Thursday, August 17, 2017 at 8 a.m.
If you’re thinking the Water Brewery is just a clever name, that it couldn’t possibly mean what you think it means, you’d be surprised. The Water Brewery does exactly what it says: It “brews” water. Think of those water stores you see everywhere, but beamed down from Berkeley. This is a shop for those who want water that not only is clean or drinkable or sourced from an idyllic mountain spring, but also cures whatever ails them and with a customizable pH balance.
The Water Brewery’s signature product is called AQUAE A.M.O.R.E.®, an acronym that stands for the “Alkalized, Mineralized, Oxygenated, Restructured, Energized” water it sells for $2 per gallon. If you want to spend an afternoon doing some light reading, there are reams of info on its website that explain each of those attributes, utilizing phrases such as “love-infused,” “high potency” and “peak ripeness.” And when you purchase some, the shop owner will begin the process by rinsing your water jug, then filling it to the top from a spigot connected to a room full of tubes and complicated machinery. After that, he adds some kind of additive with a medicine dropper.
There are now two locations of the Water Brewery in Costa Mesa. But even if you’re the type who thinks the water provided by your municipality is good enough, there’s still a reason to visit. At its newest store, the owners have installed a dining room and hired chefs Carli Savedra and Raya Belna to cook what’s currently one of the best vegetarian menus in Orange County. Savedra, who was previously at Old Vine, and Belna, one-third of the Great Food Truck Race‘s Seabirds team, make meals that even prompted Break of Dawn’s Dee Nguyen—one of the most respected chefs in OC and an avowed carnivore—to profess on Facebook, “I actually don’t like to eat vegetables but somehow keep finding myself very satisfied after every meal.” Nguyen has also hailed their flavor profiles as “well-balanced.”
He’s right. But the best compliment I can bestow is that Savedra and Belna have managed to make vegetarian food that makes you forget it’s vegetarian. Instead, you focus on the care and effort they’ve taken to make something that’s simply, well, good. There are no attempts at soy-food fakery here; just vegetables cooked as they’re meant to be cooked. Take the bánh mì tacos topped with braised jackfruit, pickled carrots, cucumber and cilantro. It would be a very good taco even if Savedra and Belna chose to settle on store-bought tortillas, but it becomes a great taco because they didn’t. The handmade corn and chia tortillas are so supple, soft and faintly sweet they could be eaten on their own.
For a breakfast melt, the chefs take sourdough from Dean Kim’s OC Baking Co. and griddle it to seal in a fried duck egg, jack cheese and heirloom tomatoes. After biting into the crisp, buttery thing, I realized I’ve never had a breakfast sandwich so satisfying that didn’t involve bacon or sausage. A lunch version has jackfruit, havarti cheese, pickles and a Dijon mustard aioli that attempts to approximate the flavor profile of a Cuban sandwich—and it does.
The best side order for the sandwiches is the Seabroth, a soup that’s also an answer to the bone broth craze. It’s created by simmering shiitake mushrooms, onions, garlic and wild sea vegetables for 12 hours to produce a liquid that’s somehow twice as umami-rich as any meat-based broth I’ve ever tasted. If Savedra and Belna decide to one day drop a few ramen noodles into it, they’d give Santouka a run for its money.
Other soups are exemplary. The zucchini bisque is creamy and vibrant—a distillation of summer with olive oil swirled over the top of its bright green hue. The summer chili—a bean-rich stew softly sweetened by tomatoes, caramelized onions, garlic and crisp-tender zucchini—comes served with torn pieces of cornbread and puddles of herb yogurt. It fills you up but doesn’t weigh you down. But that goes for everything here, even if you try the enormous Bodhi Bowl, which is basically a bean-based vegetarian bibimbap. It’s the most expensive thing on the menu, but also one of the prettiest. Decorated with sautéed eggplant, corn, mushrooms, zucchini, tomatoes and a fried duck egg, it’s arranged with edible flowers for maximum visual impact—a Technicolor burst that begs to be Instagrammed.
There are salads, of course, including a refreshing cabbage with a coconut dressing that might be mistaken for coleslaw if it didn’t also have spiced cashews and orange segments. And I love the chimichurri-covered roasted fingerlings that smacks a garlicky wallop. Did I mention eating here means you get to drink as much of that AQUAE A.M.O.R.E.® as you want for free? And yes, I did end up buying a gallon of it to take home before I left.
The Water Brewery #2, 1125 Victoria St., Ste. A, Costa Mesa, (714) 499-9977; www.thewaterbrewery.com. Kitchen open Wed.-Sun., 8:30 a.m.-3 p.m.; store open daily, 8:30 a.m.-6 p.m. Meal for two, $20-$40.