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Photo by Jessica CalkinsLet me see if I have this right: Orange County's first family of fine French food opens a faux ski-lodge restaurant . . . and they serve meatloaf?
Yes. That's it. Add a swingin' '60s bar upon which martinis are always the cocktail du jour, and you've got the Lodge, Tim and Liza Goodell's latest creation and the newest entry into Costa Mesa's nightclub/bar/restaurant scene.
After earning high praise for their classic French cuisine at Aubergine and Troquet, the Goodells are swerving dangerously into the trendy, with Huntington Beach's pan-Asian Red Pearl and now the Lodge, which dishes up what my wife succinctly describes as "really good cafeteria food." But the Goodells pull off an amazing feat by transforming the favorite foods of tired moms and lazy bachelors into tantalizing, creative meals.
There's something here for everybody—by which we mean fabulous people—from the minimalist couches by the flagstone fireplace (hence the "lodge" effect) to the cement floors and vague Googie touches. This place is a natural for young, beautiful people who, later in the evening, will go on to drink, preen and mate at Detroit and the Kitsch Bar. They were here during our visit, as were middle-aged couples with their children and a sizable collection of seniors gettin' crazy on Scotch and fine steak.
But ignore those brutes: let's eat. Pot roast. Macaroni and cheese. Pork and beans. The aforementioned meatloaf. These are American staples, but the Lodge expands upon them in ways you'd expect from the talented Goodells—like a velvety roasted-squash soup, creamy polenta and a lineup of prime, aged steaks. The Lodge serves an à la carte menu so à la carte you can choose from 10 sauces—from béarnaise and peppercorn to mustard seed and pan gravy—for your main dish.
Eating à la carte can be a quick way to go broke, and the Lodge offers no bargains. Starters and side dishes range from $4 for the cheese bread to $11 for the pork and beans; the cheapest meat dish is the meatloaf at $12. But it's the quality you pay for, which is evident in every dish.
Take the pork and beans and the macaroni and cheese. Instead of making vats of the stuff, Lodge chefs prepare each order individually. This must be a pain in the butt, but their efforts are appreciated. The mac-n-cheese, normally a ho-hum dish, sings with the snappy taste of Parmesan and the smooth texture of Monterey jack.
Such little touches make the difference here. For example, the iceberg salad is basically a chunk of lettuce covered with blue cheese dressing. But this lettuce tastes fresh-picked, and the cheese explodes with funk. A few slices of remarkably flavorful tomatoes round out a perfect salad.
Everything we tried was marked by such subtlety. My wife ordered the free-range chicken, which featured a perfect mix of seasonings on the crispy skin with meat that was slightly rich and gamy as only free-range chicken can be. The intense peppercorn sauce she ordered with it (which comes on the side) added a perfect flavor burst.
And for me, the meatloaf. The Lodge version is a very meaty one, not filled with the Midwestern/Family Circle detritus for which the dish is notorious. It was hearty and delicious, almost like a good steak, and the smooth, light pan gravy with it provided an excellent accent. The Lodge dishes up three thick slices, one of which I took home for the ultimate test: next-day leftover meatloaf sandwich. It passed with honors.
Dessert follows the same comfort-food theme: chocolate pudding, banana cream pie and a massive root beer float with homemade vanilla ice cream. We shared a float with two straws, just like Mickey and Judy did in so many '40s movies. Ah, retro romance.
Given that its fate is tied to the success of Shaheen Sadeghi's newly opened Camp (across from his Lab anti-mall), it's hard to predict the future of the Lodge. But if food quality makes a difference, the Lodge should have a long, happy life and provide a strong link in the Goodells' plans for world domination.
THE LODGE, LOCATED IN THE CAMP AT 2937 BRISTOL ST. IN COSTA MESA, IS OPEN FOR LUNCH, MON.-FRI., 11:30 A.M.-3 P.M.; FOR DINNER, DAILY, 5:30 P.M.-CLOSING. (714) 751-1700. FULL BAR. DINNER FOR TWO, $60-$80, FOOD ONLY. ALL MAJOR CREDIT CARDS ACCEPTED.