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Gossiping Gourmet: Taste abounds with attention to detail

September 22, 2010|By Elle Harrow and Terry Markowitz
  • One of Ecco restaurant's wood burned pizza's, Sausage with crushed san marzano tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, caramelized onions, olives, and oregano with added egg.
One of Ecco restaurant's wood burned pizza's,… (DON LEACH, Daily…)

The Camp in Costa Mesa is an innovative and fun destination with assorted sports-related shops and seven different restaurants ranging from 118 Degrees, serving raw vegan food, to Valhalla Table, featuring sausages and beer. Ecco has joined the collection, occupying the large space to the rear that has housed two previous restaurants. This new hip spot is definitely worth searching for, since you can't see it from the street. You must take a very brief walk from the Camp's parking lot, through a miniscule forest, to arrive at this ultra-modern Italian trattoria.

The reasonably priced menu was created by Executive Chef Kris Kirk, lately of Sage on the Coast. There are only two entrées, both from the wood-fired grill — a half chicken and veal Marsala — but plenty of starters, salads, pizzas and pastas as well as a nice selection of sides.

You can begin with a wood-grilled artichoke, a salumi or cheese plate, or perhaps a goat cheese-stuffed squash blossom, to mention a few.

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The better-than-usual focaccia bread had been warmed in the oven and had a bit of crust. It was served with an intriguing green dipping sauce based on parsley, anchovies, garlic and serrano chilies. We began with a classic Italian chopped salad of frisée, garbanzos, onions, fennel-salami, tomatoes, fresh mozzarella cubes and pepperoncinis in white wine vinaigrette. This may be the best chopped salad we've ever tasted. Often, the vinaigrette is heavy-handed and drowns the other ingredients. Not so here. The balance of this salad was perfect. It was full of bright, clean flavors enhanced by just the right amount of excellent dressing with just the right proportion of acidity.

Pizzas come with the puffy, slightly blackened edges that only a wood-burning oven can produce. There is classic Margherita, a white pizza with crème fraiche and several veggie pizzas as well as sausage, prosciutto and salami. Additions include arugula, pancetta or an egg.

A raw egg baked on pizza is very common in Italy and a favorite of ours. We added it to their veggie pizza, which has basil pesto instead of tomato sauce, eggplant, asparagus and goat cheese. When the piping hot pie arrives, you break the yolk and it oozes out all over: yum. The eggplant was cut in small, thin rounds that became crispy in the oven. The pesto and goat cheese gave this very tasty pizza even more pizzazz.

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