The South Coast Collection, or SoCo, center has become a real haven for foodies. In addition to Surfas, the large cooking supply store, it is home to Taco Maria, Arc, Pueblo, The Cellar Cheese Shop, The Portola Coffee Lab, Shuck Oyster Bar, Birdie Bowl and Juicery Bar, Susie Cakes, The Iron Press, Green Leaf Chop Shop, We Olive and Wine Bar and LCA Wine.
I recently dined for the first time at Pueblo and had a really wonderful meal. Chef Michael Campbell has created some delicious and inventive dishes with a distinct Spanish influence.
The menu lists hot tapas on one side and cold tapas on the other. The three entrees differ each day.
Tapas are like the "small plates" that appear on most menus these days. In Spain, you can have one or two with a drink or make a meal out of them.
I brought some friends along so we could taste lots of different things. There wasn't a bad item in the lot.
As we perused the menu, the waiter gave us a plate of grilled baguette slices and a dish of sweet, garlicky tomato jam with subtle elements of sweetness and spice. A tasty hint to what awaited us.
Queso Fundido — a charred round of soft, creamy goat cheese served with black truffle honey — was also good for speading on the bread.
Calamarcitos Fritos featured tender, fried baby squid tentacles and rings served on a bed of lemon-tinged, black squid ink. Aioli was available for dipping.
Albondigas de Cordero featured generous-sized lamb meatballs served with mint, pimenton (smoked paprika) and piperade (a tomato and sweet green pepper sauce cooked in garlic). The sauce was irresistible and made a perfect marriage with the lamb.
Our waiter was genuinely enthusiastic and very helpful with suggestions. With only three entrees to choose from, he highly recommended the lamb cordero, which is a roasted lamb belly that takes two days to cook. The result is tender flesh with a lovely char, rolled around ground choriso sausage and served with romesco sauce.
Romesco is a traditional mixture of red bell peppers, tomatoes, onions, garlic, almonds and olive oil. It was a perfect pairing. On the side were little fingerling potatoes, spring beans and asparagus.
Of course, you can't eat in a Spanish restaurant without trying the paella. Pueblo has a different one each day. This is really a complex dish with many components.
A big bowl of bomba rice is the platform for the chef's creative additions. This type of rice absorbs three times its volume in broth, making the rice more flavorful and keeping it from sticking. With it were strips of crusted smoked pork, small chunks of ground choriso, small pieces of asparagus, green beans, peas, grilled shrimp and grilled garlic. As with all of Pueblo's dishes, it was an original interpretation of a classic.
For dessert, we shared the goat-cheese cheesecake, which was a round, thin cake of soft cheese (no actual cake involved), covered with a thin layer of honey and then topped with granola, almonds and a garnish of mint leaves. It was quite delicious and made for a light ending to a bountiful and satisfying meal.
Pueblo's dining room is long and narrow with a bar on one side and the daily specials on a chalkboard above it. It also has long banquettes and a few tables. Mirrors and flat wood sculptures adorn the gray walls.
In the courtyard, a nice covered patio area sits across from a lovely fountain.
We were all delighted with this addition to the growing food colony in the area.
TERRY MARKOWITZ was in the gourmet food and catering business for 20 years. She can be reached for comments or questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Looking for a place to eat? See our dining reviews
Where: 3321 Hyland Ave., Costa Mesa
When: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sundays through Tuesdays, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays
Tapas: $5 to $14
Entrees: $25 to $34
Desserts: $5 to $7
Bottles: $40 to $90
By the glass: $11
Corkage: First bottle free; others $15
Information: (714) 340-5775