Photo by Joy WeberOnce in a very long while, this embonpoint epicure likes to hoist a few with the common man, woman and/or sexual hybrid and investigate their notions of "good eatin'," as they call it. After all, there is the danger we critics run of dwelling solely in rarefied realms, without knowing the gustatory habits of our pals in the petite bourgeoisie. So in an effort to remain au courant with county yuppiedom, I decided to pay a visit to Costa Mesa's Karl Strauss Brewery Restaurant at Metro Point near South Coast Plaza, which opened about this time last year.
Parking here is a tad tricky for someone of my girth, so rather than huff and puff my way from the nearby parking structure, I opted for valet parking in the cul-de-sac immediately before the establishment. A genial, well-dressed young fellow took my vehicle and parked so close to the front door you could hit the car by spitting at it. For this kind service, he would later charge me $3.50, $4 with tip. It's free at lunch, I hear, but such is the price of flabbiness during dinner.
Beyond the glass doors into Strauss' modestly swank interior one encounters a wall of sound, and no, I'm not referring to one of those Phil Spector head shots. Instead, 'twas the noise men make when there are three important elements present: beer on tap, abundant TV sets tuned to sporting events and just enough females to get the testosterone flowing. This night, it seemed to be all football, which I've always found a little too overtly homoerotic for my tastes. All that talk of tight ends and whatnot. Still, the enthusiasm of drinkers and diners for the gridiron did help mask the ringing of cell phones, which were as much in use as one of Paris Hilton's current boyfriends.
Once seated in a booth large enough for six linebackers—and thus, moi—my waitress, a cute blonde with barrettes in her short hair, approached. Oh-so-adorable in that freshly scrubbed OC way, I couldn't help but take her suggestion and order a "taster six" ($7.95), in which you get six five-ounce samples of different Karl Strauss brews brought to you. Of these, the amber lager stroked my palate and made me whine, so my perky server gal brought me a pint of same ($4.25), flashing me a thumbs-up sign before running off to fetch a bowl-like plate of fried calamari. Like fried calamari everywhere, I'm afraid, it left no lasting impression but followed the beer down well enough.
Next up were my dueling entrées, both of which were arrayed decoratively on their plates: the soy-ginger ahi medallions looked similar to Devil's Tower in Close Encounters of the Third Kind while covering a mound of basmati rice; and the Bangkok chicken featured a grilled clucker's breast set atop rice, with julienne carrots, broccoli, Chinese noodles and some vaguely Asian sauce. Of these, the ahi won the favor of my stomach with its rather corporate combination of mushrooms, pickled ginger and citrus vinaigrette. As for the Bangkok chicken, I appreciated the idea of it more than the reality. That was a right tough bird, folks, one that could easily take Missy Elliott in a free-for-all if need be.
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The "Chocolate on Tap" was my beer maiden's suggestion for dessert, and I always do what a blonde tells me when it comes to hot fudge and whipped cream. The payoff was correctly orgasmic: a round brownie-like thingee with warm chocolate within and without, a scoop of vanilla ice cream, and, of course, the whipped cream, which had me reminiscing about Kim Basinger in 91⁄2 Weeks. Ah, the mammaries!
This and a jumbo cup o' Joe helped me ignore the scintillating conversation of the blokes seated next to me whose utterances were confined to what Jimmy Kimmel did on the tube the night before or nuggets of wisdom such as "Dude, you've gotta rent Old School!" Or "This beer is excellent!" At least there were no pregnant women or ankle-biters mucking about—definitely a bonus in my book.
Upon leaving, I stopped to glance at all the Karl Strauss merchandise for purchase and noticed the brown gallon jugs in which those who can't get enough of Mr. Strauss's beverage can take some home. The first gallon is $14.95, with a $9.95 refill every time you bring it back, and they'll even clean your bottle for you! Now that's a concept worthy of Homer Simpson himself. Editor, cue Aaron Copeland's Fanfare for the Common Man. My research here is done.
Karl Strauss Brewery Restaurant, located at 901A South Coast Dr., Costa Mesa, is open Mon.-Thurs., 11:30 a.m.-midnight (kitchen closes 10 p.m.); FRI.-SAT., 11:30 a.m.-1 a.m. (kitchen closes 11 p.m.); Sun., 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m. (714) 546-2739. Dinner for two, $50, food only. Full bar. All major credit cards accepted.