Owners of the Plot in Costa Mesa serve up culinary consciousness in ‘Plantscape’ dinner series

Owners of the Plot in Costa Mesa, Jessica and Davin Waite, pose outside their restaurant at the CAMP.
Owners of the Plot in Costa Mesa, husband and wife duo Jessica and Davin Waite, pose outside their restaurant at the CAMP.
(James Carbone)

On most American dinner plates vegetables play a supporting role, propping up or fringing meat-based entrees; other times they are an afterthought, unseasoned, undercooked or steamed beyond all recognition.

But at the plant-forward the Plot in Costa Mesa, leafy greens, legumes, roots and stems take center stage, whether they’re replicating carnivore fan favorites, such as carrotfish and chips and red lentil Spam, or are the stars of boundary-pushing plates like broccoli-stem sushi and tacos made from slow-cooked banana peels.

Nothing goes to waste under the watchful eye of Oceanside executive chef Davin Waite who, with wife and partner Jessica, welcomed diners to their first Orange County-based restaurant inside the eco-friendly retail complex the CAMP in January.

The Plot, a plant-based, zero-waste restaurant, opened inside Costa Mesa's the CAMP in January.
(Kimberly Motos)

Since then, the pair have been building a fan base comprising devotees of their San Diego County-based enterprises — Wrench & Rodent Seabasstropub, Shoots Fish & Beer, Brine Box and the Plot’s flagship restaurant in Oceanside — and newcomers alike.

Davin is a self-professed omnivore whose culinary career began at a sushi-making station at an Ichiban in Santa Barbara, where he attended college, while Jessica is a lifelong herbivore who went vegan as a teen in Seattle in the ’90s and never looked back.

Despite that difference, the pair are united in their desire to restore vegetables to a place of prominence in the minds, and on the palates, of all who enter the Plot.

“Vegetables have lost a lot of their flavor because of the way we’re farming them. There’s depleted soil, they’re transported around the country, monocrop farming, it all really depletes the flavor,” Jessica said.

Vegan sushi, with broccoli stem, golden thread mushroom and fermented daikon nigiri.
Vegan sushi, with broccoli stem, golden thread mushroom and fermented daikon nigiri kicked off the the Plot’s “Plantscape” dinner series Thursday.
(James Carbone)

“Unfortunately, your average diner is not always getting a vegetable that is as delicious and as nutritious as it should be — maybe that’s been part of the problem.”

“I think diversity is also important,” said Davin. “In Southern California we’re in a bubble where things are a lot better. Still, it’s a numbers game. You’ve got people basically eating the same four fish, the same four land animals and the same four vegetables. That’s mostly because that’s what’s easy to distribute. It’s that and it’s a little bit of a comfort zone.”

Hoping to afflict the gastronomically comfortable, the Waites last year created a “Plantscape” dinner series at the Plot in Oceanside, a zero-waste tasting menu showcasing seasonal offerings selected from raised-box gardens outside the restaurant as well as local farms and eco-collaborators.

A regenerative garden outside the Plot vegan restaurant in Oceanside.
A regenerative garden outside the Plot vegan restaurant in Oceanside provides produce for the site as well as another location recently opened in Costa Mesa.
(Israel Palacio)

The vegan feast is designed not to necessarily push people outside their comfort zones but to entice them with out-of-the-box creations that exemplify the concept of “total utilization,” using every part of a plant or vegetable, from leaf to stem to root.

Although the items selected for the series are intended to convey both a passion for, and a point about, food preparation, “Plantscape” is not about preaching, according to Davin.

“People get enough voices in their ear in this day and age,” he said. “If you just make something so cool people are excited about it, then you just get this attraction going.”

On Thursday, “Plantscape” took over the menu at the Plot in Costa Mesa, as diners were treated to a six-course celebration of locally sourced and regeneratively grown dishes conceived by Davin working together with Plot head chef Travis Roe, and master fermentor and baker Chef Bryan Balzer.

Chef Lydia Ornelas selects fresh herbs and vegetables from a regenerative garden in the at the Plot in Oceanside.
Chef Lydia Ornelas selects fresh herbs and vegetables from a regenerative garden in the backyard of the vegan restaurant the Plot in Oceanside.
(Israel Palacio)

The lineup was the end result of weeks of planning, experimenting and back-and-forth messages between creators when moments of inspiration hit out of the blue. Davin said one key concept is to try to create a through line between dishes, such as the byproduct of one dish being a component in another.

“One thing I love doing is taking something apart and messing intentionally with every part — giving every part the same attention somebody would give a piece of meat — then putting it back together again,” he said.

Take, for example, the ever-seasonal daikon radish. For Plantscape, the giant root vegetable was marinated in a Japanese-style barbecue sauce, dried out and cooked in daikon skins and an oil derived from the tops and bottoms of leeks.

The result is accompanied on the plate by daikon scraps marinated in beet juice and a creamy radish puree with a crispy daikon-skin chicharron on top.

A soy-cured daikon with purple daikon scrap sauce and leek oil, topped with daikon skin crisp from the Plot in Costa Mesa.
A soy-cured daikon with purple daikon scrap sauce and leek oil, topped with daikon skin crisp presented diners with a culinary through line during a “Plantscape” dinner series at the Plot in Costa Mesa Thursday.
(James Carbone)

“None of this is waste,” Jessica clarified of the zero-waste nature of the series. “We call it waste, but it’s really just this beautiful resource that comes from the farm. We just haven’t [as a culture] figured out what to do with it yet.”

The same leek oil is seen in the next course, appearing in a soup made of stinging nettles with pickled walnuts rubbed with tangerine oil. Topically used to treat muscle aches, eczema and arthritis, the common backyard weed is nutritionally packed with protein, iron, calcium, magnesium, potassium and zinc.

Other items on Thursday’s menu included a black beet salad with a coconut yogurt and pear skin honey, a celery root schnitzel served atop spaetzle with diluted horseradish and cress creme fraiche and a spent-beer grain sourdough toast flight featuring a tomato jam with fava leaf shreds, cashew bechamel with black truffle caviar and a marmite crema.

Co-owner of the Plot in Costa Mesa, Jessica Waite serves guests during the restaurant's "Plantscape" dinner series Thursday.
(James Carbone)

More than mere novelty, the tasting menu is designed to spark conversations around food and get people thinking about its manufacture, consumption and how cuisine is the cornerstone of health, wellness and culture.

“It’s about getting people talking, showing what’s possible and getting ideas going,” Davin said, sharing the couple’s plan to add more “Plantscape” dinners in the near future.

While all of the Waites’ restaurants focus on fun, exciting offerings, the husband-and-wife duo is very intentional about maintaining menus and business practices — from compostable packaging to regenerative gardening to paying employees a living wage — that speak to a more conscious form of capitalism.

That desire is encapsulated in the Plot’s motto: “Feeding an Evolution.”

“I want [people] to feel more excited about eating plants. There are so many opportunities to live a life that is so much more full of depth and experience and enjoyment,” Jessica said.

“We’re just opening up the realm of possibilities in food.”

A strawberry clafoutis with strawberry citrus granita ends the "Plantscape" dinner series hosted by the Plot in Costa Mesa.
(James Carbone)