Behold the beginning of our annual 100 Favorite Dishes countdown! Every day until the publication of our fantabulous Best Of Issue, we'll list our favorite meals this year in descending order. Enjoy, pass it on, and tune in daily!
I'm proud to say that I've eaten at Old Vine Cafe in Costa Mesa not just since it's first day, but even at a preview dinner that I managed to get into even though I NEVER attend preview dinners. I've seen chef-owner Mark McDonald not only impress out of the starting gate, but grow ever since, always mixing in new influences gained from cooking residencies in Turkey and Italy.
Recently, McDonald started offering multi-course dinners outside Old Vine's friendly confines (emphasis on the "confine"; they deserve an expansion, stat!). I was lucky enough to attend one earlier this month at Surfas in Costa Mesa, an six-course paired-with-wine extravaganza that saw McDonald veer from Mexico to Italy, France, to a roadhouse diner off I-40 in Tennessee.
McDonald has enough of a following now so that about 30 folks paid for the privilege. My favorite of the meal? A take on chilaquiles where he made a rice cake, serrano lime gravy that tasted like a fiery salsa from a lonchera squeeze bottle, and avocado mousse–as authentically Mexican as midgets on TV.
The only reason I'm placing McDonald so relatively low on the list is because I don't want readers to salivate over a plate that he'll never make again. But good news, folks: some of McDonald's specials have made it into the regular rotation at the mother ship, so go to the special dinners, find a fave, and dream…