A couple of weeks ago, I was invited to a preview of the new summer menu at Memphis Cafe in Costa Mesa. I’ve been following Chef Diego Velasco for almost a decade, and through the years, I’ve observed his many incarnations, and I can truly say, right now, Chef Diego is at the best he’s ever been. His current menu evokes a level of maturity that floods through, and the thought-provoking dishes are absolutely on par with some of the best chefs in Orange County.
Our evening was held in the Airstream parked to the left of the restaurant. It was a warm evening, but the breeze flowing through the windows allowed for a surprisingly cool setting for a wonderful evening ahead. *note: the Airstream is available for private parties.
After a short intro by Chef Diego, we awaited an array of dishes to hit the table, to be enjoyed family style.
**Since it was served family style, my photos won’t do it justice, therefore, all food and beverage photos I’m using in this post are by Anne Watson.
Fried Washington Oysters ($16) was served with red beans and rice, smoked pork belly and zucchini mignonette. Since I’m allergic to oysters, I sat this one out. I did take a little of the accoutrements to taste. The pork belly was nicely rendered, kissed with smokey flavors which did not overpower.
Fresh Baby Corn-Street Style ($18) was an absolutely delightful dish using the most fantastic New Caledonian prawns, served with queso fresco, and a green tomato conserva. Chef Diego suggested we suck on the prawn heads, which I did, but I took it to a whole ‘nother level when other squeamish media diners seated around me started passing theirs down for me to relish upon. I counted eight heads when the server removed my plate.
Just when I thought the prawns would be my favorite dish of the evening, Spice Crusted Striped Bass ($28) arrived. I love fish served with bones intact. I’ve never understood only serving a fillet of fish and discarding its head, tail and bones. I picked up the tail and pried the flesh off the perfectly executed bass enveloped in a soy-lime glaze. A soft scallion-ginger pancake and charred baby bok choy accompanied. I later snagged a collar off another plate and continued teasing little bits of flesh nestled between the bones. It was one of the best dishes I’ve eaten in a long time.
Memphis is known for its southern cuisine, and there’s nothing more soul-tingling than Hickory Barbecue ($21) Our platter consisted of burnt ends, chicken, and baby back ribs and I tried them all. I’m not a huge fan of barbecue, but managed two ribs, a chunk of burnt ends, and a sliver of chicken I cut from my friend’s plate. The ribs are fall-off-the-bone tender, and the burnt ends, packed with smokey goodness. The accompanying roasted jalapeno slaw cleansed the palate with its spicy tartness.
Blackened Rib Cap Steak ($29) is another meat dish that was simply outstanding. The medium rare steak is tender yet substantially chewable — I’m all about texture. Corn cheese and hen of the woods mushrooms, served alongside, were uniquely decadent choices.
But wait, don’t forget the stellar bar program at Memphis. We enjoyed three cocktails this evening, but my favorite was Chai on Fire ($12) a mezcal-based libation with coconut rum, lime, honey, and chai spiced tea. A well-balanced, easy-to-drink cocktail that’ll leave you wanting another.
If you haven’t been to Memphis in a while, or have never been, this is certainly the time to go. Chef Diego is at his prime, and it shined through in every single item this evening. There is nothing worse than a discombobulated menu whenever dining out, so I am especially excited when care has been taken to reflect dishes that are cohesive, well-thought-out, and absolutely tantalizing on the palate. Bravo!
2920 Bristol St
Costa Mesa, CA 92626
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