Bowl have 40 beers on tap, but they also have 12 specialty cocktails that go for $10 each. The first one we got to try was the Spare Pear. This one starts with Grey Goose vodka, then Saint Germain Elderflower Liqueur, grapefruit juice, fresh lemon, and agave nectar are added to the mix. The result is a very refreshing cocktail that did not conjure up hints of pear flavor, but more an adult version of lemonade. I guess it's easier to rhyme pear than lemon. My second beverage of the night was the waitress recommended, Gin Setter Martini. This sweet drink utilizes Hendrick's Gin, fresh lime juice, muddled green apple, and cucumber. The first few sips of this drink were pretty good, but then I kind of got tired of its sweetness. I did not have the Lovers' Lane, but our wonderful hostess, Jane allowed me to have a sip of hers. This layered drink uses Skyy Infusions Raspberry Vodka, champagne, a passion fruit puree, and grenadine. My favorite cocktail of the night was the Comin' In Hot. This drink was right up my alley, pun intended. Jalapeno Infused Espolon Tequila, orange liqueur, cilantro, fresh sour, and pineapple juice combined to make this awesome cocktail. The jalapeno was definitely noticeable, but then it was softened with the pineapple and orange flavor. I liked this drink because it had many layers to it.

Since I was starting to feel a little tipsy, and my bowling game was suffering, I was very happy when the food started to make its way out of the kitchen for us. Looking over the menu, this is not your typical bowling alley cuisine. The reason for this, they have a legit Executive Chef here, the great Scott Raczek. Scott worked at a little restaurant that some of you may remember, the awesome Mr. Stox in Anaheim. He was their Executive Chef for 26 years, so you can say he knows a thing or two about great food. The first thing he brought out for us was the BBQ Pulled Pork Mac 'N' Cheese ($13.95). This was some pretty gourmet mac n cheese. Chef Scott uses macaroni with a three-cheese sauce, which is then topped with BBQ glazed pulled pork, fried onion strings, and a truffle oil drizzle. I really liked the different textures this dish had to offer. The crunch of the onion, the very well made pork added a nice meatiness, and the creaminess from the cheese sauce made each bite of this a little different, which kept me interested. Also of note, the truffle oil used here was just the right amount, so it did not overpower this dish. A very delicate balance to achieve.

Another surprise on this evening were these Lobster Roll Sliders ($5.95). These are supposedly their founders favorite, and after eating more than my fair share of these, I can see why. A very well made chilled lobster salad is mixed with red onion and celery to create a rich and satisfying slider. These actually had some pretty big chunks of lobster in them, which was great. Not to ruin the rest of this post, but these were my favorite item of the night.

I've been seeing Grilled Marinated Artichokes ($5.95) on a lot of menus recently, and it's probably because they taste so darn good. That was the case with this one too. What made this artichoke for me was the tarragon aioli that came out with it. A very good dipping sauce, it brought this artichoke to life. Such a simple dish, but brought to another level by this aioli.

If you would have told me when I started this blog, that I'd be eating oysters in a bowling alley, and actually liking them, I'd have thought you were nuts, but that's what happened on this night. The Grilled Oysters Kilpatrick ($10.95) are glazed with a honey bourbon garlic butter and then topped with bacon breadcrumbs. This kind of reminded me of escargot with all of the butter, and everything. The oysters here were pretty fresh, and bigger than I thought they would be. Even oyster novice, Katie was pretty satisfied with this, but her limit was only one.

Sushi is also represented on the appetizer menu at Tavern+Bowl, with this Flash Fried Ahi Tuna Roll ($10.95). Sushi purist may scoff at this version of sushi, but this is exactly the kind of sushi that I like. They use Saku tuna, which is served with a yin and yang sauce. I liked the contrast of the crunchy outer portion of this roll, with the smooth and fresh tuna inside the roll. I forgot what the sauces were that came with this, but both were very good.

You all have probably had pizza at a bowling alley, but probably never flatbread pizzas like these. We got to try two of the five flatbreads offered here at Tavern+Bowl. The first one was The Munson ($11.95). Not sure how it got its name, I should have asked, but man was this a good flatbread. It kind of had the breakfast pizza kind of vibe going on here, with fried eggs, bacon, arugula, a four-cheese blend, and just a touch of white truffle oil. The Tavern Margherita ($12.95) was Katie's favorite of the two. It had oven-dried tomatoes, burrata cheese, a basil puree, and the same four-cheese blend as the other flatbread. I really liked that the dough stayed nice and crisp, the toppings were all very fresh, and the flavors really popped. Not going to be able to go back to eating cardboard pizza from regular bowling alleys anymore.

We also were lucky enough to try a few of their entrees, like this Cedar Planked Roasted Salmon ($18.95). Chef Scott really worked his magic here. This salmon was so tender and flavorful, it almost made me forget that I'm not the worlds biggest fan of salmon. It was buttery, but you could still taste the salmon. It was served alongside an heirloom tomato salsa, lemon beurre blanc, tri-colored fingerling potatoes, and asparagus. The veggies here were farmers market fresh and prepared wonderfully.

The last item we tried were these Filet Mignon Steak Tacos ($13.95). These tacos had a lot going on inside of them. They start with a chimichurri marinated grilled steak which was very tender and cooked to a very pleasing medium rare. Then joining the steak in the corn tortilla was an avocado relish and cotija cheese. These were great. The steak was, of course, the main attraction here, but the avocado and cheese were also instrumental in making these tacos a winner. Jane has had these every time she has been here, and never tires of them. After eating these, I can see that would be the case for me as well.

When it was dessert time, I was pretty full, so I could not enjoy these as much as I would have liked. The Butterscotch Creme Brulee ($5.95) was probably my favorite, maybe because it was the lightest of the bunch. In my opinion, butterscotch is not used enough in desserts, so when I do have it, I really enjoy it. This was a very well made, and smooth creme brulee, with a subtle butterscotch flavor to it. This was served with shortbread cookies, which I felt were a little too dense. The Triple Threat Chocolate Brownie ($6.95) is something that I could easily order on my next trip here. This brownie had a cookie dough center, which took me a little by surprise, and was topped with vanilla bean ice cream and a burnt bourbon caramel sauce. Not as crazy sweet as some brownie sundaes have been known to be, this had a nice balance to it. The Fresh Fruit Dessert Pizza ($6.95) was okay, but I'm not into fruit desserts. With this one they used puff pastry as the crust, then it's topped with strawberries with citrus cream, vanilla ice cream, and a white chocolate ganache drizzle. Katie liked this but felt it was hard to get all the elements in one bite when sharing this with four people.

I have to admit that I was pretty skeptical coming to Tavern+Bowl, but Chef Scott really impressed me with his menu. I had told some people at work that I was going to be coming here, and they thought the food was going to be typical bowling alley cuisine, which as you can see it was not. I really liked everything that we consumed on this night, and we look forward to coming back here again soon. Maybe once I get over my bowling burn out phase, we might even come here to bowl a few games.

I would really like to thank everyone at Costa Mesa 55 Tavern+Bowl for their great hospitality on this night. The wait staff and food runners were right on top of things for us all night. I would also like to thank General Manager Ray Ha for making us feel so welcome and answering all of our silly questions. Of course, this visit would not have been as fantastic as it was, without Chef Scott's wonderful food that he brought out for us. Chef Scott, you have elevated not only bowling alley grub but also sports bar fare as well. We were very impressed with your menu and execution. We lastly would like to thank PR superstar, Jane Gillespie from JGPR for thinking of inviting us to this great event. We had a wonderful time Jane.

For more information about Costa Mesa 55 Tavern+Bowl, go to their website here:

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