Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Old Vine Cafe: A Hidden Treasure

For the past two months, the draft of this review has been sitting idle in my blog post list. My procrastination would logically seem to indicate that I wasn't thrilled with my dining experience at Old Vine Cafe, an eclectic, internationally-inspired restaurant tucked away in the Camp Mall in Costa Mesa.

But remember, I'm not the most logical of gals.

My belief is that I subconsciously waited to write this post because I didn't want to share the 411 on my special new brunch, lunch and dinner spot with the greater masses of Orange County and Los Angeles. I wanted to keep it all to myself -- a quiet respite for me to grab a panini with my mother, an order of pumpkin French toast with a friend or to share a bottle of wine with a special someone who does not seem to exist. Yet to keep the good news a secret would be negligent, and while I may not always be the most logical of thinkers, I am certainly not negligent! Excepting, of course, when I forget to return my books to the library. Again.

To that end, it is my duty to describe the humble restaurant dwelling and the novel details, like the menus that are stapled to picture canvases, that make the Old Vine Cafe such a hidden treasure. My mother and I were smitten upon arrival. Or, at least smitten upon looking at the lunch and brunch menu that tempted us with omelets stuffed with prosciutto, artichoke hearts, red bell peppers, shitake mushrooms and manchego cheese; freshly baked cinnamon rolls; and porcini mushroom mac & cheese. The illustrative descriptions had us reeling for at least ten minutes before we finally decided on the soup of the day, a squash puree with fried leeks, and an order of the beef & truffles panini with thinly sliced prime rib, Italian white truffle cheese and garlic aioli, to share.

Our soup arrived first -- confusing me for a moment, as I had planned to do the panini dip and dunk, like I do when I eat grilled cheese and Trader Joe's red pepper and tomato soup at home. My mom shrugged at my concern and dove in with her spoon, piercing through the drizzle of olive oil to the earthy puree beneath. We both marvelled over the clean flavors and texture of the crisp leeks that provided the perfect contrast to the luxurious soup. I was suddenly glad the panini didn't come out until we were finished so I could focus all my attention on my starter instead of washing the intricate flavors away with bites of crusty bread.
Despite the success of the soup, I was slightly concerned about the beef & truffle panini. Roast beef can often be laced with unsightly fat globules, and I was already anxious enough about the presence of truffles in the grilled sandwich. Not because I have anything against the exorbitantly priced fungus, but because my mother is typically opposed to the consumption of anything shroom-related. I too am a bit put off by certain varieties of mushrooms, but over the years have come to appreciate the porcini, shitake, and most certainly the truffle -- particularly in oil/butter form. My mom questioned my proposal to order the beef & truffle panini when I first proposed it, but I was a bit of a sneaky Serena (yes, like the Serena on Gossip Girl who tricks awkward male artists into taking her on exotic trips right before she dumps them) and convinced her it was just a type of cheese.

It is, right? ;)

Fortunately for my conscience, the panini did not send off any mushroom alerts in my poor mother's head, and didn't set off my gag reflex with any unwanted chunks of animal fat. The roast beef was lean, tender and perfectly complimented by the restrained use of cheese and aioli. The four sandwich triangles were more than enough to share, and my mom and I were equally (thank goodness!) pleased with our lunch selections.

As we sipped our post-meal pots of tea, content to linger in the now, nearly-empty restaurant, we eagerly made plans for a return visit. To try the pumpkin French toast, the cinnamon rolls, and the seasonally-inspired dinner tasting menu that has gotten rave reviews around town.

While the restaurant may be called "Old Vine Cafe," the only thing old about this fresh face in the OC dining scene are the bottles of wine in their wine cellar/shop. And maybe that truffle cheese as well...


The Blonde Duck said...

It sounds enchanting! I'm like you. I tend to hoard my favorite places from everyone except close friends and family, to whom I demand take me to my hoarding places and buy me dinner.

Esi said...

Everything sounds soooo great! I too am not a huge fan of fungus. Truffles are always the exception and lately, I have been known to partake in a shiitake or portobello. I don't know if I am going to make it down to Costa Mesa any time soon though...

So glad you are doing the 101!!

Diana said...

Blonde Duck - Haha, that's the way to do it! Why do you think I go out to lunch with my mom so often? She's the best date there is! :)

Esi - I used to hate all mushrooms as a kid, but I have started to reaaaally like porcinis. Especially in risotto! Yum!

Heather said...

yum! that looks so good. i love the bottles of wine sitting outside - is that a chandelier? I'm always so sad I don't live in LA when I read your reviews. I am going to San Diego in March, but I think that's at the other end of CA. oh well. anyway, cute place! it looks good :)

Diana said...

Heather - Yes!!! It is a wine bottle chandelier! How stinkin' cool is that? I took more close-up pictures too -- I want one for my apartment!

San Diego is actually not too far from Orange County/LA! Only about an hour and half (without traffic) from the OC, and two or so hours from LA. I love San Diego -- you'll have an amazing time!

Erica said...

Wow- I love the decor of this looks just peaceful! The food looks incredible! I'm sure this place will become busy busy before long! Great review