It’s tough to not get into spring’s sunny groove at Mesa. With 10 new craft cocktails and nine new menu items, it’s sort of like stopping off at a farmers market to see what’s fresh and in season, only this market is pulsing with fashionable elegance. Although the restaurant has been a thing in Costa Mesa for more than a decade, seasonal revisits to the SOBECA landmark are always on my late-night dining shopping list.
Mesa’s space is well ahead of its time. With a retractable roof open to the stars and a large, yucca-like plant as the centerpiece, it easily could have been a set in a Stanly Kubrick film. Each table seems poised for people-watching, the tree and starry night sky a reminder of when you may have danced wildly in the desert at Burning Man. Like that famed desert event, Mesa seems rooted in a communal vibe, where small plates are shared and new flavors discovered.
“Here’s 22 in Manhattan, a vodka based Manhattan with lychee, Asian pear, rosewater, and Granier Mon Pastis,” says Jordan, Mesa’s bar director. The foggy white drink topped with a speared Luxardo cherry is sort of a quandary. It smells like, well, if SweeTarts and Good & Plenty candies had a baby, yet the flavor is remarkably complex, with refreshing, funky fruit flavors. “It’s not for everyone,” says Jordan, yet I find myself trying to solve the glass like a Rubik’s Cube. Cranking it up a notch, we got a sample plate of chef Niki’s roasted beet salad. The melty goat cheese and heirloom root veggies and berries boosted the drink’s flavors to a whole new level.
“Everyone’s kind of going for a healthy thing in Orange County, so here is Frank Oceanside, my cocktail that has carrot juice and a little bit of that Galliano stuff that everyone forgot about,” Jordan says, sliding the coupe glass our way. Aromatically, it smells like fresh clean linens drying in a warm spring breeze. Rum, carrot juice, and Galliano isn’t something I ever would’ve dreamed coming together in a glass, but it works perfectly. I can confirm carrot juice in a cocktail counteracts any blurriness from drinking said cocktail.
For cheese lovers, Mesa’s squash blossoms are essential to any spring cocktail sesh, as ordering this dish for your date is essentially buying them flowers, right? Creamy fromage blanc, goat, mascarpone, and Parmesan cheeses are stuffed into the hot, tempura-fried edible blossom. The pesto-like pea stew on the bottom (sans pine nuts), is a deeply satisfying dip.
No spring cocktail tasting would be complete without some sort of agua fresca/margarita mashup, and the Ventura Fresca is a terrific collins glass full of a watermelon and Fresno chile cordial. It’s one part refreshing, one part spicy, and one part “yes, I’ll have another.”
Mesa is at 725 Baker St., Costa Mesa // mesacostamesa.com