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The Gossiping Gourmet: Passion for craft shows in flavors

November 24, 2010|By Elle Harrow and Terry Markowitz
  • Old Vine Cafe at The Camp in Costa Mesa serves scallops on a nest of crispy fried yucca finished with Tarragon Chardonnay sauce.
Old Vine Cafe at The Camp in Costa Mesa serves scallops… (KENT TREPTOW, HB…)

We're back at the Camp again, that hip foodie enclave in Costa Mesa, this time to sample the fare at Old Vine Café, the joint creation of the brothers McDonald. Chef Mark and sommelier Brandon run this little restaurant virtually by themselves, with one helper. They're cooking, waiting on tables, chatting with customers, making suggestions and apparently having a great old time of it, albeit an exhausting one. Their passion for what they do is contagious and the food is really good, especially when paired with some of their well-chosen wines.

Although the restaurant is quite small, the big glass windows along one wall that open out to the dining patio and the mini-forest beyond make the room feel more expansive. In one small corner is their wine nook, where their carefully crafted collection resides, providing an element of decor in this clean contemporary room. Tasteful jazz playing in the background is conducive to conversation as well as digestion.

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Mark and Brandon have been building their fan base for the last three years serving breakfast, lunch and dinner. The extensive breakfast menu includes inventive omelets, crepes, quiches, even biscuits and gravy, as well as house-made baked goods, nut butters and marmalades. Lunch features a three-course tasting menu for $20, as well as soups, salads, panini and small plates. Dinner has three four-course tasting menus with wine pairings for $65. One is strictly seasonal, one is their original and the third is vegetarian. Their particular specialty at Old Vine is pairing wine with food. Please note the pours are so generous you might want a designated driver. House-made pastas, salads and smaller plates complete the a la carte dinner selections.

Choosing our own small plate dinner, we began with three well-prepared scallops, nicely browned, moist and very tender in a luscious tarragon chardonnay sauce garnished with a tangle of fried yucca shreds. Unfortunately, bread is not served and so when we wanted to soak up that scrumptious sauce, Brandon solved the problem by bringing us spoons.

Vegan quinoa jambalaya turned out to be surprisingly addictive. The complex Cajun spiced quinoa was studded with crunchy vegetables: zucchini, onions, shitake mushrooms and red peppers, enriched with cilantro pesto. (Quinoa is an ancient Incan grain, considered to be a complete protein with all eight amino acids.) We just couldn't stop eating it.

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