Arc, in The OC Mix at SoCo, is one of the most exciting new restaurants to hit Orange County in quite a while.
It is distinguished by the fact that everything is cooked in the wood-fired oven or over the wood-fired grill. The stacks of logs inside and out are part of the décor.
It's a fairly small place with booths, a few tables and a long bar for eating and drinking. There is also an outdoor patio. The interior features a trendy minimalist décor with a pressed tin ceiling, lots of black and gray and a brick oven sending off warmth and wonderful aromas.
The restaurant doesn't take reservations, but it's worth the wait. You can always wander around the mart, buy a couch, some olive oil or a 50-gallon stock pot from the interesting array of shops that make up this venue.
Chef Noah Blom has earned his chops working for the likes of Daniel Boulud, Laurent Tourondel and Hans Prager, but he is definitely developing a cuisine of his own. I know of no other place in Orange County or Los Angeles that cooks exclusively with wood.
The menu is minimalist as well. Each offering is described using just three words or expressions. So, for example, the menu item "Beets" is followed by "goat cheese, herb, champagne" and "Steak" with "potato, citrus, cream."
As you ponder the cryptic descriptions, your server will bring out metal trivets, which will later be the resting place for the cast-iron skillets or wooden boards that contain your selections. Your server will fill you in with details about each dish and tell you that the food comes out in random order, depending on cooking time. You will also be warned that the serving pans are very hot.
Our first course was calamari with lemon and pepper. The seared seafood was accompanied by sweet browned onions, shishito and red peppers, and little cubes of slightly charred potatoes. The juices from the squid and lemons made a wonderful sauce.
Our waitress suggested that we eat the calamari quickly, since it was still cooking in the hot skillet. We ate it as fast as we could, but it was a bit chewy, However, the combination was absolutely delicious.
Another winner was the meatball plate. These orbs were succulent and juicy with lots of garlic and a hint of whiskey in the very good, chunky tomato sauce. They came with garlic toast on the side for soaking up the sauce.
Crunchy charred skin enveloped a moist duck breast that was scrumptious. It was glazed with apple jam, honey and lemon sauce, providing a lovely contrast. Some wonderful, crisply browned Brussels sprouts came alongside.
Our favorite among all these great dishes was "Pig" — "beans, maple, herb." Slow-cooked pork was falling-apart tender, with lots of smoky notes from the wood fire and a subtle sweetness from maple syrup. It nestled in a bevy of big white beans. The beans were enlivened with herbs and unctuously satisfying. It was a savory communion of pork and beans.
Alas, there are no desserts. However, the meal was simply a juxtaposition of wonderful flavors.
We will definitely come back for the burger, described as cow, pig and duck. It is enormous and looks amazing. The patty is a combination of ground short rib and bacon lardons bound together with duck fat. What could be bad?
Arc is also very proud of its crafted cocktails. You have the Monkey Gland, consisting of gin, grenadine, herbsaint and orange. Or how about Cigarettes & Coffee: rye whiskey, smoke and coffee bean?
I am eager to see how Arc evolves, since the food is exciting and delicious and the concept is new and inventive.
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: 3321 Hyland Ave., Costa Mesa, at The OC Mix
When: 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily; brunch served until 3 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays
Plates: $10 to $20
Bottles: $72 to $110
By the glass: $12 to $20
Corkage fee: none for one bottle, $5 for bottles after that
Information: (949) 500-5561 or arcrestaurant.com