Anyone who says breakfast is the most important meal of the day hasn’t been to South Coast Plaza’s new Terrace by Mix Mix. Diners in the know start assembling around 11:30 a.m. for a knockout three-course lunch of chef-owner Ross Pangilinan’s lyrical Euro-Filo fare chosen from 15 seasonal dishes that pivot from delicate to earthy to sumptuous.
You might start with a warming soup of pureed roasted vegetables, proceed to an oval of rustic levain toast topped with goat cheese, grapes, and a swoosh of balsamic, and then tuck into fall-apart braised pork cheek offset by chimichurri sauce and fluffy garlic fried rice. In need of your omega-3s? Swap out the rich pork for crispy salmon fillet, edamame, and soba noodles slick with sesame-ginger dressing.
For cooked-to-order fare, there’s an impressive field of options. Even more remarkable is the cost of the prix fixe meal—$20.
This is hardly what you expect to find on the top floor of Crystal Court, or the “Crate & Barrel Wing,” per the plaza’s lexicon. Offering a one-price meal with many choices is a brilliant lunch tactic that appeals to busy office warriors and time-pressed shoppers. Soon after you order, servers deliver your bespoke meal fresh from the kitchen, and you’re enjoying fine food fast.
Open since September, Terrace leverages the success of Pangilinan’s Mix Mix Kitchen Bar in downtown Santa Ana, where he built a fan base for refined cooking in a high-character, low-gloss neighborhood. Terrace shows some family resemblance, but the venues aren’t clones. Terrace lacks a craft bar, but it’s open daily, has abundant free parking, and boasts a sprawling minimalist patio overlooking the stylish Bridge of Gardens pedestrian skywalk.
Having helmed nearby Leatherby’s for seven years, Pangilinan is familiar with the South Coast Plaza set, though here he’s beholden not only to lunchers but also brunchers, famished shoppers, happy hour habitués, and dinner patrons. It’s a wide swath unified by dishes that reveal his deep knowledge of classic technique and a devotion to details other chefs shrug off, such as chewy, smoky lardons scattered on already-lovely French toast with mascarpone and berries.
Gorgeous hamachi crudo gets a vinaigrette sparked by striking, fragrant calamansi instead of mainstream citrus. Handmade agnolotti plump with mellow butternut squash is deepened with earthy kale and nutty Parmesan. Bacon-wrapped dates, those flavor bombs we see so often, suddenly taste new when drizzled with harissa-spiked yogurt that adds notes of spice and tangy dairy.
There is some overlap that fans of the original Mix Mix menu will be happy to learn made the move to Costa Mesa. These are items regulars adore that are nearly signatures now: the Technicolor albacore tostada with a Japanese accent, that umami-rich pork cheek adobo that does Pangilinan’s Filipino roots proud, and, of course, tropical verrine, a magical fresh fruit dessert with coconut panna cotta. In addition to weekday lunch, another way to sample an array of new and old favorites is siesta hour, 3 to 5 p.m. Monday to Saturday—small plates are $8, and selected wines are $9 a glass.
Dinner is the quietest meal here, and it’s when the restaurant’s young age is most apparent. Servers need more polish, and the wine list is amorphous, making the $20 corkage a handy option. Place settings could use some adornment, especially at dinner. Perhaps a flower or candle? So far, the food and kitchen are the strongest links—a promising omen. My lobster risotto was as good as any, though the shallow bowl ensures fast cooling and speed-eating of a $38 entree. The dinner menu is also where I found a terrific chicken liver toast with onion marmalade on a base of soulful levain bread by Dean Kim’s OC Baking Co.
The Mix Mix regard for value carries on here, with two prix fixe dinner menus: four courses for $50 and a premium six-course feast for $75. Pangilinan hopes to begin ultrapremium ticketed meals in the months ahead. Tweaks are constant at a place this young, and new elements unfold as the weeks roll onward. Expect the debut of cocktails incorporating Sabe sake, a Japanese fortified sake with a higher alcohol content but allowed under the wine and beer license.
Look for a mimosa cart featuring distinctive fresh juices to supplement weekend brunch. The brunch fare is not of the fancy-oatmeal-or-chilaquiles school, so right now it feels fresh for these parts. That bacon-studded cinnamon French toast is mighty likeable, given its sweet-salty personality. But the market vegetable goat cheese frittata and brioche Benedicts, with salmon or pork ribeye and Yukon Gold potato and yam hash, are strong savory contenders.
Of course there’s no such thing as a free lunch, but the one at Terrace is certainly a steal. It’s a bold start for a newcomer. Watching this novel venue grow into itself looks to be a delicious adventure, with imaginative plot twists from a canny chef who’s unafraid to mix things up.
5 BEST DISHES
➜ Bacon-wrapped dates
➜ Chicken liver toast
➜ Hamachi crudo
➜ Asian ribs
➜ Cinnamon French toast
Lunch $20; dinner, $7 to $38; brunch, $7 to $18
FYI: Terrace offers catering and private dining.
Terrace By Mix Mix
3333 Bear St.