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Costa Mesa, Southern California

Mel and I are in Southern California visiting Helen Long and her family on Balboa Island. We are also going to drive to Santa Barbara and empty the storage unit we have been renting for years now…

Yesterday we had lunch with Helen, her daughter Pat Borison and Pat’s son Randy Borison, and Bob Lee on the deck of Helen’s Balboa Island home overlooking Newport Harbor. A lovely day, and so nice to see Helen again after around a year and a half.  Many memories were brought back for me, watching the boats go by on the bay, and the people and dogs walk by on the boardwalk below us.

Mel and I are staying (with free weekend nights earned in a promotion!) at the Westin South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa. Pretty nice property, and directly across the street from the mall. This latter point is interesting because Charlie Palmer has opened a restaurant at the mall. It is actually in the Bloomingdale’s building. I remember reading somewhere that Charlie had felt that his original restaurant in New York (Aureole) had benefited with its proximity to Bloomingdale’s, and here was a chance to recreate something like that on the left coast.

We tried the restaurant last night. It was very good, yet I have to say we were both a little disappointed.

We started out looking at the wine list after being asked what we would like to drink. After reading it for 15 minutes or so with no dinner menu, our waiter came over to ask if we had made a selection. We explained the difficulty of doing so without seeing the food menu – he agreed and delivered our menus. On the menu was a five-course tasting menu offered with or without wine pairing.  These tasting menus can be pretty fantastic, so we were interested. However, aside from establishing the existence of the tasting menu, the dinner menu provide no further information. So, we waited again until our waiter came back to the table and asked him what the tasting menu was.  He read it to us from the back of his order booklet.  Strange that it is not printed somewhere, even on an insert.  We mulled it over and decided we did not want the tasting menu. After deciding what we wanted to order, we turned our attention back to the wine list. The wine list had so many possibilities we decided we wanted to speak to the sommelier to help us decide. Our waiter returned, heard our request and promptly the sommelier came over and helped us select a Spanish wine to accompany our dinner. The wine was Flor de Pingus ’06, Ribera del Duero. We knew (or know?) nothing of this appellation, but the sommelier offered it as his recommendation based on what we told him we were interested in, which include some Riojas, also a Spanish wine. Anyhow, he brought it already decanted, and it was great!

Now, back to the food. We ordered entrees and side dishes only. Mel the aged New York, Steve the mushroom-stuffed quail. The dishes were good, very good even, but just did not send us for a loop. Mel’s steak had very good flavor, but was really tough and hard to cut on one end. My quail was sort of buried under the mushrooms and truffle sauce. The flavors were very nice, but little quail made it through. Here is a pic of my entree:

Steve's Mushroom-Stuffed Quail Entree
Steve’s Mushroom-Stuffed Quail Entree With Mini Veggies

For dessert we ordered a trio of chocolate, recommended by our waiter over our initial choice of a cheesecake with a ginger-strawberry coulis and orange-campari sorbet. Here is a pic of the chocolate trio:

Chocolate Trio Dessert
Chocolate Trio Dessert

The ‘sorbet’ with milk chocolate (how does a sorbet have dairy in it?) was simply strange. The huge chocolate-caramel tart was fine, though awfully sweet. The white chocolate mousse with strawberry was nice.  We were not all that excited about it, and our waiter did offer to bring us the cheesecake, but we’d had enough by then.

We had a fantastic meal and a great evening, don’t get me wrong.  I guess we just had our expectations, especially for service, set a little too high.

Today is a beautiful Southern California summer day laid our before us.  We better go to the beach!

Happy travels!

-Steve

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