Avanti Cafe in Costa Mesa underwent a radical renovation a couple of months ago, from a free-for-all veggie-vegan emporium into something more streamlined, more refined. The amazing concoctions of Mark Cleveland and Tanya Fuqua remain, but I still get irked sometimes when I visit. Where are my chocolate cookies? The guac? The rotating weekly international specials? That weird blue reindeer with a pink boa?
But my worries go away once the chica and I order a margarita, the best in Orange County--and the most organic!
There is nothing pretentious, nothing Cadillac about the drink: an order comes in the same glasses they use for water, and the carafe order was probably the orange-juice container for Cleveland's house in another life. It doesn't matter: the drink immediately impresses with the salt on the rim--not bought from Ralph's but rather a combination of coarse and fine Sicilian sea salts spiked with their house-made seven-spice shichimi blend, whatever the hell that is. What it does, though, is zip with heat and umami, prickly sensations that stay on the palate for just a second before the margarita touches your lips.
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It's a bit more tart than what you're used to, and that's because they use honest-to-goodness lime, lemon, orange and grapefruit juices tempered by a citrus-scented organic cane syrup. And, oh yeah, the alcohol: fermented vodka and tequila, just to tickle your brain that much more. One margarita, two margarita, three margarita, floor! Binge-drinking jokes aside, Avanti's margarita is liquid sunshine, absolutely essential for the dog days to come...