Recently, Old Vine Cafe celebrated its ninth anniversary of being one of the most underrated restaurants in Orange County, a snug corner of Costa Mesa genius run by owner-chef Mark McDonald. I was there opening night, and even then knew that Old Vine was headed for greatness. The best thing about the place is that McDonald grows every year as a chef, and has created such a loyal following that he leads groups of customers to Italy twice a year.
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McDonald has done all of this with no liquor license, but his booze game is strong AF. In addition to having one of the best bottle-to-bottle wine selections in OC, Old Vine also makes one of the most deceptively strong cocktails around: the Thin Mint Iced Mocha.
Order one, and out comes a tall glass of what looks like chocolate milk, down to the dark rivers of syrup snaking toward the bottom. Take a sip, and it’s sweet, strong and stiff: McDonald has spiked it with soju so imperceptible, you’ll be honestly surprised as you stumble out at 11 a.m., insisting all you had to drink was three chocolate mochas. One wonders what other beauties McDonald has in his arsenal if he ever bothers with a full-fledged liquor license...in the meanwhile, don’t forget that morning Uber exists, and lift another glass to Old Vine!
Old Vine Cafe, 2937 Bristol St. A102, Costa Mesa, (714) 545-1411; www.oldvinecafe.com