By Terry Markowitz
2:30 PM PDT, May 28, 2014
Fireside Tavern is the latest venture from one of my favorite chefs, Scott Brandon, recently of the Crow Bar and Kitchen in Corona del Mar.
He is currently serving his gourmet pub food in the Crowne Plaza Costa Mesa Orange County on Bristol Street, just a block off the 405 Freeway.
My dining companion and I thought the food was inventive and delicious. We generally find that hotel food is just ordinary, but lately, we have had some excellent meals in hotel dining rooms, this being one of the best.
The restaurant is modern and attractive with black being the dominant color, accented with beige leather seating and contemporary lighting. An outdoor patio with fire pits gives the place its name.
The first item on the menu is "Bread." There is only one offering, and that consists of two large biscuits served with hand-churned butter. These were no ordinary biscuits. They included bits of bacon, Tillamook cheddar cheese and finely chopped chives. They were fabulous, and it was hard to stop eating them.
The menu has share plates, small plates, large plates and signature dishes, plus extra sides. From the shared column, we had the royal red rock shrimp hush puppies. They had a lovely fried crust, thin and greaseless, with a wonderful cornmeal filling dotted with corn kernels, fried onions and bits of house-made sausage.
A few slivers of tiny fried rounds of skin-on oranges added a surprising bit of texture and acidity. They were served with a tart remoulade and spicy green tomato chow chow. Hush puppies can be heavy, but these were light. My only problem with them was that I could detect no shrimp whatsoever. They were so good I really didn't care, but it was odd.
We also tried Mary's chicken soup with house-made noodles. The noodles were thick and the chicken tasted as if it had been added to the soup at the end, so it was still nicely textured. Carrots, mushrooms and broccoli joined the mix. The problem was the broth. It was watery and lacked a real depth of chicken flavor. My mother was not a great cook, but she made wonderful chicken soup, and I judge all others by hers.
Our absolute favorite of the evening was the mac and cheese. It was hands-down the best I've ever eaten. Four kinds of cheese made a luscious creamy sauce for the house-made noodles. I detected an underpinning of spiciness, and bits of the salty house-made smoked sausages were scattered throughout, along with slivers of onions. On top were crunchy bits of gribenes (deep-fried chicken skin that has been broken down into very fine pieces).
Short rib potpie came with a thick but light buttermilk and herb biscuit crust. The meat had been braised in stone-smoked porter and was soft and tender. Peas, carrots and root vegetables were added to the rich sauce. The pie was served with a large marrowbone on the side, full of unctuous fattiness.
A little lightly dressed radish, green onion stem and parsley salad came on the side. This was good, but not as special as our other dishes.
On our next visit, we are eager to try the pork and beans, which the restaurant had run out of that evening.
We finished our meal with strawberry rhubarb pie served in a jar, accompanied by vanilla ice cream. The crust had been pressed into the inside of a small jar, then filled with a tart sweet mixture of rhubarb and strawberries. A big dollop of very good vanilla ice cream rested on top. The fruit was nicely balanced, but the crust was a bit undercooked.
We really enjoyed our meal here. Kudos to Chef Brandon.
TERRY MARKOWITZ was in the gourmet food and catering business for 20 years. She can be reached for comments or questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Where: 3131 Bristol St., Crowne Plaza Costa Mesa Orange County, Costa Mesa
When: 6 a.m. to midnight daily; happy hour, 3 to 7 p.m. and 10 p.m. to midnight
Appetizers: $7 to $13
Share plates: $8 to $24
Entrées: $13 to $35
Desserts: $7 to $8
Bottles: $32 to $92
By the glass: $8 to $21
Corkage fee: $15
Information: (714) 913-9061 or firesidetavern.com