Thursday, December 8, 2016

Mesa Proves to Be a Good Opening Act


Mesa
725 Baker Street
Costa Mesa, CA 92626

Going through my day to day routine, I never really stop to think that I'm getting older. Most days I still have the mindset that I'm in my late twenties/early thirties, or after a long day at work, maybe pushing 35. The truth is, as much as I don't feel like it, I'm a lot closer to 50, than I am to 40.

I bring this up because Katie had gotten us tickets to see Culture Club, who were playing at the Segerstrom Concert Hall in Costa Mesa. I had told a number of my coworkers about going to the concert, but not too many of them knew anything about this 80's band, that featured Boy George. After some awful singing of some of their hit songs on my part, and my coworkers still having no clue as to who Culture Club was, I was left feeling like my parents probably did when they were shocked that I did not have any idea who Bobby Rydell was when I was a kid. Now a little dejected, I needed a good restaurant to head to before listening to "Do You Really Want to Hurt Me".

Katie had bought the tickets two days before the concert, (I know, I'm shocked there were still tickets available too), so I only had a day to make reservations. I quickly went to Open Table, which is my favorite spot for making restaurant reservations. I saw Mesa was available at 6 pm and jumped on it.

I had heard some great things about this restaurant, and their very talented chef, Niki Starr Weyler. She has been at Mesa for two years now, and before that, she had been working at Broadway in Laguna, and two restaurants that are no longer with us anymore, Charlie Palmer at Bloomingdale's and French 75. A pretty impressive list, and she's gotten glowing reviews at Mesa, which has been around since 2007.

Mesa is located in a corner of The Camp shopping complex, which has way too small of a parking lot for a retail center with this many in demand shops and restaurants. It's best to save the headaches of driving around in circles or following leaving patrons to their cars, and just pay for valet parking at Mesa. We arrived a little before our 6 pm reservation time and were met with a locked door. They don't open until 6, which I found to be a little odd, but they make up for it by being open late, until 2 am, and serving food almost until closing time.

I loved the feel of this 21 and over restaurant. We got here early and got to watch this loungy, LA kind of vibe restaurant, fill up with the young, gorgeous people of the South Coast Plaza area. Even though this joint was way hipper than a 40's something guy going to a Culture Club concert, I definitely felt comfortable here, and it was great for people watching. The main attraction for me in the dining room, besides the clientele, was the retractable room, which was open on this mild fall evening, and made this restaurant even cooler than it already was.

The small, compact menu is not going to overwhelm diners with a wide variety of things to choose from. They offer three salads, some pizzas, nine entrees, and the largest section of this menu is the appetizer portion, which included a good assortment of things, including their signature item, the Cast Iron Skillet Mussels. I did not order this because Katie would not eat it, but when we come back, I'm getting this for sure. For now, let's take a look at what we did order.


I have shied away from getting drinks in restaurants so I could focus more on the food, but I felt like letting loose on this evening and tried their version of a Moscow Mule ($7). No cooper mug here, but this beverage was still delicious. It came layered with vodka, ginger cordial, lime juice, and Angostura bitters. Different from others I have had, maybe due to the ginger cordial being used instead of a ginger beer. It gave this a little more depth.



For a month or so now, I have been on a real beet kick, and when we saw that a Roasted Beet Salad ($13) was offered at Mesa, we could not resist. This salad included roasted gold and red beets, a beet puree, champagne vinaigrette, burrata, pickled cherries, and croutons, which were really more like toast points. I don't think the menu described this quite right, or maybe I had envisioned something completely different. The beets were delicious, and the inclusion of the pickled cherries was a nice surprise. I did not get very much burrata here, and I felt six pieces of beets were more like a sample than an actual salad. It was clean tasting and light, but I expected a little more substance.



Entree time and Katie had this Wine Braised Short Rib ($26). This Italian-tinged dish featured some freshly made gnocchi, mushrooms, caramelized onions, and Parmesan cheese. The short rib was unbelievably tender, and what made this dish for me was the very well done sauce, which coated the meat and gnocchi perfectly. Real stick to your ribs kind of dish, and I could not get enough of that sauce. Luckily this was a pretty filling dish, so Katie allowed me to finish it. What a perfect wife.




I had some pretty mediocre experiences with pork chops growing up. My mom would get the really small ones at the store, and then fry the heck out of them, until they were made even smaller. They had such little meat on them, I would often just fill up on jarred applesauce and the boxed au gratin potatoes on pork chop night at home. This Berkshire Pork Chop ($29) is a very distant cousin of the pork chops of my youth. This had more meat than all the pork chops I had as a kid combined, and the pork on this one was tender and flavorful. I really enjoyed the cranberry mustard sauce way more than I thought I would when I saw it on the menu. Both the bacon braised Swiss chard and the butternut squash puree really rounded this out nicely. This helped get me over the trauma of overly done pork chops.




We had to get going to our concert, but there's always time for dessert, and I knew we had to give their Aunt Lauren's Fried Cookies ($11) a try. A few miles down the road is the home of everything deep fried, the OC Fair, but these were much better than anything you can get in July at the fairgrounds. These little balls of cookie dough were fried nicely and were not overly greasy, so you got the full flavor of the dough, and they came with plenty of vanilla ice cream. Maybe a little more chocolate in the dough or a dipping sauce would have made these even better.

Mesa was a total hit for dinner before the concert. Maybe the beet salad was not what we were expecting, but our entrees and dessert really hit the mark on this evening and made our date night even better. We'd definitely come back to Mesa when we are going to see another 80's band that no one has ever heard of, and thus making us feel like we are older than we already are. From Assistant General Manager, Joshua Uhler, to our waitress, Ashley, and everyone else we encountered on this evening, we had fantastic service, and they really made us feel welcome during our stay. I even forgive Josh and Ashley for having no idea who Culture Club is, but they promised me that they would Google them.

Out of five chameleons, (in reference to Culture Club's most well-known song), five being best to zero being worst, Mesa gets 3.5 chameleons.

For more information about Mesa, head to their website here: http://www.mesacostamesa.com/

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