By Elle Harrow and Terry Markowitz
4:02 PM PST, December 18, 2012
Eat Chow is a funky little place with no décor to speak of, but some pretty tasty food. This is their second location. The first is their popular Costa Mesa spot, serving breakfast, lunch and dinner. This one is tucked away on a small street just off Pacific Coast Highway in Newport Beach.
Saturday and Sunday, the breakfast crowd spills out into the street. The place is almost always quite busy, but though there are no reservations, you can call ahead and see how long you might have to wait.
The menu can best be described as American and Mexican, with a couple of other cuisines tossed in. The Mexican sauces are exceptional, very authentic and some of the best we've tasted. The lunch menu and the dinner menu are the same, so you'll find lots of interesting sandwiches and salads, as well as small plates and "hot chow."
The soup of the day was leek and potato, which is usually very thick and creamy. Their version is much lighter and very flavorful. The base is chicken broth with a judicious amount of pureed potato and a texture that was slightly granular, which we found most pleasing. There couldn't have been more than a tablespoon of cream in the bowl. Crispy, browned, shredded leeks were strewn throughout, adding some crunch to this unique version of a peasant potage.
The only dish of the evening that we can't recommend was fried green tomatoes. The tomatoes were too hard and had very little flavor, and the cornmeal crust was bland and gritty. The tasty, spicy aioli for dipping was not enough to save the day.
Our favorite selection was the tres amigos, three enchiladas with three different shredded meats and three sauces. All were stoutly stuffed. The mole sauce on the chicken enchilada was hands-down the best we've ever tasted. It was just amazing with its complex, dark spice seasoning, earthy flavor, underpinning of subtle sweetness and just the right amount of heat.
The tender, richly seasoned pork came with a mild green sauce, and the beef enchilada was moistened with a perfect red sauce that was thickened with chilies rather than tomato puree, again with a hint of sweetness to moderate the bitterness of the chilies. In true Mexican style, the tres amigos were drizzled with crema, rather than cheese, to allow the flavors of the sauces to shine through while adding a final softening touch. A very nice assortment of greens in a tasty dressing shared the platter.
A California-style curried chicken salad was chopped chicken on a bed of romaine and greens tossed with cranberries, toasted almonds and soft, creamy goat cheese. The curry flavor was not dominant. There was just a subtle taste of it in the light dressing. Unfortunately, the chicken was dry and unseasoned. The best part was the generous tangle of delicious fried onions that topped the salad.
Ceviche was very good but definitely is Eat Chow's own take. It was served on a large plate with two house-made crunchy tostadas slathered with spicy aioli, a layer of shredded cabbage and piled high with plump, little boiled shrimp swimming in a cocktail-type tomato sauce with chunks of tomato, onions and cucumbers, but zipped up with chili, rather than horseradish. The huge portion could easily be shared.
The lemon cookie cake reminded us of an old-fashioned no-bake refrigerator cake. For you young 'uns who have never heard of that, it was usually made with crushed cookies layered with pudding and whipped cream and left to set in the refrigerator to soften, resulting in a cake-like texture. Eat Chow's take on this is to layer lemon curd on crumbled vanilla cookies. The lemon curd was nice and tart and not too sweet, but the texture of the "cake" was a bit gummy.
There is a lot of good cooking going on in this little place.
ELLE HARROW and TERRY MARKOWITZ were in the gourmet food and catering business for 20 years. They can be reached for comments or questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Where: 211 62nd St., Newport Beach
When: 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday, 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday, and 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday
Small plates: $4 to $13
Entrées: $10 to $18
Glass: $7 to $12
Bottle: $24 to $70
Corkage fee: $15
Information: (949) 423-7080 or http://www.eatchownow.com