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Sep 9, 2013 12:04 AM

Taco Maria brick + mortar 1st Report, Costa Mesa - Excellent Tasting Menu

Holy Guacamole, did we have an unexpectedly awesome meal at Taco Maria in the OC Mart Mix last week or what?!?

As a residents of L.A., we don't have much purpose to make OC a culinary destination, but a day chock full of appointments left us hungry, wanting, and behind the orange curtain. This used to be a dilemma, but lately, not so much. With the addition of Nick Weber at The Cannery, some decent Asian fare in the north county and Irvine, and some of the best donuts in the U.S. at Sidecar, we actually look forward to our forays down south nowadays.

And now, with Carlos Salgado (Coi, Commis) opening his brick+mortar offshoot of his truck Taco Maria, we have even more reason to shoot down the 405 for something other than Manpuku.

Housed in the OC Mart Mix which is possibly cooler than anything we have going in LA (sorry Helms Bakery), OC Mart Mix houses Portola Coffee Lab, a nice little cheese shop, a wine and olive oil tasting bar, Shuck Oyster Bar, ARC Wood Oven Restaurant, Greenfield's, a rad climbing coop, and a handful of fun, well merchandised non-chain boutique stores - all dropped in the middle of SOCO - essentially OC's design center...oh, and they have an awesome Surfas Restaurant Supply.

We had eaten at the truck once before early last year and were frankly underwhelmed. Maybe because we were eating in a parking lot on a cold January evening. Maybe it was an off night. But the food we had at the restaurant is very different indeed.

The wine pairing by Thomas (Coi, Central Kitchen) was stellar. Leave the wine bags at home fellas. You don't even want to attempt pair-your-own here.

On the one hand, it makes sense to carryover the Taco Maria name, but it might be confusing to those expecting a tacqueria. This is high chicano cuisine hecho in Orange County, my friends. Think of it as Cocina Maria. Not a mediocre dish in the bunch. Always impressed when a chef can pull off every dish. The tasting menu is four courses with a choice of two, so we managed to order the entire menu.

The quality of the food was superb, the execution near perfect. It was akin to some of our best haute cuisine meals in Mexico City. Service was spot on. Come on...guacamole with figs and pistachio. Ah hem, rice and beans not included.

cucumber, cilantro, acid
Wish I knew all of what was in this, but it was light, awakening, herbaceous.

cherry tomato, butterfly herb, queso fresco, radish, avocado, baby watermelon cucumber
2011 Eola Hills Pinot Gris Willamette Valley Oregon

crushed avocado, figs, pistachio, flax chips
2011 Cachett Grenache Rosé Gard Languedoc -Roussillon France

quinoa fritters, goosefoot herb, ricotta, green tomato
2007 Damien Lareau Chenin Blanc 'Les Genet' Savennieres France

corn soup with huitlacoche
2008 August Kesseler Riesling-Silvaner Halbtrocken Rheingau Germany

shiitake, rajas, queso Oaxaca, epazote
2010 Marcheti Verdicchio di Castelli di Jesi Marche Italy

pacific ling cod, achiote, pineapple, cabbage
Vinho Verde, can't remember producer, slightly effervescent, we actually could have gone dyslexic with one or two of these tastings

mary’s chicken, cocoa bean, chile, date, almond
1994 Blandy’s Malsmey Madeira Spain

wood-grilled hanger steak, nopalitos, corn, bacon
2007 Henry’s Drive Shiraz Padthaway Australia

$42 Four Course Tasting Menu
$24 Beverage Pairing

We'll be back before he changes to the Fall Menu.

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  1. Thanks for the report. Mole and Madeira! How'd that work for you?

    2 Replies
    1. re: JAB

      We were a little confused when those tiny glasses came out. Okay, dessert course? Seemed a little earlier, but we're reaching our salient point. Then came the mole.

      It's a genius pairing.

      1. re: revets2

        I'm thinking that the wife is going to have to fight me for her fair share of that course.

    2. Hell, reservation made.

      1. I am glad you liked this place. We have been waiting for this place to open up for a few months now. We will try it this weekend.

        1. FYI they are only open for dinner right now. We made the mistake thinking they would have a similar menu to their truck for lunch. We settled for greenleaf across the fountain. They are working on lunch but didn't have an ETA when I spoke to somebody at the Taco Maria.

          10 Replies
          1. re: js76wisco

            Sorry to not have mentioned that. Correct. Only a tasting menu and only dinner right now.

            Carlos says lunch is planned soon and may look more like the truck menu.

              1. re: revets2

                The salad was great, same quality as the CM and BH location. My favorites are the cobb salad and Mexplosion with chicken. A little pricey for salads but a big portion and quality ingredients.

                I found this location a little hectic. Very crowded and hard to find seating. The staff was also still getting up to speed. We sat down and they give you numbers for your order. On 3 different occasions somebody came and gave us the wrong salad because they recycle numbers. I was there with a party of 8 and it took about 15 minutes for our entire party to get salads even though we ordered altogether. I'm sure they'll get better over time.

              2. re: js76wisco

                They're doing lunch now.

                Completely worth going.

                The place is spectacular.

                The Alma of OC.

                1. re: Stravinsky

                  Thanks for the info. What's on the lunch menu?

                  1. re: revets2

                    Tacos! I am sure it changes. But Mushroom Tacos, Chicken Mollo Tacos, Sablefish (battered), and Hangar Steak + Bacon.

                    Plus various apps. Huazontles. A very interesting guacomole with pistachios, and grapes, and flax chips. A salad of some sort, and a ceviche of some sort.

                    Everything to be eaten with knife and fork though really. It's not you average taco experience at all.

                    1. re: Stravinsky

                      I think their dinner is a better value than lunch. we had lunch there about 10 days ago and I felt the fish tacos at $15 was delicious, but a tiny portion. For that price they should give a side of something like veggies to satisfy you. The hanger steak tacos at $16 was a much better value. They told us they will start brunch soon.

                      1. re: mrsjoujou

                        Did you order an appetizer?

                        I was pretty satisfied after 1 pp + tacos.

                        It's an expensive lunch, but this is also probably the best restaurant in Orange County. One should probably expect to drop $30 on lunch there.

                        I suppose dinner probably is a better value in that you'd get 2 more courses for another $20.

                        Still, it's nice to be able to sample the fare they are offering if you don't feel like putting down a full $50.

                        1. re: Stravinsky

                          Yes we had the Aguachile and it was delicious.

              3. Really enjoyed our meal tonight. They changed the menu up somewhat from the sample menu on their web site and what revets2 posted above. Very comfortable and accommodating. A nice combination of updated classics and Alta Cucina. The Madeira and Mole is an inspired pairing. Get here before they raise the prices.

                6 Replies
                  1. re: mrsjoujou

                    I wish that I had asked for a menu to take home. The Palate Cleanser was a drink that had some spice as well as a granita of melon a nice contrast. The first course was the Papalo as described above and a cauliflower dish with pumpkin seeds and dried blue berries. 2nd was the Guacomole and Hauazontles. 3rd was the Jardineros and Pescado al Pastor. The Jardineros were one of the best vegetable dishes I've ever had. 4th was chicken mole enchiladas with the inspired pairing with Madeira and pork chile verde which had the only pairing mistake of the night with a heavy red. We were given 2 pecan sandy like cookies for desert as well. Are you still going this weekend?

                    1. re: JAB

                      Thank you and I just made my reservation. Hopefully our experience will be as great as yours.

                      1. re: mrsjoujou

                        We have been customers of Taco Maria truck for a long time. We even went to their last truck service at SOCO and stood in long lines and because of high demand ended up with a couple of veggie tacos, since everything else was sold out. We waited a few months for their restaurant to open up and talked about them constantly. They opened right before we were leaving for vacation, so when we got back, we made reservation for their chef counter and were not disappointed. Right now they only serve dinner with brunch and lunch coming soon. We had read that they only offered a four course tasting menu for $42, but when we got there our waitress informed us that we could order À la carte also. Since this was our first time and we wanted to support them, we went for the tasting menu. For each course, you had two choices. My husband ordered a glass of Pinot Gris. We were surprised how small the pour was and when I mentioned it to our waitress, she informed us, that it was a five ounce pour. We started with Melon Granita and it was a very refreshing start. Papalo was Cherry Tomato, Butterfly Herb, Queso Fresco, Radish, Avocado. This dish was our favorite; the tomatoes were the most delicious and flavorful tomatoes we have had since Bestia. Califlor was Cauliflower, Sunflower, Dried Blueberry, Piloncillo Vinegar; it was very tasty and pretty. The roasted Cauliflower went very well with the sweet blueberries and the vinegar gave it a nice acidity. Guacamole was Crushed Avocado, Figs, Pistachio, Flax. It was a nice twist on Guacamole but it needed a little squeeze of lemon to brighten the flavors. I really loved the home made Flax Chips that was served with it. So far we were up to a great start and were really impressed with the food. Huauzontles was Quinoa Fritters, Goosefoot, Ricotta, Green Tomato. It had a nice earthy taste and it went very well with the green tomato sauce. Pescado Al Pastor was Grilled Amberjack, Achiote, Pineapple, Fennel, Cabbage. We have never had Amberjack before and it was prepared on the wood burning grill. We really enjoyed the taste of the mild fish with the crunchiness of the cabbage and sweetness of the pineapple. Jardineros was Shittake Mushrooms, Rajas, Queso Oaxaca, Epazote. By this time I was kind of full and thought it was a nice dish, but nothing exciting. At this time we were treated to a taste of their Madeira and some other wine. We thought it was very nice of them to do that. We moved on to Chile Verde and it was Berkshire Pork, Tomatillo, Carrot, Crema, Warm Spices. I took two small bites and it was a very flavorful dish with a delicious Tomatillo sauce. I enjoyed the left overs the next day. My husband had the Mole Enchilada that was Mary’s Chicken, Chile, Chocolate, Date, Almond. I tasted the Mole and it was nice, but he said the chicken was on the dry side. We concluded our dinner with delicious cookies and went and shook Chef Carlos Salgado hand and thanked him for a wonderful dinner. We can’t wait for brunch and lunch to start. We finally have a Modern, high quality Mexican food in OC.

                      2. re: JAB

                        Yup, seems like pork chile verde would need to go back to the Riesling.

                        Now you've got me itchin' to go back. I'm in LA, but it's totally worth the drive!

                        1. re: revets2

                          Or a Pinot Noir at the heaviest if they insist on a red pairing.