Vaca Costa Mesa is a creation from Top Chef S13’s Amar Santana and owner of Broadway. Here’s the thing. I’ve heard a lot of good things about his restaurants and a lot of bad things about his restaurants.
The good things I’ve heard are people who know him and the bad things are from people who don’t. It’s been mixed reviews for Vaca Costa Mesa.
I’ve visited Spain recently and ate at a lot of notable Tapas bar in Barcelona and San Sebastian. The list includes Bodega 1900, Tapas 24, La Vaca, Taberna Gandarías Jatetxea, PinotXO, Quimet & Quimet, and the undisputed champ of all tapas bar…Tickets Bar. I would have to say Tickets Bar ranks in my top 5 dining experiences ever. EVER. Therefore, I can say I have an idea what a “tapa/pinotxo” is about. That’s all I ate in Spain for two days excluding my meal at Mugaritz.
Vaca Costa Mesa service was decent. Our waiter came by multiple times and checked on us. The food came out in short spurts. The interior was a bit tight and crammed but what tapas/pinotxo bar in Spain isn’t? There was a meat locker but nothing compared to the ones in Japan.
Now, Vaca Costa Mesa comida. Tapas are small plates, family style, meant for sharing, and so forth. We ordered quite a few items, so here is what we got at Vaca Costa Mesa:
- Japanese Kobe Beef – I’ve had authentic A5 Japanese Kobe beef a few times when I was in Japan last year. The buttery and rich flavors of the beef was simply life changing and it redefined my palate. When I saw this on the menu, I questioned its authenticity because it’s very hard to obtain authentic Japanese Kobe beef in the States. Japan limits its exports. However, I decided to try 3 oz of it and at first bite I questioned its authenticity cause it wasn’t as rich and flavorful as the one I had in Japan. The Japanese Kobe beef tasted like it has been in the freezer for a few months accumulating freezer burn. The Kobe was tender but it was missing its signature robust rich and buttery flavors. In addition, Vaca Costa Mesa decided to served it with sauce. Blasphemy. They just should have grind it up and put it into a burger like In N Out.
- Jamon Iberico Cincos Jotas – Jamon Iberico cured for 5 years and relatively tasty; however, it definitely falls short of the Joselito’s glory. Iberico Joselito is the Japanese Kobe Beef of cured ham and declared the best ham in the world. This is no fault of Vaca cause Joselito is unattainable in the States the last I heard. Vaca’s Jamon Iberico was salty, fatty and a little better than the Jamon served at Jose Andres’ Jaleo. Unfortunately, it’s missing the wow factor and doesn’t have the “umami” bliss to it like Joselito. Joselito will change your life like your first orgasm.
- Bikini Sandwich – The truffle, cheese and iberico laid between white bread with toasted/seared marks. My main issue with it was there was too much going on. The iberico clashed with the truffles. They should have kept it simple and served it with jamon and cheese or truffle and cheese. I’ve been to Rome, Lisbon, Barcelona, and San Sebastian and they all served their sandwiches with jamon iberico and cheese. Those jamon sandwiches were the best sandwiches I’ve eaten. No condiments. It was simple and highlighted the fatty and salty jamon.
- Higado de Pato – The seared foie gras laid in a vanilla/apple compote and toasted pistachio. I thought this should have been seared a little more. The best seared foie gras I had was at Eleven Madison Park. It seared to the point that the foie gras was pretty much butter. The foie gras came out a bit lukewarm and tasted like it was sitting on the counter for some time. It was missing the silky buttery texture, which could have made the dish perfect.
- Rabo De Toro – Red wine braised beef oxtail with wild mushrooms. The braised oxtail fell off the bone in heavenly delight and the red wine didn’t over power the dish. The wild mushrooms was a nice complement to it and still had a nice plump juicy texture to it. This was easily the best dish of the night. My dining partner thought so since she practically ate the whole thing. It was served, I went to the restroom then came back to see it was completely devoured and she looked like a vampire who prey on victim’s neck.
- Croquetas De Pollo – The chicken croquette was decent not amazing. It seemed overly stuff with chicken, didn’t have the fluffy composition to it and a cooled down very quick. The batter was the best part.
- Hueso Al Horno – Roasted bone marrow, beef cheek toast, and topped with citrus fruit. I thought this was decent. It was very vibrant due to the citrus fruit and earthy but something was missing to complete the dish.
Lastly, I get the whole support your local artist but the best way you can support someone is to be honest. I never have high hopes for restaurants in OC cause they simply suck. Vaca Costa Mesa is a pretty decent restaurant but it’s great for OC standards. Creative? Nope. Comforting? Yes. It’s definitely better than Pueblo and other tapas bars in OC. Maybe I came in on an off night but I will confirm that soon.
- Service - 7/107/10
- Presentation - 7/107/10
- Flavor - 7/107/10
- Ambiance - 7/107/10
- Decor - 7./107/10
Amar Santana’s attempt at tapas was an overall pretty decent showing of his talents. Some of the ingredients clash and some were mesh well. Vaca sits closely at the top of hill in a non-culinary town like Orange County. I would consider it one of the better restaurants I would recommend tourists. There are other tapas bars but they’re mediocre at best.