It saddens me to see how empty Pinot Provence is on the evening of our visit. I’ve always loved this restaurant, the service, its menu, albeit the decor is dated and in dire need of a make-over. However, I don’t need decor to enjoy great food and Executive Chef Alfonso Ramirez definitely excels in this department.
On Thursdays, a Chef’s Market Tasting Menu is offered and it changes according to availability at the farmers’ markets weekly. We decide to partake on this as well as eat those delicious Buffalo-style Frog Legs ($9/$5 on Fridays) I had sampled months ago. Only offered on the happy hour menu, which starts at 4pm, I was afraid we had missed happy hour when we arrived, but was thrilled to find out it goes all night long. These tender frog legs are subtly coated with buffalo dressing, allowing the tender frog legs to shine without being overpowered. The accompanying blue cheese dressing is airy, foamy and irresistible. I wanted to take it home, pour it all over mashed potatoes and eat it up — ask for more, they’ll bring you some!
While perusing the happy hour menu, we spotted several other items we wanted to try. Escargot Provencal ($9) is one. Garlic, diced tomatoes, bread crumbs all play a part in seasoning, but it is the delicate snail which I taste. I would totally order this again.
Asparagus Gratin ($9) is simple yet filled with bold flavors. A fried egg oozes over the asparagus adding a layer of richness, while toasted brown butter bread crumbs provide a texture contrast. The bits of frico (cheese crisps) topping the asparagus is to-die-for and I could have eaten a plate of it easily.
Who can resist Truffle Mac n Cheese ($6) and the one here is unique using orecchiette pasta, and possessing only a hint of truffle. The beauty of Chef Alfonso’s cuisine is his balance of flavors, never allowing one ingredient to overpower another, creating a harmony in each bite.
Moving on to our Chef’s Market Tasting Menu ($75/person, +$40 wine pairing), first course of Asparagus Buttermilk Vichyssoise with burrata and pea shoots is old school with a modern twist. Micro-greens and ribbons of shaved asparagus over a dollop of lemon oil infused burrata is gentle doused in a bath of lusciously silky liquid. Rich on the palate but essentially, very light and immensely gratifying.
Fresh Cucumber Taziki is a salad of cucumbers both shaved and in chunks. Tossed with lime, crushed pistachios, dill, coriander seeds in a citrusy vinaigrette, it is a great refreshing palate cleanser in between courses.
I was a little skeptical when I saw Halibut on the menu. It is not a fish I generally order, but I should have been more trusting in Chef Alfonso’s abilities. The halibut is perfectly poached, then finished in the pan creating a beautiful crust. It is paired with carrots three-ways: braised carrots, carrot hummus — a little heavy on the cumin for the delicate fish — and shaved carrots. I especially loved the green olive tomato relish, sauce vierge and pesto accoutrements.
However, the Venison was the piece de resistence of the evening. The perfectly executed piece of meat, at a medium rare temperature, was so tender we thought was sous vide, but after asking Chef Alfonso, found out that he is not a fan of sous vide (yet another reason why I love the guy). He said “I’m old school!”
The accompanying carrot-infused steel oats were addicting, albeit, a little sweet for the mild venison. Ramps, fava, and a violet mustard of shallot, garlic, olive oil agrodolce rounded the dish off smashingly.
To finish off, we enjoyed the really delightful Smores! A milk chocolate chantilly dessert coated with marshmallow fluff which is then torched, and served with graham crumble and chocolate pop rocks. The pop rocks are so much fun I keep picking them out and giggling at the sensation they made in my mouth!
Today is Thursday so make your way to Pinot Provence tonight for the Chef’s Market Tasting Menu. You won’t regret it!
686 Anton Blvd
Costa Mesa, CA 92626