The last time I dined at Mesa was about three years ago — maybe more — when a group of us came here for dinner and drinks after the OC Auto Show. The only thing I took away from that experience was, well not much, seeing I never returned again.
A few weeks ago, a friend asked me to dinner at Mesa and I’d be lying if I said I was excited. However, that soon changed when I find out that the new chef, Niki Starr, is from the same school — maybe “family” is a better word — as some of my favorite young chefs in OC, including Aron Habinger and Joshua Han.
(photo below courtesy of Mesa)
We were presented first with an amuse bouche of steak tartare. After the first bite, I already knew this meal would go in a very positive direction. It was perfectly seasoned, and there were inclusions of ingredients which made it a little different from all the other steak tartares out there. Besides chives, there was watermelon radish to give the tartare both color and texture. The minute I tasted the mayo, I knew it was Japanese Kewpie mayo — the only mayo I have in my home — and a sprinkling of togarishi added a touch of heat to the finish.
(all food photos courtesy of Bobby Navarro)
Our first course of Beet Salad ($10) comprised roasted gold and red beets, nice chunks of Humbolt Fog blue to give it an element of saltiness, and an array of citrus which cleansed my palate between each bite. The orange and grapefruit were expected, but the one meyer lemon segment was definitely a surprise, making us giggle as the tartness surprised both my friend and I simultaneously. The prosecco vinaigrette is light and does not overwhelm, while the pistachio dust added a textural component to the dish.
If you only order one dish at Mesa, make it Chef’s Spanish Style Mussels ($16). It was fun to watch as the sizzling hot plate makes its way from the kitchen to you. Black Prince Edward Island mussels with slivers of bilbao chorizo, tossed in a white wine sauce possess hints of smoked paprika, and is not to be missed. The flavors were intoxicating and you’ll want to soak up the juices with the grilled bread from OC Baking Company served on the side.
But perhaps, the simplest of all items is always the best. Holiday Sliders ($12/2pcs) were created in the spirit of Thanksgiving, but instead of turkey, Chef Niki uses shredded duck confit. A smear of potato puree on the mini potato bun serves as a base for the duck and then, it is topped with a festive cranberry orange compote. The sandwich brings the spirit of the holidays closer, but it is the gravy dipping sauce that’s really to-die-for!
Steelhead Salmon ($20) arrives with flaky fish under the crispy skin, and seasoned to perfection. Fire-roasted cauliflower and confit carrots accompany, with a spoonful of stone ground mustard seed beurre blanc, and finished off with micro dijon.
I would have been happy after the salmon, but there was one more course to eat. Kurobota Grilled Pork Chop ($22) is drizzled with a smoked blackberry jus prepared using the pork belly braising liquid, and seasoned with a touch of blackberry liqueur. Sweet potato puree and flash fried Brussels sprouts are good accoutrements, adding a hint of sweetness to the pork.
Although dessert isn’t always on my dining agenda, I accept a taste of my friends’ Bread Pudding ($8). Vanilla maple bacon adds a touch of saltiness to balance out the dulce de leche on the plate. I love the variety of textures Chef Niki features on every plate and here, cashew bits add crunch to the softness of the pudding and ice cream.
Mesa’s reputation of its menu being an after-thought to its libations will soon be a thing of the past if Chef Niki continues at the helm. The food is simple, but packed with appealing flavor profiles which even the fussiest of palates will appreciate. I, for one, was highly impressed by her ability to season her proteins perfectly. In time, the late night gourmands will find their way here and hopefully, change the perception that Mesa is only good as a drinking spot.
725 Baker Street
Costa Mesa, CA 92626