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:
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
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