Sunday, January 04, 2009

Macy's Signature Kitchen - Costa Mesa

What do you get when Mozza's grande dame (Nancy Silverton), the wunderkind chef of Aquavit (Marcus Samuelsson), and an Iron Chef (Cat Cora) meet up at Macy's Home Store? You get Macy's Signature Kitchen, a food-court-cum-celebrity-chef-pet-project-cum-department-store-experiment.

If it smells like Macy's answer to the beguilingly popular Nordstrom Cafe -- which to this day, draws crowds -- it probably is. As you may expect, there are ginormous glamour shots of the three principals' grinning mugs. Also, no surprise: all of their cookbooks are available for sale at a nominal price.

Nevertheless, this co-op eatery from three celebri-chefs is unprecedented, or at the very least, new. The first thing you see is a segregated menu -- one for each chef, with about a dozen items each. But you order from the same register and presumably, the food is cooked by the same staff, in the same kitchen.

Still, knowing all this, the place feels like it's Cat Cora's, even if her name is last on the roster. She seems to be the one putting herself out there, taking the most risks. Silverton's got sandwiches, Samuelsson's got burgers, but in her CCQ Platters, Cora's got the only knife-and-fork entrees -- and she bravely chooses BBQ, a food that people will have strong opinions about.

Her BBQ'd proteins range from pulled pork, beef brisket, shrimp, and chicken. For the vegetarians, there's a "fire roasted" veggie with smoked mozzarella. I took the pulled pork, and though it was cooked well and relatively moist, it was devoid of flavor. In fact, it seemed like a blank canvas in search of paint. And that paint existed in Cora's sauce bar -- a cooler of ice stocked full of pour-yourself carafes more colorful than a Crayola box.

Among the flavoring options available:

Mississippi Mop
Southern Red
Asian Hoisin
Green Gaucho
Carolina Mustard
Mediterranean Fennel
Ancho - Apple
Spicy Orange Peel.

Each one I tried enlivened my dull porcine strands, but especially the "Green Gaucho", which had an herby kick similar to Indian mint chutney and the "Ancho-Apple", which was sneakily spicy and lip-smackingly fruity.

The side items included "pit beans", a sweetly satisfying but not-too-cloying baked beans dish with garbanzo and pinto; Cora's "Blue Corn and Jalapeno Madeleine", which ate like regular ol' cornbread despite the fact that there was a slice of jalapeno baked into the top; and a crunchy, pseudo-Asian slaw, which was snappy, refreshing, and alive -- the best item of all.

But all in all, for $11.95, the amount served is barely equal to the price paid...which is why I also ordered the "Classic" burger ($8.50) from Samuelsson's side of the menu.

And in its textbook-thick, loosely-packed patty that was cooked to the correct shade of rosy, I found one of the juiciest burgers I've ever had. All of the components worked. The Swiss was melted properly. The lettuce was fancy. The tomatoes were perky. And the onions were shaved thin. But best of all, the bun was toasted to a lovely crunch with lots of butter -- so much that you can taste it seeping out of the bread.

There's even homemade pickles, sliced like typical dills, but with more of a sophisticated bent of the Japanese kind -- subtle and sweet.

The fries, however, were strange. They were porous, without the crisp skin you associate with deep-fried food. I would've suspected they were baked if I didn't see the cooks frying them myself. Luckily, the mound was blasted with granules of fried garlic and herbs, rescuing it from mediocrity.

But while Cora's slaw made me swoon, a taste of Samuellson's made me retch. Never have I had anything so bitter (and I love bittermelon), which means that if this was Kitchen Stadium and it was crunch time in "Battle Slaw", Iron Chef Cora would "reign supreme".

Macy's Signature Kitchen
Macy's Home Store‎
3333 Bear St
Costa Mesa, CA 92626
(714) 708-3333

THIS WEEK ON OC WEEKLY:
The Lost Bean - Tustin

21 Comments:

At 7:53 AM, Blogger Diamond Dog said...

Perfect example of over complicating foods and getting away from the "pure" flavors of tried and true dishes.

I am beginning to hate the new "mall stores" as much as "celebrity chefs". I think they are a fad and in today's economy, something I think that will die quickly....just like Tiramasu on desert menus (1990 called...it wants its desert back).

Although Cat Cora is INSANELY HOT, this edeavor will fail or have to be reinvented to succeed.

Great review and nice to see a review where the reviewer isn't simply gushing over all the food and getting sucked in by all the "flash"

 
At 10:18 AM, Blogger Juliet said...

I've never been into those fancy department store places, or places with a celebrity chef's name attached. But hey, at least it wasn't Rachael (Retch) Ray.

 
At 12:00 PM, Blogger Diamond Dog said...

Also, in regards to the OC Weekly Lost Bean write up:

I hate all this "fake green" stuff out there.

I don't believe anyone has made a "hot" cup out of vegetable products yet. The heat will melt it. As far as biodegradability, they have found hot dogs that are intact in land fills after 15 years. For something to biodegrade properly it has to also be "compostable" and also taken to a proper composting facility that composts with the proper ingredients and temperatures.

Also there is no such thing as "organic certified water". If its filtered tap water, it started out as chlroniated or has chloromine in it and is regulated by the EPA. If they went to some stream and pulled it from there, I wouldnt drink it as it may have bactaeria, cysts, or other nasties in it. Not to mention the runoff from farms, streets, industry.

The prices your mentioned are ridiculous to charge consumers for coffee and snacks. I hate people who tell a green story and pretend to care about people and the environment as they rape the public and line their pockets.

 
At 4:28 PM, Blogger EatTravelEat said...

Interesting place but it looks very complicated with many things. The sauce selection picture almost looks like going to a hotel juice bar at a buffet! After all they look like small jugs on ice...which is similar to juice.

I agree about the pulled pork; that looked really bland for flavor! But it looked like you added something on to it.

Great post and photos :)!

 
At 12:44 AM, Blogger ChristianZ said...

I've been to the Nordstrom Cafe two or three times. Might give this Macy's one a try and order from the Cat Cora menu.

 
At 1:01 PM, Blogger mothermayi said...

i like how there is a variety of sauces to try. Nice pictures.

Btw, I went to check out genkai this weekend, but saw they were closed for remodeling. I was very sad, but ended up going to honda ya for the first time. do you know when gen kai is gona reopen?

 
At 7:17 PM, Blogger Loving Annie said...

Glad that you enjoyed the burger, too bad about the pulled pork and the fries...

 
At 8:03 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...

D.D.,

Cat Cora *is* hot. But anyway, I didn't hate this place, but I'm not exactly loving it either. I'd go back for that burger. If only the changed the fries.

As far as The Lost Bean, it's a good coffeehouse. The prices are in line with all other coffeehouses...which is to say, still very expensive. But really, that eco-friendly stuff is nice and all (true or not), but it isn't the reason I'd go there. With me, it's all about the flava!!!

Juliet,

HA! Oh I wish it was Rachael Ray. Only because then I can make fun of her Racheal Rayisms. For instance, "the food, on the contrary, was not 'Yum-o!"

EatTravelEat,

I love that sauce station. My only wish was that I had the patience to try it all...and also something other than that pork to try it with! Like maybe a crab/cheese rangoon or something!

Christian,

It's worth trying just for those sauces. Not sure she does any Mexican ones though...but still.

MotherMayI,

Hmm...I wonder if that means Juuji will be back. When things get remodeled, that's when people start to move around. And I don't seem to recall that the place needed sprucing up!

Loving Annie,

Burger was indeed one of the better ones in South Coast Plaza proper...except if Marche Moderne has one. One made by them might just trump it.

 
At 5:08 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This was some of the best most inventive BBQ I have ever had. It is a great gourmet spin on BBQ! Love the different tastes of sauces from all over the world, really mixes it up and leaves you curious about other cuisines from different regions. The quality of the food is so great, everything from the coleslaw, grilled veggies, and produce was fresh and fantastic! I've taken family members many times since it opened last month and everyone has said how much they love the combination of different chefs and types of food available. Another plus - there's beer and wine available. So after a long day shopping (or just using that excuse) you can browse the culinary goods you've always wanted and have a great bite to eat, drink and indulge in greatness!

 
At 9:29 PM, Blogger EatTravelEat said...

The sauce bar looks like it would take a long time to try it all! So many sauces...and it looks like when you try to pour a little, you pour a lot.

 
At 10:31 PM, Blogger Mike said...

It bothers me that the pulled pork is devoid of flavor unless YOU choose how to spice it up. It feels like they thought, "hell we don't know what to do, let's just stop here and let them decide!" Thus leaving an unfinished product. I've always viewed the adding of sauces as something you do to enhance flavor not create it out of thin air.

As for the burger you've sold me. Burgers really are the key to my heart and I think your description has unlocked it.

 
At 7:34 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...

Anon,

I'm glad you liked it. Though I only tried Cora's pulled pork, I'm still curious about the brisket and the shrimp. But I think if I were to go back, I'll be ordering another one of those burgers.

EatTravelEat,

My thoughts exactly. The sauces were a fun touch. Quite the contrary though, some of the sauces were quite chunky and would get stuck in the small spout. That green sauce was murder to pour, but well worth the effort!

Mike,

Interestingly enough the Pulled Pork is described on the menu this way "All natural pork shoulder rubbed with fennel, coriander spice mix, cooked slowly over hickory logs then hand shredded".

But frankly, the only thing that was accurate in the description was that it was shredded. Perhaps the outer pieces were more well-flavored (I didn't get any). Instead, what I got could've been mistaken for boiled.

 
At 6:24 AM, Blogger christoofat said...

Griffin Eats OC just did their write up on this place & pretty much hated it. The pic of his $12 "tri-tip" (two dried out looking pieces of beef)was remarkably non-appetizing. He also mentioned all the wonderful sauces sitting on ice to pour on your nice hot food (although they happily warm it up for you upon request).
Think I'll just go to Stone Fire Grill instead & enjoy the food sans the celeb-a-chefs.

 
At 9:19 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...

chris,

I read Griffin's review last night too! I was so happy to hear another blogger's perspective and he makes a really good point when he questions the choice of pairing an ice-cold sauce with hot food.

I didn't even think about that.

I was just happy that there was something, anything, to aid in the blandness of my pork.

They ought to have two receptacles for the sauces...one warm tray for the sauces that are supposed to be warm, and the ice bucket they already have.

The Green Gaucho would've been weird if it was warmed up though. It was like a chilled Indian chutney.

And it sounds like they overcooked Griffin's wife's burger too! I got lucky!

 
At 4:32 PM, Blogger Diana said...

Funny - I was deciding between eating here or at Nordstrom Cafe the other weekend, but ended up at Nordstrom instead. Love that tomato soup!

 
At 9:20 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...

Diana,

Next time, it'll be Nordstroms for me. Not because I hated Macy's, but I just heard so much about Nordstroms.

 
At 8:41 AM, Anonymous Virgie said...

I am always excited to try new restaurants, especially when the menu is sparked from a celebrity chef. So, I brought my sister here one afternoon for lunch and I would say the overall experience was only OK.

My sister ordered the beef brisket from Cat Cora's menu and when it arrived, our thoughts were "that's it?" We paid about $11 for 3 extremely thin strips of meat (that were way over done and were reminiscent of beef jerky), a so-so piece of cornbread, and a plate full of slaw.

I ordered the chicken chili from the La Brea Bakery menu and it didn't blow me away. It was similar to chicken tortilla soup but by no means was it the best I had ever had.

The highlight of our lunch was the red velvet cupcake that was displayed by the registers in a well-enclosed cake stand. The cake was moist, the cream cheese frosting had bits of vanilla bean and it was just the right amount of sweetness. For about $2.95, the value was well worth it. It was larger than any you could buy at the fancy cupcake bakeries and could easily be shared between two.

I would probably try it again because there seemed to be a lot of options, but I would definitely not recommend ordering from Cat Cora's menu due to the lack of value and quality for what you pay.

 
At 2:44 PM, Blogger Griffin said...

LOL Elmo..... It was actually my mom's burger that was overcooked. :-) My wife hasn't tried this place yet. Although after I told her about this place, she's not exactly dying to try it.

 
At 11:25 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...

Virgie,

Yeah, you don't get much for what you pay. I appreciate the coleslaw, which I liked a lot, and the beans, which I also dug, but the whole thing shouldn't have cost more than 8 bucks tops.

Thanks for your honest review!

Griffin,

Oops. I guess I focused on your description of the food more than who was eating it!

 
At 3:37 PM, Anonymous Gastronomer said...

I have been curious about Cat Cora's resto endeavor. Thanks for the roundup.

 
At 10:37 PM, Anonymous James said...

The mississippi mop sauce tasted just like tomato soup to me. The southern red sauce tasted almost like straight vinegar with a slight hint of tomato. The green gaucho sauce smelled fantastic. It smelled like a freshly made pesto sauce.

 

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