Old Vine Turns Nine

As a craft beer reporter, my focus isn’t only on beer. It also concentrates on aspects of fine artisanal craft in food, wine and spirits. A piece of this month’s column is devoted to highlighting one such craftsman. And, not to worry, we will get to beer.

Chef Mark McDonald opened Old Vine Café in a section of The Camp in Costa Mesa in 2007. Recently having celebrated nine years in business, his passion for ingredients and providing a complete culinary experience for his guests appears to be at the forefront of every dish prepared.

The menu is quite extensive. A la carte options are available, but the way to go is by choosing one of many tasting menus available daily. Vegetarian and vegan options are also offered. Each of four courses is paired with a unique wine from around the world. The signature Chef’s Tasting Menu changes seasonally and typically highlights the freshest of locally sourced ingredients.

For the Original Tasting Menu, the first course comprises sautéed sea scallop and crispy fried yucca with a tarragon Chardonnay sauce. Second, comes handmade tagliatelle pasta and with aged Pecorino Romano. The main course is an all-natural prime filet mignon with crispy fried onions and a Maytag blue cheese demi-glace. Finally, Grandma’s Cheesecake with wild berry puree completes the meal accompanied by ruby port.

The Italian Tasting Menu starts with seared baby octopus, sour dough sand, celery, citrus and parsley infused extra virgin olive oil. Red beans and farro with shitake mushrooms, egg yolk and Gouda 5 years aged follow. Third course is handmade pappardelle pasta with peas, sausage ragu and Parmigiano-Reggiano. For dessert, pistachio biscotti accompanies house-made espresso ice cream with port wine chocolate sauce and espresso dust.

For those beer inclined, Old Vine offers a modest but well thought out selection of beers. A recent list found two beers from Utah’s Uinta Brewing, Czech Rebel, a pilsner from the Czech Republic, Germany’s Maisel’s Weisse, Dupont’s Biere de Miel and Gulden Draak 9000 quadruple, both from Belgium, and Hitachino Nest Espresso Stout from Japan.

Chef Mark is first to say that it takes many dedicated people to run a successful restaurant. With GM Stacy Drakos, AM Manager Cesar Orozco, Sous Chef Nathan Veach and Kate Perry, Wine Director and Lead Sommelier, McDonald and his team of about 20 do not disappoint. This was readily apparent during the 9th Anniversary Celebration they hosted in late July.

McDonald brings the world to his customers in a number of ways. Prior to opening Old Vine Café, he studied under the tutelage of Chef John Nocita at the Italian Culinary Institute ICI in Calabria, Italy. His love for the unique and varied cuisines from Italy’s numerous regions shines through in many of his dishes. Every year, Chef Mark also partners with the ICI to offer a small group of patrons the opportunity to experience local Italy, with two separate culinary-focused excursions: Splendors of South Italy and Splendors of North Italy. Attendance is kept small in order to provide a more intimate experience of the local culture and cuisines. The South trip, with one of its bases at the Italian Culinary Institute, tours various areas in Calabria and Sicily, and even provides culinary workshops and hands-on instruction by Chef Nocita. The North trip explores Veneto, Emilia Romagna, Lombardia and Trentino-Alto Adige. As one who attended the South Italy excursion a couple of years ago I can confirm it was an experience of a lifetime.

Mark continues to expand his creativity through worldwide travels, learning, teaching and conducting demonstrations as California’s Director of Aregala & Cooks Without Borders. The Old Vine Café website provides menus, wine & beer lists, and details on the above mentioned expeditions. Start your experience with a trip to Old Vine Café. The restaurant is also open for breakfast and lunch.