My Journey by Donna Karan

It’s been a few years since I’ve had the opportunity to participate in a progressive dinner – or safari supper, as they refer to it in the UK. If you’re not familiar with the term, it’s basically a dinner party where each course is prepared and eaten at a different location, typically the home of a different host.

Not seeing an invite for a progressive dinner in my immediate future, I decided I’d create my own by visiting a variety of different restaurants in one evening for each course.

But where could I go to accomplish this without having to drive all over the place?

I headed over to South Coast Collection – or SOCO as it’s affectionately known – in Costa Mesa. There are lots of different types of restaurants to choose from at SOCO and The OC Mix, a shopping destination within SOCO. After conducting just a little research into what was available, it looked like the ideal place to hold my very own progressive dinner.

HAPPY HOUR

First stop: ARC Food & Libations.

The libations menu consists of classically-inspired cocktails crafted by Bar Chef Koire Rogers, using some of the finest European liqueurs and small-batch American spirits he can find. Bitters, infusions, syrups, and sodas are all made in-house – yes, in-house! – daily, and they use hand-cut ice in all of their cocktails. As if that wasn’t enough, they even juice everything fresh daily.

One favorite of regulars to this quaint, hip space is the Summer Bertha. With a blend of tequila, strawberry and lemon basil, the flavors are perfectly balanced and make for a really refreshing and flavorful cocktail. Another fave, which I haven’t tried yet (but I will), is Cigarettes & Coffee. Made from rye whiskey, smoke and coffee and served over hand-cut ice, the smoke is an integral part of the drink. One diner said it evoked memories of “sitting in an old Victorian library, smelling the aged leather-bound books and the scent of vanilla tobacco smoked in a pipe.”

If cocktails aren’t down your alley, there are plenty of wines by the glass, as well as a beer for any taste bud.

There’s somewhat limited seating, so come early and try and grab one of the spots on the outside patio if it’s a nice night.

Drinks at ARC Food & Libations, in SOCO, Costa Mesa, California.

Courtesy of ARC Food & Libations

APPETIZERS

Next stop: Pueblo, which is right around the corner from ARC.

Pueblo, described as a modern Spanish tapas restaurant, was my choice for an appetizer. Fronted by a small patio with limited seating, the inside could best be described as cozy, comfortable and inviting. “Social hour” runs from 3 to 5 p.m. and includes some great deals on skewers, such as chicken, pork belly or short rib, as well as crispy chicken wings and drink specials.

All-day appetizers include Queso Fundido, with charred goat cheese, black truffle and honey, which is a popular dish served with a generous portion of lightly toasted sliced bread. How could anybody really go wrong with goat cheese and truffle oil? You had me at charred!

Another favorite of regulars is the Montadito de Costilla. Short rib served two ways with mustard seed, served on small pieces of toast with a sweet onion topping; they literally melt in your mouth and are a very generous portion.

Get here early as this place is popular and there can be a wait on some evenings.

Appetizer at Pueblo in SOCO, Costa Mesa, California.

Courtesy of Pueblo

MAIN COURSE

Next stop: Bistro Papillote, which is a short walk across the courtyard to The OC Mix

The dining room invokes memories of a small Parisian restaurant like one might find in an alley in the 4th arrondissement, with its perfectly proportioned chandeliers, banquettes, white linens and flowers on each of the tables. And it should. The owner and chef, Laurent Brazier, has worked in some of the finest restaurants in France and received the Certificat d’Aptitute Professionelle de Cuisine (Chef Bachelor Degree) and his Brevet d’ Etudes Professionelle d’ Hotellerie (Chef Masters Degree) from Jean Ferrandi Chef School in Paris, France.

For the entrée portion of my progressive dinner, I asked my waiter what was the item most ordered by guests who come in. Without hesitation, he highly recommended the Classic Croque Monsieur and even commented that the chef had received awards for his mastery of this particular dish. Quite a recommendation – and how could anyone turn it down? The Croque Monsieur it was. A generously portioned sandwich, it’s filled with black forest ham and Gruyere cheese with a melted cheese crust on the outside. It’s served with a petite salad lightly touched with a wonderful tangy dressing that counterbalances the cheese of the sandwich.

Another favorite of guests is the Crepe Au Poulet, a classically-prepared crepe filled with grilled chicken, béchamel sauce, mushrooms and Gruyere cheese as well.

Would I have room for dessert? There’s always room for dessert, so off to my next stop.

French Onion Soup at Bistro Papillote, in SOCO, Costa Mesa, California.

Courtesy of Bistro Papillote

DESSERT

Next stop: ST Pâtisserie, which is back across the courtyard

Upon entering the store, I was drawn to several cases filled with some of the most delicious looking pastries I’ve seen in some time. Through the window behind the counter, I could see the chef freshly preparing a variety of pastries. Everything here is made fresh and on the premises.

After scanning the cases, my eyes fell on a lemon tart that was presented much differently than your typical round, mini pie-shaped tart I’ve come to expect. Presented to me in a small pastry box, I was soon seated at one of the five café tables – two inside and three outside – and was taking my first bite. It was to die for. An elongated, perfectly-prepared crust was filled with a thin layer of what appeared to be, and tasted like, pastry cream topped with round balls of flavorful lemon custard and cloudlike delicate French meringues. This dessert alone was worth the trip!

Additionally, they have a variety of different delicate cakes, éclairs, and a large assortment of macarons.

ST Pâtisserie is right next door and attached to The Pastry School, and are both operated by Chef Stéphane Tréand. If you’d like to learn how to make the many tasty items on display, as well as a whole bunch of other items, they offer a 12-week course called The Master Series. Not only will you be taught by one of the top pastry chefs around, you’ll also get to take home everything you make.

Eclairs being made at ST Patisserie in SOCO, Costa Mesa, California.

Courtesy of ST Patisserie

NIGHTCAP

Last stop: Restaurant Marin, located just around the corner from ST Pâtisserie and next to ARC Food & Libations, my starting off point and their sister restaurant.

The restaurant is designed in the style of a Parisian café with beautiful chandeliers and high-end tables and booths. It’s a stylish space and fits well in the trendy design-oriented center that is SOCO.

As I was in search of a nightcap, I limited myself to the drink menu, which had 11 cocktails, six wine-by-the-glass selections, four wine-by-the-bottle selections (the cheapest being $80), and two beer selections. They have a full-service bar, but I went with a cocktail from the menu, assuming they are specialties of the house. Plus, what says nightcap better than an Old Fashioned? This one was made with Cognac, Angostura bitters, and Peychaud’s bitters, served over ice. Priced at $13, as are all their cocktails, it’s about what I would expect to pay and well put together.

In the end, I logged about 500 steps on my Fitbit, which is not enough to burn the calories I’ve just taken on, but definitely indicative of how close everything is at SOCO/The OC Mix.

So if you haven’t been invited to a progressive dinner lately, or just don’t want to have to spend the time and effort to get one going, you can take the easy way out. Grab a group of friends, find a location like SOCO/The OC Mix that has lots of places to eat near each other – walking distance is even better – and put your restaurant progressive dinner in motion. The cleanup is also much, much easier!

Interior of Restaurant Marin in SOCO, Costa Mesa, California.

Courtesy of Restaurant Marin

GET THE DEETS

ARC Food & Libations
3321 Hyland Avenue, Suite F, Costa Mesa
949-500-5561 or arcrestaurant.com
Open daily from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.

Pueblo
3321 Hyland Avenue, Suite D, Costa Mesa
714-340-5775 or pueblotapas.com
Open Monday-Wednesday, 11:30 a.m.-9 p.m.; Thursday, 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m.; Friday, 11:30 a.m.-10:30 p.m.; Saturday, 11 a.m.-10:30 p.m.; and Sunday, 11 a.m.-9 p.m.

Bistro Papillote
3313 Hyland Avenue, Costa Mesa
714-697-1707 or lacuisineculinaryarts.com/pages/restaurants
Open Monday-Wednesday, 9 a.m.-6 p.m.; Thursday-Saturday, 9 a.m.-9 p.m.; and Sunday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m.

ST Pâtisserie
3321 Hyland Avenue, Suite H, Costa Mesa
714-825-0180 or stephanetreand.com
Open Tuesday-Friday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m.; Saturday, 9 a.m.-7 p.m.; and Sunday, 10 a.m.-7 p.m.

Restaurant Marin
3321 Hyland Avenue, Costa Mesa
949-402-3974 or restaurantmarin.com
Open daily from 9 a.m. to midnight

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