Here's what I like about California: People think nothing of driving 82 miles for lunch. (In New York, this never happens.) The Thin Man and I are now two of those people as we head out from La Jolla to Plums Cafe in Costa Mesa. We've brought the Boston mechanical lady along to tell us where to get off. She acclimates, more or less, and in no time it's north on the 5. Our LA cousins, who are meeting us, drive 56 miles and they've lived here long enough to get over their New Yorkiness. I guess we have too.
Just in case, The Thin Man prints directions. As it turns out, she not only does not get lost but she sees into the future. Five miles ahead, on the way home, she tells us repeatedly to get off because there's trouble ahead. We don't, there is, but it works out.
How do you define an ideal California lunch? Although I'm no slouch in the lunch department, a perfect lunch will be one I didn't have to make. Ideal is every plate beautifully arranged. Ideal is having to choose. Will it be soup and salad, waffles, chopped or Caesar, greens? Ideal comes with a brother and cousins. Ideal is a chic vibe. Home? If only.
Eve orders the Dungeness crab omelet with dill and asparagus which I just now see is $17. Good thing she really likes it and the Caesar with sliced Parmesan. Jerry hones in on Alaskan halibut with fennel and potato hash. The Thin Man has a fluffy spinach and feta omelet with tomatoes and olives. It comes with rosemary potatoes that our server assures us everyone loves and she's right. Executive chef Tony Sasaki must be in the kitchen himself.
My ideal lunch: turkey, avocado, bacon and tomato on nine-grain bread. I count, all the grains are present, they've soft-toasted the bread so it doesn't take out the roof of my mouth, and greens come with sparkly dressing. The plan was to carry half home but it's too good. Besides, Oregon pepper bacon makes me delirious. Pictures just can't do it justice.
Oh my goodness, dessert. Everyone's paying attention to lemon cake with lavender ice cream and berries. I've had lavender twice in two days and I'm thinking, how did I get along without it? It's lemony but we're also getting hints of cheesecake. If anyone you know is interested, the other dessert is chocolate waffles with vanilla gelato, caramel, bittersweet chocolate sauce and candied nuts.
Here's a few other things I want: Dungeness crab hush puppies, fried sand dabs, flat iron steak frites (let's see that on 23rd and Fifth), the Tuscan chicken sandwich with mozzarella, grilled romaine with blue cheese, and pile on the boysenberry crisp.
I'm sad I didn't write down the name of the woman who brought us lunch. She's every restaurant owner's dream: one happily delivering beautiful plates, making suggestions, while assuring us Hellman's in place of cilantro mayo is no big deal. Later, we find out why everything's so good. Plums grows their own. You can see on Facebook the tomatoes they planted in April along with peppers and nasturtiums. If you're around for early dinner, stop in at 5. Sasaki's a keeper.
Plums Café and Catering
369 E. 17th St
Costa Mesa, CA 92627
949. 722. 7586
Kitty Kaufman is a Boston writer at http://www.corp-edge.com.
by Chef Mark Shoup