Triangle Square (isn't that an oxymoron?) has recently been rebranded. It is now known simply as The Triangle, and with the addition of quite a few new restaurants, representatives are designating it as a culinary center.
My companion and I recently dined upstairs on the large patio of El Corazon de Costa Mesa. It was a warm, sunny afternoon, and sitting outdoors in this very attractive space was quite pleasant.
The low stucco walls surrounding the patio contain lots of foliage. The many oversized palapas (thatched umbrellas) provide shade, and an array of fire pits look like they would fill the bill on cooler evenings.
Rattan chairs with Mexican blankets on the back provide décor and warmth. There is a large bar as well as a number of outdoor lounge areas. The interior is also quite pretty with its arched entryways and tile floors giving it a hacienda-like feel.
Two bar areas and an extensive drink menu, including "design your own" margaritas, means this is as much a drinkery as an eatery. Creating your own signature drink involves considering the 18 different tequilas along with strawberries, blueberries, blackberries and mangoes and fresh-plucked herbs like basil, mint, rosemary and sage.
We went with the house margarita and it was quite good. We sipped and people-watched while we waited for our guacamole to be prepared tableside. A very genial young man wheeled out a large wooden cart with an array of ingredients and prepared the mixture with our input as to degree of heat and add-ins.
We kept it fairly classic and it was, perhaps, the best we'd ever tasted. It was also a very generous portion (two large avocados), and the chips were warm and fresh.
We placed the rest of our order and were delighted with a little "amuse bouche" (don't know the Spanish for that) that arrived before our meal. A shot glass filled with mango sorbetto and diced fruit made a refreshing start to our meal.
I was intrigued by the menu item that seemed more Japanese than Mexican, although it was called spicy tuna tacos. Three thin slices of jicama replaced tortillas and were topped with chopped tuna sashimi then finished with a tropical slaw of mango, cucumber, cilanto, red onion and green apple sprinkled with sesame seeds, crushed pepitas and green onions. It was very light and fresh, but it really needed some seasoning or heat. The slaw was the best part.
Yucatecan-spiced chicken was served with very good rice and beans. The chicken, however, was not very good. It was advertised as "dry-rubbed rotisserie chicken," but it must have been cooked the day before and reheated because it was dry and tasteless, and the accompanying spicy peanut salsa was bland as well. On the side were some pickled red onions and watercress.
Of course, the menu includes all the expected dishes: sopas, salads, tacos, burritos, enchiladas, fajitas and mesquite-grilled chicken, fish, steak and jumbo shrimp. El Corazon de Costa Mesa also has a nice selection of sides like crispy Brussels sprouts with roasted potatoes, bacon and guijillo lime or sweet potato with spinach and caramelized onions in a coconut crema poblana.
For dessert, we always go for flan when it's on the menu. Here it was served two ways, classic and cream cheese with a salted caramel sauce. Both were just OK. They didn't have the dense texture of really good Mexican flan.
A dramatic finish to a meal would be the Café Mexicano, which is prepared tableside and flamed with tequila and liqueur and served with vanilla ice cream. You have a choice of Khalua, Frangelico or Kahlua and Baileys.
This is a Mexican restaurant that is trying to expand its boundaries and do some innovative as well as traditional food, in a lovely new space.
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.
El Corazon de Costa Mesa
Where: 1870 Harbor Blvd. in The Triangle
When: 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sunday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Friday and Saturday
Appetizers: $3.75 to $16.75
Tacos and burritos: $8.75 to $13.75
Entrées: $10.75 to $22.75
Desserts: $4.75 to $9.75
Bottles: $26 to $48
By the glass: $6.50 to $10
Corkage fee: $15
Information: (949) 612-2349 or http://www.elcorazoncocina.com