AnQi - Costa Mesa
A deal is a deal and a $30.11 prix fixe at last week's Costa Mesa Restaurant Week for three courses at AnQi is certainly one of those. AnQi is arguably one of more expensive if controversial OC restaurants among people who go out to eat as a hobby (read: me). I'd reviewed AnQi before, but since that time, they hired a different chef--a new chef whose style is culled from the school of Ferran Adria, Grant Achatz, Wylie Dufresne, which is to say he does molecular gastronomy or modernist cuisine or whatever new label they call their food these days.
So I was looking for something to the level of that kind of experience: A little of the MIT mixed in with the CIA, a meal that plays to both the science and food geek in me. What I got wasn't exactly that. The two main courses on offer were like the meals I had previously under the old chef. This was fusion-y stuff that attempts to upgrade the Asian with a few unAsian ingredients. I'm not saying it wasn't good; just not what I came to try.
The best dish out of the two they offered as a main course was a Cornish game hen, presented in an rectangular tray, the diminutive bird cut is into four pieces, each quarter roasted to a nice doneness with slightly charred skin, served with roasted sweet potato and jicama spears, arugula, and pistachios in a salad.
The sauce that bridged the veg with the protein was nouc cham, the classic and workman-like Vietnamese fish sauce that sloshed around as a puddle at the bottom of the dish. I liked how both the sweet potato cubes and the chicken absorbed the stuff. But I ask you: What can't nouc cham improve?
There was a salmon dish, where a square of fish was laid on top of a tangle of green tea-flavored noodles, the whole thing dressed in an opaque and creamy wasabi-miso sauce and tasting like a hastily edited highlight reel of a tour of Japan. While well-intentioned, it was too much to process and ended up being a muddled representation of Japanese flavors when it should've been reverential.
Much better were the duo of apps. An ahi tuna poke taco was not unlike a lot of other ahi tuna poke tacos I've had; this particular one delicate and well-balanced between the slightly tart raw paste of fish, the rich avocado, and the salty-bursts coming from jet-black bits of caviar.
Next to it was something they called a beef tongue wonton, which should've been called a taco since it used the same swooping crunchy shell as its plate mate. I liked it just the same: a braised, tender bite of meat and crunch gone too soon.
It wasn't until the lychee panna cotta arrived did I see the what appears to be something new. Here was the mouthful I've been looking for: a combination of a well-made, jiggly, perfectly set Italian cooked cream, joined by a scooped dome of freezing rosewater that seemed to exist fleetingly like frigid sea foam out of the Arctic.
This substance electrified every spoonful I scooped up with a tangy zing. Surrounding it was a raspberry coulis and Thai basil gelee in cubes, which didn't so much taste like Thai basil as it reiterated the silken smoothness of the cream, just by the contrast of its firm jelly bites.
If the dessert was just a tease of what modernist/molecular spins Ryan Carson has to offer for their so-called "Molecular Mondays", it worked. Now I'm as curious as ever.
South Coast Plaza
3333 S Bristol St
Costa Mesa, CA 92626
THIS WEEK ON OC WEEKLY:
The Lime Truck - Orange County
Food Issue - Bunch of Brunch