This Hole-In-The-Wall Life

A Classy, Twee Time

This column brings you more than its share of offbeat locations for great grub: taco trucks, street vendors, restaurants located in a grocery store's storage room or in former homes. But who says a hole in the wall can't be a classy experience—especially when it's as great and twee as OLD VINE CAFE?

Old Vine stands in the mucho mainstream LAB/Camp complex, but its location is almost an afterthought, standing as it does on the pathway to the much bigger Aire, away from the hipster crowds. Plus, the café is almost as big as a Newport Beach conference room. But it trumps such an unfortunate environment with one of Orange County's strongest menus, pound-for-pound. There's nothing particularly new or fusion-y about the meals—you can make most of these treats at home. But you probably don't have access to the same foodstuffs, and you definitely can't manage a kitchen like chef Mark McDonald.

Old Vine serves breakfast, lunch and dinner, and everything succeeds. Breakfast brings large, subtle omelets that bounce around the globe for inspiration: a pizza variety sings with salami and freshly made pomadoro sauce, while the omelet España—proscuitto, bell peppers, mushrooms and artichoke hearts—dances around salty, sweet and hearty flavors. The complementary side of potatoes, meanwhile, features a slightly spicy salsa that will make you swear off ketchup forever. The toast is nothing special—no, to make it the great treat it actually is, ask for some of the specialty marmalades and butters. Strawberry, kiwi, pistachio—they're all sweet, and you can grab a couple of containers from their food shelf afterward.

Lunchtime is a slightly more gourmet affair, with a small-plates menu that will burn a small hole in your pocket, but it is well worth it due to fanciful, flavorful creations: The octopus carpaccio, in particular, is luscious and light. A better deal are the paninis—the Italian combo stuffs two types of meat into a soft bread, while another combines prime rib with white truffle cheese into the type of sandwich a Philly cheesesteak would've become if it weren't born in Philadelphia. And the dinners? Same as the lunch menu, except with more pastas and various meats.

If you enjoy Old Vine's menu, you'll be happy to know many of its ingredients can be bought in packages along with cheap, wonderful wines. And I'd be remiss if I didn't mention two desserts: the Crema Catalana and Grandma's Cheese Cake. The former ends my search for a great crème brûlée: This one stuns with cinnamon and citrus overtones so peppery you might gasp. And the cheesecake, prepared with a graham-cracker crust and drizzled with some type of berry goo, is perfect. There is no other word to describe it—it's just perfect.

OLD VINE CAFE, 2937 BRISTOL ST., STE. A-102, COSTA MESA, (714) 545-1411; WWW.OLDVINECAFE.COM .

 
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