Boathouse Collective Rises to Keep Costa Mesa Cool

There seems no end to the expansion that Costa Mesa's restaurant scene has seen in the past year or two. The highly anticipated multimedia space of Boathouse Collective is the newest addition to the good vibes at the end of the 55, opening October 8th to much fanfare. Owner Clayton Peterson, Orange County native, has been in the space for 10 years with the grand goal of making it a venue for both great family-style food and undeniable art and music. Teaming up with Executive Chef Mathieu Royer (of Pizzeria Ortica, Hinoki and the Bird in Century City, and Morimoto in Napa Valley and trained under master sushi chef Gen Mizoguchi) easily put this venture on the map for guaranteed good food, and the locale had already made a name for itself as a hub of interactive industrial design. Why wouldn't there be excitement for its opening? Invited pre-opening, we were immediately smitten with the layout, use of reclaimed materials, and commitment to local, organic, and seasonal ingredients.

The parking for Boathouse Collective is ample, apt for a spot that can host up to 350 people for special events, and upon entering, you experience their Boathouse Container Garden first. Picture 3,000 square feet of outdoor space with seating and an impressive herb garden underneath strung lights and surrounded by old 40-foot shipping containers that give the restaurant its charm. Recycled sails provide daytime shade in the patio space, and all of the furniture and planting boxes were created from recycling wood that was on its way to the dump or were scrap pieces from building parts of the space. Tradeshow pallets sourced the tables, and 2x4 scraps made up the planting containers. It is really quite the admirable sight for those who appreciate design and craftiness.

The main building itself was a boathouse doing business for the Ditmar-Donaldson company in the '50s and '60s; this was kept as true to form as possible but brought up to code for a full dining experience with a mixture of communal, high-top, and bar seating. Decor carried through the nautical theme from the adornments on the wall to the retired surfboards overhead to the framed images of the building's history. It had undergone other stints throughout the years, going from a car repair shop post-boat building for 15 years to a sound studio for local bands and artists to a collaborative project between Peterson and Volcom for shows and movie premieres to what it is today. It took two years for Peterson to build it up to its current state, and the community could not be more excited. In addition to their food is a full bar with modern spins on classic cocktails, using ingredients from the garden outside, as well as wines and craft beers served on top through a vintage factory steam pipe.

Boathouse Collective is open daily for lunch from 11am-3pm, Happy Hour from 3pm-6pm, dinner from 6pm-10pm, and late bites until midnight; Sunday features brunch from 11am-3pm. There are also plans to do ticketed events with local musicians where you pre-order a dinner from 7pm-9pm before enjoying entertainment from 9pm-10:30pm, a way to give customers a night out on the town. As a family man himself, Peterson encourages the place to be open to families and also hosts Family Night events where kids can do something fun like painting art on recycled surfboard wood.

We began our evening by trying three of their Signature Cocktails ($8 each) - the Boathouse Sour (bourbon, lemon juice, pasteurized egg whites, angostura bitters, and housemade simple syrup), Old Fashion (rye, orange bitters, angostura bitters, and rock sugar cube), and Basil Grayhound (vodka, grapefruit juice, grapefruit bitters, luxardo cherry liqueur, housemade simple syrup, and house-grown fresh basil). All were well-balanced and strong representations of their classic inspirations with just a bit of Boathouse personality.

To start for food were Chef Royer's Seasonal Sashimi (hamachi, heirloom tomato, shiso leaf, fermented soy bean, horseradish, lemon verbena, and ponzu) and Grilled Vegetable Salad (wild mushrooms, cauliflower, broccoli, squash, zucchini, baby gem lettuce, avocado, and herbs from the garden). The menu overall can be described as Californian or New American but with influences from the chef's own worldly travels. His culinary experience also certainly shaped the way that we say Asian techniques and ingredients working themselves into the dishes. The hamachi was incredibly fresh, almost silky on the tongue next to the fermented soy bean. I liked the pop of the ponzu too along with the nasal zip of horseradish; it was quite the nice bite. The vegetable salad was not by any means a beautiful-looking dish but it made up for it in taste. Because of the avocado mixed into all the pieces, it initially looked like a mash of vegetables but the flavor was sublime and hard to deny. The freshness of each vegetable shone through in taste and texture, and the cool temperature helped maintain the crispness retained in some pieces. Thumbs up for this!

Next were the Shiitake Rice (olive oil and sea salt), Kalbi Short Rib with chimichurri, and Chicken Katsu (panko crust, Asian barbecue sauce, hot mustard, and a nest of fresh cabbage). The rice was so chockful of umami that this could have been dinner in itself. The shiitake brought on such a great texture to it with stronger bite than other mushrooms would have served in the same position. Each piece of short rib was tender and soft; the mix of cuisines was very apparent with its pairing with chimichurri but the result was a star. Slightly sweet with the scent of char (but no sign of) from the grill marks, the short rib was easy to dispense with. However, the most enjoyed of all the dishes that night seemed to be the chicken katsu because the juices were thick and abundant in each piece. Though perfectly crunchy on the outside, the chicken managed to maintain its moistness inside and was flavoring enough if one didn't want the sauce it came with. Just a small dab of hot mustard was enough to burn your sinuses so beware if you are not accustomed to this common Asian condiment. For the food, Boathouse Collective was already a 5/5 pre-opening so you can imagine what they've been able to do as they've improved since the 8th of this month!

Our last experience with Chef Royer's food was with a Butterscotch Panna Cotta with rice cracker crumble. Unfortunately, it did not work out very well that evening (but we've heard it has since been perfected!) but admirably, even Chef Royer admitted the mistake to us himself. We found that to be a great trait of the chef to confess there was something wrong that evening with a dish and are excited to taste it later in its perfection. Our evening finished off with their spin on an after-dinner mint - a drink of vodka, elderberry, and peppermint to cleanse our palates. The night was concluded with an impromptu piano performance from one of Peterson's friends and supporters, an occurrence that seems like it will not be uncommon in such a welcoming space. Since there will be a rotating mix of musicians and artists on the stage inside the main building, there will surely always be fun.

Find Boathouse Collective at 1640 Pomona Avenue in Costa Mesa and make it home; they sure want you there, and we don't think they'll have a problem getting a community together to bond over good company, good culture, and good food.

Photography by Duc Duong. More photos available on Facebook here.

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