Mama Needs a Sugar Daddy

Teeny, tasty taco time. Photo by Tenaya Hills

You know that creepy feeling you get when you pull into the Lab or the Camp and see all those fresh, expensive haircuts and meticulously distressed jeans, the feeling that says, at 29, you're too old and too poor?

Ignore it, grab a girlfriend, march into Aire, take out your plastic, and deficit-spend like you're the GOP. (Consider, while you're at it, controlling all three branches of gubmint and running the media, the better to intone about "liberals" and "taxes.") You may not want to belly up to the trendy bar, where uptight Newport Mesans will look sullenly past you, knowing with one sniff that you're really not their kind. But just ask the ridiculously friendly hostesses (as pretty as the Memphis girls across the street but without a stuck-up bone in their slim, lithe bodies) for a table and a menu, and kindly proceed to order everything on it.

You may hate yourself in the morning, but an hour or two getting fat, drunk and happy at Aire is the kind of worldly pleasure that could turn Gandhi into a Republican. Soon you'll be looking for tax breaks to feed your habit, or even running for office, the better to scoop up those tasty bribes (and Mitchell Wade's hookers) so you can enjoy whatever the hell it was the magnificent waitstaff put before us—two nights in a row, motherfucker!

Yeah, I went back the very next day. Now mama just needs a sugar daddy. Too bad Duke Cunningham's stuck in stir.

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Aire has a top-shelf bar, with hard-to-find delights like Miller's gin (don't put tonic in it, asshole; Miller's is a delicate libation with notes of cucumber and rose that's born to be sipped straight), and it also has the signature martinis and lemondrop whatsises that are impossible to escape. Our waitress, though, was pretty insistent we order a Beringer reserve chardonnay that ended up kicking our asses with oaky, buttered-toasty goodness, and that's from someone who thinks white wine is for alcoholic housewives and people in Keds.

Don't worry about getting drunk; you will. And don't worry about the cost; if you do Aire right, you're going to end up dropping a bill for a bunch of reasonably priced small plates that add up right quick (and that you also might not eat because by the time you order them you're already fat and drunk, and by ordering them you're just being silly and ridiculous—and, damn, it feels good). There's no point in choosing just one when the options from executive chef Troy Furuta are so opulent. There's Wrap It Up, "interactive" lettuce wraps with mint and won ton and "avocado mousse" and water chestnuts and skirt steak with a sweet little bowl of ponzu vin. There's Pop Goes the Gnocchi, a homemade gnocchi that avoids the potato dumpling's usual doughiness—like rocks in your gut—in favor of frothy potato frappes in a freaking foam made of popcorn. There are the Flash Fried Tiger Prawns, crusted, weighty things with smoked sea salt, jalapeo, cilantro and a soupon of fresh lime. And there's the stupid-good macaroni and cheese, a staple when Aire, in its previous incarnation, was Tim and Liza Goodell's The Lodge. Now the mac and cheese is a creation of three fromages so dense and creamy we wondered if the secret ingredient was Velveeta—for that nostalgic tang—until our waitress disabused us of the notion. It was probably Gruyre.

We never did order an entre, though the Weekly's own Gustavo Arellano did and was reduced to blubbering, "AMAZING," even going so far as to lock his keyboard in the caps-lock position to tell me about it, when faced with the Kansas City-style steak . (That's "KC and the Sunshine Strip," and I suspect you may be starting to see about the cutesy dish names without my even having to tell you.) But we did order a chilled melon-and-prosciutto soup, and the Mi-So Vegan (another wrapstravaganza, this time without the dead, delicious meat), and the Magnificent Seven, which were tiny tacos of diced ahi tuna, and a bunch of other fusiony delights frequently accompanied by tomatillo salsas or fresh, salty misos or ponzus for which it would be perfectly okay to smack someone. We couldn't stop. And why should we? What better way to spend the waning days of an empire than in sybaritic abandon? We'll leave the ferocious drive and iron wills to China, while we hasten the end of American glory in a fat, greedy, bankrupted stupor. And why not? Look at how well it worked for Rome.

Aire, 2937 Bristol St., Costa Mesa, (714) 751-7099; Open for lunch Mon.-Fri., 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m.; dinner Mon.-Wed., 5:30-10:30 p.m., Thurs.-Sat., 5:30-11:30 p.m. (bar open until 2 a.m.). Dinner for two (with drinks), $100, if you're doing it right. Full bar.

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