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NIGHT SHIFT : Our House Is Home to Comfy Cookin'

July 01, 1993|ROSE APODACA | Rose Apodaca is a free-lance writer who regularly contributes to The Times Orange County Edition.

With the coffeehouse trend already brewed, some say the next phase is transforming that creative, laid-back, living room environ into a place where you can also order more than just a cup of gourmet java. A biscotti, even bathed in chocolate, doesn't do much for the appetite, and there always seems to be one among the crew who finds a beer more relaxing than a shot of caffeine.

Enter Our House in Costa Mesa. The creation of the three Lee brothers (Wing, 31; Ed, 29, and Mingo, 24) who own the Wahoo's eatery chain, Our House tries to be everything to everybody and, in its unassuming, comfy way, somehow succeeds. Just a month after opening it is becoming a local late-night haunt for worker bees of the surrounding surfwear industry.

The idea behind the converted Chinese restaurant was to have a place where friends could converge, eat American-style home-cooking and wash it down with a tasty beverage.

The Lees' parents own the building and operated it for eight years as Hang Chow restaurant. But their sons decided they wanted a place to hang out so they "forced" them into retirement, says longtime buddy Wendy Bollman, who manages the place. She recalls going to the Lee home on Balboa Island to hang out with the rest of the local kids.

"We wanted to replicate that feeling and the food we used to eat."

Mixed in with the red Naugahyde booths, Oriental glass etchings and other decorations left over from its days as a restaurant is the kind of old, castoff furniture found at garage sales. The mix creates a funky feel and the look of a twentysomething's apartment.

But Our House gets a clientele of old and young alike, with a casual attitude being the common denominator. During the day, you can even catch Pop Lee--the patriarch of this clan--his long, white, pointy beard and Hawaiian shirt making him look like a wise Chinese prophet gone surfin' safari.

If you miss seeing them in person, Pop and Mom Lee have been immortalized on the mural covering the interior walls, their heads peeking over the faux brick wall as if keeping an eye on the kids.

Painted by artist Lisa Mullin (most known for her work at Antonello's in Costa Mesa), the trompe l'oeil mural shows drapes blowing and chipped paint "exposing" the brick underneath.

Because it used to be a restaurant, Our House has a full kitchen cooking up dishes named after the Lees' friends.

From 10:30 a.m. until closing, you can order meals such as the Kevin, a warm meatloaf and Swiss cheese sandwich ($5.25), and the Jeff, a fresh spinach salad with bacon, egg, mushrooms, red onion and a warm bacon dressing ($4.50). Also expect the kind of concoctions you could only find at home, such as an albacore tuna sandwich with lettuce, tomatoes and a side of hot sauce, called the Eric ($4.95).

Our House also bills itself as a bakery, opening at 8 a.m. to offer cookies, lemon bars, brownies, scones, spice cake, peach cobbler and other sweets (50 cents to $2).

Another treat is the list of beers available and the low prices for them. Anchor, Steinlager, Bass, Guinness, New Amsterdam, Harp and Steelhead Stout, among others, sell for $2 a bottle. And giant 22-ouncers of Asahi and Whitefox Blonde Ale go for only $3.50. Many are from American and Canadian micro-breweries that offer seasonal varieties such as Samuel Adams Dark Wheat and, soon to arrive, a blueberry beer. Also coming soon, Watneys Red Barrel on tap.

The wine selection is much more limited and runs $3 to $3.50 per glass. For the coffee cocktails there is Irish whiskey and such liqueurs as Grand Marnier starting at 75 cents a shot.

Coffee connoisseurs won't find a mind-boggling menu of beans from around the world. They'll have to settle for less than a dozen, from the Colombia Supremo and Kenya AA to beans from the Tarrazu region of Costa Rica and Hue Hue Tenango from Guatemala. But you can still find a good cup of joe. And all coffee drinks are available in what they dub "the no-fun decaffeinated form." But junkies be warned: the heads on cappuccinos are made of whipped cream, not frothy steamed milk.

There are plans to feature entertainment twice a week, probably Thursdays and Saturdays beginning in mid-July, but don't expect the ubiquitous coffeehouse grinds of poetry or the live bands usually found at bars. Music will be delivered acoustically by no more than a trio of musicians, and always at a volume that won't dominate the room, says Bollman. The purpose is to keep conversation or solitude the focal points.

In tune with the homey feel, Our House will close whenever, say the owners--usually any time between 11 p.m. and 2 a.m., depending on how busy it is.



* 720 W. 19th St., Costa Mesa.

* (714) 650-8960.

* Open daily at 8 a.m. Closing times vary depending on business, usually 11 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, 2 a.m. Friday and Saturday.

* No cover.

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