If the SOCO Collection in Costa Mesa weren't already a cool scene with its permanent farmers' market sheds; the OC Mix; and its eclectic grab bag of hip eateries such as Jeff Duggan's Portola Coffee, Leonard Chan's Shuck Oyster Bar and Noah Blom's ARC, now there's Surfas, which officially puts it over the top.
Haven't been to the original Surfas in Culver City? Take a Williams-Sonoma, mix it with a Costco, add a dash of Smart & Final, season it with a little bit of Whole Foods, and there you go. At its core, the place is a food hobbyist's toy store where some major coin can be dropped on professional-grade equipment and supplies. Every conceivable gadget and doodad a chef, baker or restaurateur could ever need is here, from fancy cocktail skewers with those cute curlicue tops to a gigantic commercial mixer with a dough hook large enough to be mistaken for one of the Queen Mary's propeller blades.
But there are things here even you, the casual home cook, never thought you always wanted. Ever wondered where you can buy one of those shiny, pocket-sized crumb scrapers the waiters at fancy places such as Mastro's use to tidy up tables between the main course and dessert? Or those compostable wooden forks, spoons and plates you've seen at Umami Burger that you thought would be cool for your backyard barbecue? They're next to the waist-high deep fryers and the fast-food french fry scoops—all of it steps away from where you can literally buy a kitchen sink.
Surfas Culinary District, 3309 Hyland Ave., Costa Mesa, (714) 453-COOK; www.culinarydistrict.com. Open Mon.-Sat., 9 a.m.-6 p.m.; Sun., 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Lunch for two, $15-$30.
Surfas isn't just tools and gear, though. A cheese and charcuterie counter takes up a whole corner of the store, where all kinds of cured meats can be paired with cheese wedges stinky, crumbly and blue-veined. You can ask the staff to assemble all of it as a party platter, or sample some right there as a cheese plate, accompanied by prepared salads you scoop up from a self-serve bar. Occasionally someone behind the counter bakes up a sample tray of garlic bread, its smells wafting through the entire store—the best advertising for the tubs of Surfas' own brand of garlic butter, on sale in a cooler next to the fancy jars of caviar.
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There's also a room with chairs facing a cooking-demonstration stage. And next to this, Surfas has its own restaurant, which shouldn't be taken for granted as though it were the hot-dog stand at IKEA or the food court at Costco. This restaurant is a destination in and of itself because it makes one of the better burgers in the county. This is a serious adult burger—one that utilizes no less than a Kobe beef patty cooked to spec, then stung with just the right amount of Point Reyes blue cheese, a measured smear of horseradish mayo, fistfuls of arugula, red onion and a slice of tomato. This mass sits snug in a shiny, well-toasted challah bun well-suited for the messy, juicy characteristics of the sandwich. It ain't cheap—but it's worthy of the $13 price tag. You can also get a lamb burger for about the same price; it comes slathered with a chipotle ketchup that makes it taste almost like barbecue.
No matter the sandwich—the burger; the pulled pork with shades of five-spice; the heirloom tomato, Mission fig and Tallegio grilled cheese—all are automatically served with a thoughtfully assembled side salad. And the salads are exceptionally good here. Each leaf is tender and perfectly dressed. You'd do well ordering the actual entrée salads served in the deep metal bowls they're tossed in. The roasted beet has the root vegetable slightly shriveled and concentrated, nesting on peppery arugula, showered by feta, draped by ribbons of prosciutto, and punctuated by the noisy crunch of marcona almonds that shatter as you bite down. A finishing touch of edible flowers is added for color—yes, edible flowers. The kitchen also does pizzas, baked to order in amorphous amoebas and topped with anything from plain cheese and a special non-spicy sauce for the kiddies to the full-on weirdness of the smoked salmon with a cream cheese schmear, red onion, dill and lemon zest. Though the crust is nothing more than flatbread dough, it crisps dutifully at the bottom and along the sides. Notice, though, the word "pizza" isn't on the menu.
You should also try the soups, which are always silky, and the macaroni and cheese, which hits that sweet spot between too soupy and too dry. Eat the latter while contemplating how there's probably not a blue box of Kraft to be found anywhere in the store. Though, somewhere in that maze, there's no doubt a pasta extruder on sale out of Professor Frink's lab, should you decide you're ready to make your own macaroni.