Since my incredible dining experience, both Taco Maria and Carlos Salgado have accumulated even more well-deserved praise and attention for creating and serving absolutely incredible Mexican fusion food. Jonathan Gold first wrote about Taco Maria in 2014. So great to watch their progress. Here is a 2nd review from 2015 on Good Food.
When I first went, of course I had heard the buzz, but I didn't really understand how it worked. Maybe if I had read the J. Gold review I would have been prepared! But I had been living in Mexico, flying by the seat of my chaps. I drove from LA, in rush hour (sort of forgot about TRAFFIC) and as there were multiple actual accidents, it took me over 2 hours.
I was meeting a friend who had just flown in to John Wayne airport from Baja California Sur. She had heard of the place too and was game to try it. I was fantasizing about ordering lots of TACOS but I didn't realize that the dinner menu at that time was pre fixe only for $65 per person.
I also had trouble finding the place. It's quite tiny, hidden in what has to be California's most orgasmic and extensive high design mini mall with even a Surfas. It's called the OC Mix and the area that houses Taco Maria is called the SoCo Collection.
OMG. I kept asking for help. People were very nice. No time to shop - most of the stores looked closed anyway but it was damn impressive.
Once seated in the tiny space we were given a skinny menu, which my eyes quickly scanned for tacos. Tacos, tacos, where are the tacos? I saw one: Taco de Esturion. It looked like a very gourmet and interesting fish taco with mil islas. Ah! 1000 Island dressing, instead of tartar sauce or crema! Clever!
And so it went on. My friend, who is the proud owner of a fantastic garden to gullet restaurant in Southern Baja (Hierbabuena) was very pleased with everything we ate, including the recommended wine pairings.
I kept thinking, gotta come back for lunch, gotta come back for lunch, gotta come back for lunch. During lunch and on Tuesday night, you can order tacos a la carte. Oh joy! And man do they look good. In fact, almost all of the pictures I've posted came from the web because the dim lighting at night did not lend itself to my amateur photo skills!
I was very impressed by the charisma and creativity wafting over from the open kitchen. It was like watching a magic show from the back row. These guys were just plain cool. All of them. Not sure if Mr. Salgado was in there or not - there was one guy with tattoos and long hair who fascinated me. Very serious, very perfectionistic. Large hands, but fine attention to detail.
It took me a while to create a blog post - partly because the experience was so singular, I didn't know how to reduce it to words on a page. I thought it best left in my mind. But at this point, I would be a very negligent Taco Maven indeed if I didn't at least try to put some text to screen.
There were four courses. My friend eats fish (but no meat). I eat shellfish and all meat, so we couldn't do a traditional sharing. I think in some cases we ordered the same thing. As I read the menu now, after the fact, it's hard to reconstruct what I ate and what it looked like. Seriously everything evaporated in a puff of smoke and vapor like it was never really there - so pretty on the plate, so flavorful.
First I had the Enmolada (zucchini, mushrooms, date mole, almonds) super tasty but what was it exactly? Were they rolled up, stacked? in a tortilla????? I found my foto! Pretty sure this was it. Stacked and round with blue corn tortillas maybe?
Then I had the Calabaza Gratinada (squash, Oaxaca cheese, basil, pumpkin seeds) was it baked in a dish? I think so! But I'm not sure!!! Zucchini is pretty much my favorite veggie, especially with cheese! It caramelizes so well and is also soft and soothing.
Then I chose the Chile Relleno (corn battered, potatoes, cotija cheese, Veracruzana style) I loved the chile relleno. Maybe because it was so familiar. I also love Veracruzana sauce which usually features tomatoes, olives, onions etc. I remember that it was very original, very beautiful and was GONE in half a heartbeat. I considered licking my plate several times but managed to show restraint. My tongue did not directly touch that plate. I swear. Fingers yes. Tongue no.
I did find one other picture which must have been the Mero con Tomatillo. (Sablefish with tomatillo jam and coriander). This was as delicious as it was lovely to look at.
The 4th course was a choice between 2 meats. I believe they allowed my friend to order the chile relleno instead. Especially after she tasted mine! I went with the Cachete de Puerco (beans, grilled octopus, chorizo oil). Every since Mario Batali first talked about Pork Cheeks on TV years ago, I've felt fondly toward them.
There was desert, we ate it. YUM. Maybe it had chocolate and cinnamon. Maybe it was a fancy churro? Pero, no fotos, sin memoria, nada. Our dinner lasted 2.5 hours. The drive home was 50 minutes at 8:30 pm instead of 150 min at 3pm. I gotta go for lunch. I really do. Wanna come with?
3313 Hyland Ave. Suite C21 Costa Mesa, CA714 538 8444