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An Interview With Chef Niki Starr Weyler of MESA

Written by: Marissa Wright

Photographed by: Chelsea Maras

So much more than a lounge with a retractable roof, Mesa delivers in every way. With the abundance of bars and clubs in Orange County falling victim to pretentiousness, it’s nice to find an oasis that enthusiastically serves up designer bites and craft cocktails while making it look effortless. The moment you walk through the big wooden door of Mesa you’re greeted with deep, earthy decor, and sultry lighting inviting you to sit and stay awhile.

The small plates menu perfectly complements their selection of signature cocktails. “The Clash” is a spicy, sweet-tart cocktail with hints of vanilla and cilantro and is the right contrast for the briny fried olives and decadent cauliflower “Mac” n’ cheese. All it takes is one bite, and you will forget that mac n’ cheese is supposed to have pasta. Rich, truffle roasted cauliflower arrives in a cast iron skillet, white cheddar still bubbling on the bottom, with panko bread crumbs sprinkled on top. If you are in a group, order your own cauliflower mac because you won’t want to share.

Make sure to get the “Chef Style Mussels” because they’re perfect for sharing. Your group will welcome a mound of steaming mussels with all the bells and whistles. Bilbao chorizo, chili flakes, and paprika add smokiness and a touch of heat while white wine, green onions, and tableside squeezed lemons brighten the rich, buttery mussels. The only thing better than the mussels themselves could be the pan sauce that is begging to be sopped up by grilled sourdough.

If you are of the vegetarian persuasion, try pairing the Bauhaus Tonic with their Veggie Burger. The Bauhaus Tonic is a crisp, clean mix of Hendricks gin with muddled cucumber, a touch of lime, and burnt thyme. It’s a refreshing companion for the savory garbanzo bean-based burger. The patties are made in-house from garbanzo beans, shaved carrot, onion, and parsley and come out crispy on the outside but luscious and creamy in the middle. Stacked high with avocado, chipotle aioli, butter lettuce and tomato—even the biggest carnivore is satisfied.

For the sweet tooths, a glass of the Kung Fu Girl Riesling is a must with Ernie’s Bread Pudding. The bright and fruity wine will coax out all the layers of flavor happening on that dessert plate. Brioche bread baked to perfection is served up over dulce de leche with vanilla ice cream, pulverized bacon and broken cashew bits—it is a sweet, salty heaven.

When not lost in admiration for the cuisine, take in some of the original art on the walls and the live music (if it’s Wednesday-Saturday). Mesa truly is what Orange County didn’t even know it was missing. I sat down with Chef Nikki at Mesa to find out what’s happening late night.

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Q: I know you just recently started tasting menu dinners, can you talk a little about those? Are they offered late at night as well?

Nikki Star Weyler: The tasting menus are available the first Wednesday of every month. It’s a grand chef’s table that seats twelve—It’s six courses with pairings for $100. Every month it’s a different theme. The first one, I did, was in January, which was just a couple weeks ago. Since it was my birthday week I themed it ‘these are a few of my favorite things’ and I chose my favorite courses to eat and make. The next dinner is themed ‘I get by with a little help from my friends’ and it’s me and five of my other chef friends where we will each be preparing one course.

Q: How fun! Who are the friends that will be helping?

NSW: James Miller from Broadway by Amar Santana, Joshua Hahn who is now at Saint Martha in LA, William Menard of The Bazaar in Vegas from the SLS Hotel for Jose Andres, Dino Duarte of Cucina Enoteca from Fashion Island and Natalie Laplont who is no longer in the game but worked at Broadway and Marche Moderne as well. I’m really excited about it. Also, for March the theme is ‘Daft Punk, around the world’ so they’re all musically themed dinners, and then each course will be from a different part of the world.

Q: What gave you the idea of infusing music into the theme of the dinners?

NSW: That’s been a standard for Mesa. All of our cocktails are named after songs or bands, so I wanted to continue with that theme. At Mesa, we’re all about the art of the world and music. On Wednesdays, when we have the tasting menu, we have live Jazz music from JP Orchestra, and they do contemporary Jazz versions of hip hop songs. It’s really cool; you’ll be sitting down enjoying dinner, and they will be playing “No Diggity” but in Jazz form. The theme of music overall is so inspiring and keeps our menu items new and fresh.

Q: In terms of music and how it correlates to Mesa, is there live music and entertainment nightly that the diners can enjoy?

NSW: Almost nightly. Wednesdays are Jazz nights and on Tuesdays, we’ve been doing things with local record labels, such as Ubiquity. They play all vinyl and whatever they play those records are for sale as well. Thursdays we have our good friend Tommy who DJs for us and he also brings in different friends as well, and then on Fridays and Saturdays we have DJs as well. On Friday, we have a resident DJ named EJ, he used to DJ at Kitch. So almost every night there is some sort of live entertainment.

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Q: For someone’s first-time experience dining here what is the first thing they should order?

NSW: Chef Style Mussels. They have Paprika, chili flakes, green onion, Chorizo and are deglazed with white wine.

Q: And the last thing they should order?

NSW: I think the last thing, which anyone should order, is a shot of Fernet.

Q: Do you have your Fernet coin?

NSW: I do. I have two actually. I have one from USBG, and I have the Orange County one.

Q: Can you explain what the Fernet coin challenge is for our readers?

NSW: Fernet coins are given to a select few in the industry. When you go out with a bunch of friends, whether they be bartenders or fellow chefs, you put your Fernet coin out on the bar and everybody has to pull theirs out within three moves in three seconds. If someone forget their coin, then they have to buy shots for everyone, but if everyone pulls out their coin and you’re the one that challenged, then you have to buy shots for everyone. You should be careful because Fernet shots can get expensive.

Q: Lastly, with the recent ban being lifted on Foie Gras, are we going to see that on Mesa’s menu anytime soon and will it be available as a late night menu item?

NSW: We definitely are, we already have it running as a special. Right now I’m doing a seared Foie dish served with brioche toast points, a Montenegro amaro caramel, pickled red currants and some citrus segments. It’s more of a dinner menu item, but if a special guest comes in and orders Foie then I’ll do it because I love Foie and everyone else who loves Foie.

Mesa 725 Baker St, Costa Mesa, CA 92626 | 714.557.6700 | www.mesacostamesa.com