It’s a perfect winter-like day in San Juan Capistrano. Warm in the sun, chilly in the shade. Chatty shoppers and local dogs walking their owners bustle along the narrow sidewalks, making for great people-watching from my seat at Mayfield’s colossal window, wide open to the brisk air. Cocktails arrive and they’re magnificent. Only the ubiquitous face masks reveal this is not a typical late November day.
Mayfield is one of 2020’s restaurants that never knew life before the pandemic. Its existence has always included masks, curfews, distancing, and outright closures. Imagining this split-level space at its capacity is unsettling after months of dining inside 6-foot bubbles. George Barker can picture it, though. He has nursed that vision for five years.
Barker is the transplanted Londoner behind the now-shuttered Hungry Royal food truck, a learning ground for designing what would become Mayfield. The child of restaurateurs, he grew up folding napkins and clearing tables. He has no illusions about the demands of ownership. Mayfield is a singular concept—local, seasonal California cuisine underpinned by the timeless flavors of the Mediterranean, Middle East, and North Africa. Chef Jayro Martinez, well-traveled but most recently of Social and Ahba, is proving a gifted interpreter of Barker’s vision.
Since its August opening, Mayfield has taken small steps: first takeout and goodies from the petite market; then cocktails and dinner service; then light daytime meals. By October, both prix fixe and a la carte dinner service were available. A wine club launched in January.
These days, daytime is all about brunch food and coffee drinks. Grain bowls or bacon sandwiches. Avocado toast or harissa prawn toast. Luscious burrata salads boasting the week’s ripest fruits. A well-built burger for those who must.
On weekends when dine-in is permitted, dinner assumes a supper-club model: a prix fixe menu with several choices across five courses served family style. It’s a sleek solution to limited human contact, capacity, and hours of operation. It’s also a brilliant ploy that shows off the kitchen’s abundant talents. Diners can’t help but stretch themselves to dishes they wouldn’t order a la carte. Fried eggplant isn’t something I would likely try on my first visit, but it was the best thing I ate in December, thanks to that dinner. A whisper of crunch surrounding a fat aubergine slice yields to soft, almost fluffy, ivory flesh with bitter notes tamed by date syrup with sneaky hot zhoug, Yemen’s beloved herby condiment.
Every supper club dinner opens with Rip and Dip, a rotating sampler of five distinct house-made spreads, thoughtfully garnished and ready for dunking with incredible bread by local baker Karlo Evaristo of 61hundredbread.com. Memorable flavors that thread through the courses include Hasselback celery root, beet burrata salad with honey walnut pesto, and osso buco unlike any other, the so-tender boneless lamb dripping jus on fine-grind polenta. For dessert, try the surprisingly delicate sticky toffee pudding. My silver lining dream is to get my spoon into that cardamom-rose panna. Mayfield offers a la carte dinners Tuesday through Thursday.
This is the place to try a new drink—the cocktails are wildly compelling. Bar czar Luis Del Pozo is an asset anywhere he pours, but here his cocktails soar. Frequent, seasonal debuts such as winter’s Silent Beauty, a mezcal marvel served warm, will make your usual so ho-hum. And the wines. So intriguing and always small producers from unfamiliar vintners. A French malbec? Greek rosé? The wine club will set you up for agreeably priced quarterly shipments. Do explore the nifty boutique pantry stocked with house spice mixes, cool cookbooks, and select dining gear.
Whitewashed and red-tiled, Mayfield’s building looks brand new. It basically is, after major construction expanded the building that once housed two retailers. Natural light floods the soaring ground floor via colossal windows. A quiet mezzanine opens to a rear courtyard. The serene interior is smartly designed to keep your eye traveling to chic touches—curvy light fixtures, a bar top the color of copper patina, blossom pink coffee cups matching grapefruits in the statement art.
Though Mayfield has yet to operate at full throttle, Barker is headlong into new projects for this year. Say, Sunday chicken dinners with a Middle Eastern accent, served family style? Maybe a kebob night? Dauntless energy and category-busting cuisine make Mayfield a precocious newcomer worth cheering.
31761 Camino Capistrano
San Juan Capistrano
5 BEST DISHES
Rip and Dip sampler
Any burrata salad
Tempus Butterfly cocktail
Daytime, $8 to $26
Dinner, $13 to $36
The chocolate budino (above) is an Italian chocolate pudding with crushed hazelnuts, brown butter milk crumble, mint ice, and tarragon powder (which is dehydrated in-house for 24 hours).
Read a Q&A with George Barker, owner of Mayfield in San Juan Capistrano.
Get a breakdown of Mayfield’s Spanish Octopus dish.