Everything old is new again at Costa Mesa’s revamped Old Vine Kitchen & Bar.
Old Vine Cafe held 50 seats; the rebranded Old Vine Kitchen & Bar includes 42 seats in the dining room and another 26 on the lush outdoor patio.
Everyone loves a good makeover, and in the case of the refreshed Old Vine Kitchen & Bar, it’s a move we didn’t even know we needed. Tucked in a charming corner of Costa Mesa’s The Camp, Old Vine has long been loved for its tasting menus and all-day breakfast offerings—see the braised rabbit mole with fresh-baked corn bread—but it’s what’s happening when the lights go down that’s now taking center stage. “After almost 12 years in the original Old Vine space, we had reached a ceiling for growth potential,” says chef-owner Mark McDonald. “When the space became available next door, it felt like a natural next step.”
That next step has resulted in the restaurant going from a 1,650-square-foot space to a 3,000-square-foot spot, previously housed by Ecco Pizzeria & Bar. And with larger footing comes the growth of Old Vine’s ownership—sommelier Kate Perry has joined McDonald in shaping the future of the eatery. “Kate shares that same love for this business, and as a team we are ecstatic,” shares McDonald. “She believed in the concept enough to buy into the company as a managing member, bringing two decades of hospitality experience to the table. She got her start in her late teens at The Ritz-Carlton and worked her way up from there. She is also our wine director and lead sommelier, and works the dining room floor every night.”
Perry is indeed manning the floor the night I visit. Upon arrival, it’s apparent the new Old Vine has infused fine dining into its repertoire. The fare has always been that—seasonal ingredients, innovative takes on classics, a dreamy array of Italian masterpieces refined by McDonald thanks to his frequent trips to Italy—but the ambiance now reflects the stellar lineup of dishes on the delightfully extensive menu. “Kate and I did all the designing together,” says McDonald, beaming. “Our goal was to create a European vibe that is chic and warm at the same time.” Vibrant abstract paintings by Paul Kole line the dining room walls, while an installation of fluidlike steel vines crafted by Mike Gerardi separates the area from the bar. The menus are even adhered to custom-painted canvases, driving home the pivotal role art plays in the redesign.
Seared sea scallops featuring U-8 scallops, crispy fried yucca and tarragon chardonnay sauce
But let’s get to the good stuff, shall we? The fabulous fare. Under the advisement of Perry, we start our meal off with the pillowy foccacia bread. Made to order, the shareable plate is a carb lover’s dream—house-baked Italian-style bread loaded with pomodoro, mozzarella and aged pecorino. Naturally, Perry provides wine recommendations at every turn of the meal—for this bite, we imbibe the Cleto Chiarli Lambrusco Amabile. “Our wine list is of global variety and makes up about a 100-bottle list,” shares McDonald, who also has plenty of lush libations on offer for those looking for a punchier pour. “Our focus at the bar is making classic cocktails with quality ingredients. Selections range from classics like a French 75 and Aperol spritz to timeless favorites like a Negroni and a quality Long Island.” One of the stars of the restaurant’s revamp, the stunning bar is filled with rows of spirits, and backlighting that rotates in vibrant hues.
For the main course, Perry encourages us to explore the culinary journey that is Old Vine’s popular tasting menus. With five four-course options to choose from—the original, vegetarian, vegan, Italian and premium—there are combinations for palates of all varieties. We opt for the original—the first tasting menu Old Vine opened with 12 years ago—and the Italian. Wine accompaniments for each course are an additional fee, one we happily tack on.
Baked in-house, the heavenly focaccia appetizer is dripping with warm pomodoro, mozzarella and aged pecorino
From the original tasting menu, the first course—seared scallops with crispy fried yucca and tarragon chardonnay sauce paired with Aliane Bourgogne blanc chardonnay—and the fourth course—Grandma’s Cheesecake with wild-berry puree paired with N.V. Ferreira ruby port for sipping—are standouts that you won’t soon forget. From the Italian tasting menu, the seared octopus with sourdough “sand,” celery, Meyer lemon emulsion and garlic-infused extra virgin olive oil is the most tender take on the eight-limbed mollusc I’ve had. Then there’s the perfect spring dish: handmade pappardelle with English peas, pork sausage ragu and a generous dusting of Parmigiano-Reggiano—in a word: exquisite.
Booking a visit to McDonald’s elevated Old Vine is a must. But for the ultimate dining experience, join the gastronome for his annual Splendors of Ancient Italy tour in October with chef John Nocita of the Italian Culinary Institute. After all, who better to explore the land of tantalizing tastes with than the maestro himself?
The punchy gin-spiked Aviation cocktail
OLD VINE KITCHEN & BAR
2937 Bristol St., Ste. A103, Costa Mesa, 714.545.1411, oldvinecafe.com
Shareable plates, salads and pasta, $9-$21; entrees, $26-$30; tasting menus, $80-$95; $7-$24; larger plates, $22-$80; dessert, $7-$10
Dinner, Tue.-Sat., 5pm; lunch daily, 11am-3pm; breakfast, daily 9am-3pm; bar, Sun.-Wed., 9am-midnight, and Thu.-Sat., 9am-1am
Photography by: Petra Calling