Market Café Marred by Location?

Some of the eateries within the Patina umbrella may benefit from a stellar site (not least Patina itself, in LA's Disney Concert Hall), but the Market Café, next to the Orange County Performing Arts Center, sure isn't one of them.

For starters, it's tucked away down a path in between OCPAC buildings and office blocks. It's just a couple minutes' walk from South Coast Plaza, but it seems that few shoppers are making the effort to get there, despite the lack of interesting lunchtime options at the mall.

Location aside, the food itself varies. I recently enjoyed a Waldorf Salad, which was heavy on the green stuff and light on everything else--cubed chicken, diced apples, raisins, candied walnuts and blue cheese. But, despite being prepackaged, it was extremely fresh. Another time I stopped by, a Black Forest ham sandwich with Swiss cheese was overfilled with cheap-tasting meat, and I'm pretty sure it was made with average supermarket wholegrain bread, not marble rye, as advertised. Not worth $7, that's for sure. (Other items represent better value, such as the daily-changing soup, $3).

There are a few fresh side dishes on display, which might include penne pasta with basil pesto, olives and roasted garlic. I chose a dullsville orzo salad with bell peppers and olives that tasted of nothing--though I'm not sure orzo can ever be that exciting.

Extras include kettle chips, cookies and a well-chosen drinks selection (Lorina lemonade, DAD's root beer, and so on).

Coffees are fine, and service is friendly.

I know this is hardly a ringing endorsement, but I would still come back here. It's part of a mini chain, yes, but it's just that little bit different. A real bonus is that it's not overrun with students and their textbooks. Indeed, it's a pleasant, quiet spot to while away a half-hour.

Whatever the case, something is hurting business here, and it's probably not just the general recession. The hours have been scaled way back, to the point that it's now open weekdays only, for breakfast and lunch. With a few changes to the ingredients and a higher profile, this place could be a gem.

Now, for all you Fawlty Towers fans out there, the classic Waldorf Salad sketch.

Market Café by Patina, 615 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa (714)-429 7650.


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