While studying for my level-one wine certification, an interest in the old-vine wines of Italy was sparked. Their centuries-old, gnarled wood sent me down a rabbit hole: Not only did I want to try as many of these wines as possible, but I also damn near booked a trip to Italy. But, as it turns out, Costa Mesa’s Old Vine Kitchen & Bar is much closer.
I’d probably strolled by its old spot a dozen times, but after 10 years, the Old Vine’s roots were replanted next door. The larger location comes complete with a bright new bar and patio space, perfect for geeking out on wine, craft beer and classic cocktails. From the moment I walked through the door, it felt as if it pulled me in for a big warm hug.
Some Italian-centric menus focus on hard-to-pronounce, imported ingredients or pasta-heavy dishes. While Old Vine has all that, its hand-made-daily ropes of pasta aren’t necessarily the focus. For dinner, there’s seafood styled with Indonesian coconut curry, grilled lamb chops finished with a blueberry demi-glace and even a rabbit molé. Guided by chef/proprietor Mark McDonald’s passport, the menu touches more than just Italy (though he offers guided tours via the Old Vine website).
In addition to small bites and dinner plates, Old Vine offers five separate tasting menus: original, vegetarian, vegan, Italian and premium. Whichever adventure you choose can be paired with wines with the help of sommelier/co-proprietor Kate Perry.
The vegan journey starts with a Mediterranean salad and Greek wine that plays off briny Kalamata olives and bamboo shoots, then dives right into an umami party with a plate of seared mushrooms. I’ve never seen liquids and solids paired so thoughtfully. On its own, the ultra-earthy Domaine La Manarine Le Carignan wine has notes of forest floor and is a ’shroomy trip on its own, but with such a umami dish, my palate was tripping balls the rest of the evening.
As a carnivore, it’s hard to get excited about grains, but the third course’s Indonesian curry pressed into a quinoa cake won me over. Was it the mushrooms causing a flashback, or does the dish have notes from the previous two courses? And it’s all tied together perfectly with dessert: a house-made sorbet paired with a Ruby Porto. What a trip!
Old Vine Kitchen & Bar, 2937 Bristol St., Ste. A103, Costa Mesa, (714) 545-1411; oldvinekitchenbar.com .