Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Taco Asylum (Costa Mesa, CA)

Taco Asylum
2937 Bristol St, Costa Mesa, CA 92626
Wed 03/02/2011, 06:50p-09:00p

Taco Asylum Exterior
Given the near-instant success that Chef Greg Daniels has achieved at his gastropub Haven in Orange, I wasn't surprised to hear that he and his partners--Wil Dee and Ace Patel--wanted to expand. They were eventually approached with an offer to take over a space at The Camp in Costa Mesa, and the trio developed Taco Asylum as a result. The eatery specializes in non-traditional tacos, drawing from an array of culinary traditions from across the globe. It's an interesting concept, and an invitation to a special tasting event organized by Marian the Foodie gave me the perfect opportunity to try the Asylum out.

Taco Asylum Interior

Taco Asylum Menu Taco Beverage Menu
Nine tacos are currently available at Taco Asylum, though Daniels may consider adding rotating specials in the future. They're priced at $5 or $6 each, while a flight of eight mini-tacos can be had for $18 (if you're wondering, only eight are included since that's what their largest tray holds). Of course, in true kevinEats fashion, I ate all nine, in their full-size form factors no less (not an easy feat mind you). Also, I'll note that though Chef Daniels is Taco Asylum's Executive Chef, day-to-day operations here are largely handled by Restaurant Manager Cody Storts.

As for the libations, a sextet of draught beers is offered, though really the focus is on the commendable selection of canned brews (a rarity in restaurants these days), curated by Dee. In addition, teetotalers may choose from a wide variety of interesting sodas. Click for larger versions.

Grilled Octopus Taco
Grilled Octopus [$5.00] | Kalamata Olives - Oregano - Feta - Tomatoes
First up to bat in a seemingly Mediterranean-inspired preparation, grilled octopus arrived rather tender, and showed off a decent about of ocean-y savor as well. The feta, meanwhile, served as a surprisingly effective complement to the cephalopod, and I enjoyed the piquancy of the kalamatas as well. I didn't taste too much from the tomato, but I did appreciate the taco's enveloping notes of oregano.

Pork Belly Taco
Pork Belly [$5.00] | Carrots - Daikon - Onions - Cilantro
Pork belly was expectedly luscious, heavy, and dripping with oil. Given the gravity of the meat, the taco's vegetable accoutrements were absolutely key. The carrot and daikon pickles gave the taco a satisfying crunch (I wanted more), and provided a much needed tartness, while the bright flavors of cilantro contributed a certain levity to things. You could almost imagine this as a riff on the classic bánh mì.

Short Rib Taco
Short Rib [$5.00] | Pickled Red Onion - Salsa Verde - Cotija Cheese - Cilantro
Next up was a Mexican-style presentation of braised beef short rib (think barbacoa). I found the meat tender, juicy, and quite enjoyable, a great pair with the weight of the cotija cheese. At the same time, the tangy red onions did a great job in balancing the dish, as did the cilantro, but I wanted more from the salsa verde.

Curried Paneer Taco
Curried Paneer [$5.00] | Raita - Tomato Chutney
Not surprisingly, the Indian-inspired Curried Paneer taco came wrapped in naan flatbread. The dish incorporates a recipe from partner Ace Patel's mother, and indeed, the curry did an admirable job in conveying the essence of Indian cookery. It was an apt match to the cubes of paneer, and I appreciated how the raita served to temper the spice of the taco. The only thing I wasn't sure of was the tomato chutney, which I found a bit too sweet.

Taco Asylum Interior

Wild Mushroom Taco
Wild Mushroom [$5.00] | Chickpea Purée - Parsley Salad - Fried Chickpeas
Here we have the Wild Mushroom, my favorite taco of the nonet. The earthy character and umami-tinged goodness of the 'shrooms were deftly presented in the dish, and I really enjoyed the countervailing flavors provided by the chickpea purée and parsley. My favorite part of the taco, however, was the use of fried garbanzos, which added a simply fantastic crunchiness to things.

Lamb Taco
Lamb [$6.00] | Olive Tapenade - Ratatouille - Mâché
Lamb was richly-flavored and suitably tender in consistency, and showed off a decidedly Provençal twist. The olive-y tang of the tapenade was well-placed, as was the ratatouille, but I really couldn't taste much from the mâche unfortunately.

Duck Taco
Duck [$6.00] | Camembert - Dijon Crème Fraîche - Purple Fingerling Chips
Duck was rather tasty, with the meat showing off its characteristic savoriness, while the utter lusciousness of the Camembert elevated the taco even further. Sadly, I didn't get to really enjoy the Dijon, but I loved the fingerling bits, which gave the dish an utterly fantastic crispiness as well as a touch of salt.

Corazon Taco
Corazon [$5.00] | Confit Beef Heart - Pickled Turnips - Harissa
Corazon was delightful, with a subtly firm texture and a delectably hearty savor (see what I did there?). The beef went swimmingly with the restrained heat of the harissa, while the sour pickles served to temper the dish.

Ghost Chili Pork Taco
Ghost Chili Pork [$5.00] | Braised - Chile Threads - Pork Cracklins
I ended my taco gauntlet with the Ghost Chili Pork. As expected, the meat was supple in body, with a definite porcine sapor. The chile threads, meanwhile, added a considerable amount of the heat to the taco. The amount of spice wasn't overwhelming, but it was definitely there, and lingered for several minutes afterward. My favorite part of the taco was actually the cracklins, which gave the dish a fantastic textural element.

There are a couple nits to work out on a few of the dishes, but overall, the tacos are unique, effective, and tasty. I just hope that the menu eventually sees some rotation. This is a fun concept that Daniels and company have come up with, and don't be surprised to see more Taco Asylums popping up in the future. In the meantime though, look out for a second branch of Haven Gastropub (replete with on-site brewing) in Old Town Pasadena, to be situated in the spot of the former Brix 42.

Taco Asylum Bar


Blogger Fritos and Foie Gras said...

What an interesting concept! Fusion tacos are just now starting to hit NYC, but most of the ones here are Asian fusion. I love the Middle Eastern and South French taco ideas!!! Once again...I am now starving at 7 am ;)

Friday, March 11, 2011 4:09:00 AM  
Anonymous Marian the Foodie said...

Another great post and cool pictures Kevin. Thank you again for coming out to my event. I still can't believe you ate all 9 full size tacos! CRAZY!

Friday, March 11, 2011 1:07:00 PM  
Blogger Jennifer @ WanderingSeoul said...

It's only natural to order all nine. :) Tacos look and sound fantastic, especially the mushroom.

Friday, March 11, 2011 1:43:00 PM  
Blogger Sam C. said...

Nice post....and i'm going there.............Now! :-)

Saturday, March 12, 2011 3:07:00 PM  
Blogger dj said...

this place looks awesome...

Saturday, March 12, 2011 7:09:00 PM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

Sarah: And why are you up at 7:00?!?

Marian: Thanks again for organizing. What else do you have planned?

Jennifer: Sure it's natural to want all nine, but not so natural to have them in full size portions.

Sam: What did you end up having?

DJ: Yeah man. Next time I'd like to experiment more with the canned beers.

Sunday, March 13, 2011 1:51:00 AM  
Anonymous Marian the Foodie said...

I have a few ideas in mind. I'll decide once I get back from Tokyo. Maybe a karaoke and food event ;p lol

Sunday, March 13, 2011 5:01:00 PM  
Blogger Michael said...

So sorry I missed Marian's event.

Monday, March 14, 2011 7:45:00 AM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

Marian: Cool. Then I finally get to hear you sing.

Michael: How do you know Marian?

Monday, March 14, 2011 2:25:00 PM  
Blogger Michael said...

We know each other via Facebook. We have not technically met.

Like you and I have not technically met.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011 4:20:00 PM  
Anonymous Marian the Foodie said...

Kevin: Don't have high expectations of my singing voice :p

Michael: Hope you can make it to my future events!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011 9:43:00 AM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

Michael: Got it.

Marian: Too late!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011 2:04:00 PM  
Blogger Sam C. said...

I got the pork belly, octopus and duck taco. Pork belly's my favorite..then the octopus. Duck is alright but it's still good.

ya know, they have a thing now where you get to sample 8 you don't need to eat everything full size! (can't believe you did that)

Sunday, March 20, 2011 10:37:00 PM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

Yes, I knew about the sampler, but I wanted to go all out. ;)

Friday, March 25, 2011 3:18:00 PM  

Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home