On the road to Orange County, with the purpose of shopping for a Shiraz at Hi-Time Wine Cellars—my absolute favorite wine destination in Southern California—for a tasting I was attending the next day… at least that was my excuse, I wanted to maximize my day away from LA. I made plans to visit a friend who had moved back to Newport Beach for a job, catching up over burgers at a restaurant of his choosing.

Driving down the 55 South until it blended into Costa Mesa, I was within minutes from my wine Mecca and fresh from limiting my time in the grind of gridlock. I had just finished a rotation of The Kingsbury Manx completing my relaxed demeanor.

Little changes in Hi-Time, except the selection, constantly growing to include a greater variety of hard to find wines while keenly accommodating all budgets. The ambiance is amazing in there, an actual cellar to house many of the nicer bottles that you would want properly stored before you purchase them and a Champagne/Sparkling wine room worth the drive alone. Needless to say, I was content purchasing a multiplicity of wines, including the Shiraz and I even swooped up some interesting craft beer (future blogs?), an attempt to appease my daring palate.

It was on to Memphis Café, a nearby haven for those seeking an alternative to the impersonal chain and franchised restaurants that make up a large portion of Orange County, to meet up with my friend Eric. It was a late lunch and both of us were feeling ravenous so we ordered to put the staff on extra duty, trying out the kitchen in the process.

While I am not inclined to order specials, hardly frequenting the same restaurants enough to avoid the menu, we were steered to two of them: Ahi seared tacos and a bison burger with sweet potato fries. We added another request for a pulled pork sandwich (the only thing on the menu) with an extra helping of Swiss. We were asked to relocate to a table that could comfortably hold the plates we had ordered. We obliged, moving and then discussing our recent successes in our very different jobs and before we knew it, three hefty plates landed on the table. Portions were taken seriously at Memphis, and that was a good thing because they were charging an exorbitant amount for pub fare.

The bison burger had one substitution, instead of blue cheese; it was recommended that I try it avec Swiss, and again… I agreed. I am trying to embrace the kaas, recapturing my Dutch upbringing when I would eat Gouda without a second thought.

The bison patty was generous, proudly wearing the seared sweater and sitting a half-inch thick, with a few extras on the side and a thick grilled bun so as not to fall apart from the jus that might gush from the patty. After assembling it, I took a few bites and was disappointed that they had overcooked the meat—the expected pink was swapped for a grayish hue—and I was robbed of the richness but luckily there were condiments. The Swiss cheese, red onion and fillet of pickle lent a helping hand in making the burger better. However, I probably am not going to be eating there again. The burger was not terrible by any means but did not warrant sixteen dollars.

I feel I must discuss the fine flirtation with sweet potato fries, which have taken over at any place that serves a “gourmet” burger. Memphis decided to coat theirs with an added dusting of sugar and cinnamon that would be great as dessert but just clashed with the bison burger. I like the “go-in the go-for-it,” especially when I had the Sweet Potato Gooey’s from Peter’s Gourmade Grill but that was because they were upfront with the flavors and ingredients in the side dish. The sweet potato fries from Memphis were almost like churros but without that satisfying crunch or, a melt-in-your-mouth-consistency like the churros I was lucky enough to experience at Lucques for dessert. Needless to say they remained intact on the plate.

The tacos were fairly large, the tuna was generous, however so was their chipotle aioli, with an unremitting attack of mayonnaise lathering the innards of the taco. Aside from too much mayo in the sauce the tacos were decent, seared fish wrapped inside of a flour tortilla and some green cabbage providing the added crunch…maybe not worth twelve dollars either but not bad.

The food was hit or miss and with our three-entrée lunch totaling fifty dollars sans tip, I am not sure I would consider going back to Memphis Café. Too expensive for the kind of food they are serving; an Orange County equivalent to Father’s Office—however at Father’s Office they control the cooking times much better. The day was not a bust by any means, I was able to continue exploring the added benefits of cheese (getting in touch with my inner kindje), load up on some premium wines and hang out with a fellow Bruin. When I am only quibbling with cooking times and poor side choices… life is pretty good.