After running a half-marathon in Laguna Hills, it's no big surprise that my stomach growled and roared like a king of the jungle. Since I haven't had many O.C. dining opportunities recently, it's good a time as any to check out what delectable goodies they've got on the vegetarian front.
At first, I planned to check out one of O.C. Register's favorite vegetarian eateries, but as usual, I had a quick change of heart and steered myself towards Old Vine Cafe, a comfy-casual, breezy indoor-outdoor restaurant in Costa Mesa's The Camp Site plaza. Having garnered mostly good reviews recently from numerous folks, it's been on my to-try list for some time. And being a Cal-Euro-Fusion bistro, I'm sure they'll have something tasty for (still) non-meat-eating me.
With an "Old Vine" in the name, it's hard to resist getting a glass of vino -- so I did. But instead of Zinfandel (the varietal most commonly associated with old vines) I opted for the Pinot Noir, which is easier to pair with lighter and veggie-based dishes. The one they have by glass is 2006 Frogmore Creek 42 Degree South ($12) from Tasmania. I was skeptical at first, since Australia is more well known for heavier reds of Cabernet Sauvignons, Merlots and, of course, Shiraz/Syrah -- but since Tasmania is an island to the South, the presumably cooler climate would make for a decent (and finicky) pinot noir--and it did. The wine was very straightforward, bursting with berry notes and a smidgen of black peppers and nutmeg, a light body, comparatively low acidity and a silky texture. Delightfully easy-to-drink and a great red for a lighter lunch.
Foodwise, I was intrigued by their veggie & quinoa jambalaya ($10), since jambalaya tends to entail a lot of meats. Upon its arrival, I was a bit taken aback, since I was expecting a saucy-stewy dish instead of a composed tower of spiced grains. Nonetheless, I love the flavor profile... with the sufficiently-fiery Cajun spices melding nicely with the quinoa's nuttiness and the assorted vegetables' earthy and leafy flavors. It made for an interesting pairing with the pinot noir, with the spices of each building upon each other while accentuating a puckery-cherry zing in the wine.
The "jambalaya" left me feeling satisfied, but not quite full, so I seized the opportunity to getting a sweet dish as well. After a few minutes of mental deliberation (caramel apple brioche french toast? Spanish crema catalana with cinnamon and citrus?) I opted for their mixed berry crepes with sweet artisanal ricotta cheese mousse ($11), which turned out to be a great meal finish. The soft, pillow blankets of crepe are filled with a light as a cloud mousse that's ever-so-daintly sweetened, serving as a wonderful backdrop to the ripe, flavorful whole berries and pureéd sauce. And I absolutely love that there were oodles of berries instead of a few token, chopped up pieces here and there.
Overall, the lunch left me happily full, surprisingly guilt-free and wonderfully relaxed (esp. by the serene setting of the plaza, whose shops and eateries caters to more eco-conscious, outdoors-adventurous shoppers,) I'm once again glad for my spontaneous dining nature and already looking forward to another trip (planned or impulsive) back here... that quattro formaggio panini (four cheeses, mushrooms, arugula and a pomodoro dip) has been calling my name like a siren of the sea!
Old Vine Cafe
2937 Bristol Street
Costa Mesa, CA 92626-7993