Meridians on Harbor - eclectic, electric and worldly
By D.K. Crawford 07/22/2010
Meridians Eclectic Eatery
2417 Harbor Blvd.
Text Ur Order 807-2283
I was amazed I hadn’t heard of Meridians Eclectic Eatery before! I’ve shopped at Vons on Harbor and frequented the UPS store two doors down from it; clearly my food radar was broken.
Its interior hosts a world of its own — literally. A giant map of the earth takes an entire side of the restaurant, and on the other hangs a revolving art show featuring local artists. Its ceilings are high with exposed kelly green air ducts. All these elements blended with simple modern wood and metal tables give this cafe the fresh appeal of a science museum.
We placed our order at the deli counter, plucked our drinks from the cooler, (choices of ales, lagers and chilled glasses, too), paid and walked away with a bent playing card on a tray to represent our ticket.
Meridians’ menu is a tad overwhelming for a newcomer, with more than 75 choices of salads, soups, pizzas and pastas. If you haven’t been there, it pays to grab a paper to-go menu, sit down and ponder for a moment rather than standing with your neck crooked trying to take it all in.
Also check out the chalkboards behind the register, where specials like salmon tacos, Philly cheese steak, shrimp ravioli with a roasted red pepper sauce and French onion soup were written.
We sat, listened to the salsa music and looked around. My friend noted New Zealand wasn’t really that far from the U.S. when she studied the huge map, and my other dinner companion commented on the surf photography hanging on the opposite wall.
Even though it isn’t a full service restaurant, the staff is very attentive and seems happy. I learned from my friend that the original owner of Merdians smartly made two of his loyal long-time staff members partial owners. Now he gets to travel more, and the restaurant is filled with devoted folks who have a vested interest in its success.
Our salad arrived first and it was huge! My friend commented that a salad and pizza from Meridians could feed a family of four. I’m not sure that’s completely accurate but the portions are substantial, and our $8 salad easily served three.
Fresh spinach, sliced green apples, walnuts and fine gorgonzola crumbles tossed in a balsamic vinaigrette were a welcome start to our summer lunch. It was lightly dressed and came with three triangles of focaccia.
Next arrived our pizza, sandwich, pasta and fries. Our tiny table became crowded and we commandeered the one next to us. It was late and the crowd had thinned so it worked out perfectly.
Our La Pampa pizza arrived on a silver pedestal. It looked like a cross between a spider web and something that might put you in a trance. It had a thin crust, four cheeses, ham, hearts of palm and a hypnotic swirl of salmon-hued aioli.
My first bite was warm and cheesy with a surprising smoky flavor. As I nibbled, I realized the smoky notes seemed to come from the ham and also that the bottom of the pizza had some darker, lightly burned spots; but they didn’t taste burned, rather more charred and smoked.
The hearts of palm were cut into 3-inch slices. The marinated flavor with the smoke and the sweet of the emulsified aioli was intriguing. It’s a rather unique pizza and very rich; just one slice went a long way.
The sandwich we shared, named the Aloha Cowboy, featured tuna salad, grilled pineapple rings, melted provolone and barbecue sauce. It arrived on a half-circle of thin house-made focaccia. The oven-warm, browned bread was lightly crunchy, and the tuna salad just moist enough to be complemented by the juicy grilled pineapple and melted cheese.
We got our barbecue sauce on the side, and I’m not entirely sure it was even needed. One of my companions liked alternating, having a bite with sauce, then a bite without. Either way, it was the star of our luncheon.
Our pasta, the rigatoni, was the specialty. The fat, ridged noodles were paired with chunks of chicken, broccoli spears and sun-dried tomatoes in a cream sauce. This dish was also quite rich, perfect for sharing, and its flavors melded deliciously. The latte-colored creamy sauce was also somewhat smoky, and the sun-dried tomatoes with chewy, candied acidic notes helped balance it.
The two things we as a group found less than par were the cheesy garlic bread served with the pasta and the sweet potato fries — one of new appetizers. The sweet potato fries have the unusual addition of canela, a special cinnamon used in such dishes as Mexican hot chocolate, and their flavors were delicious. Sadly, however, they were saturated with oil. And the garlic bread had a lovely cornmeal crunch on the bottom, but the toppings were flavorless. These side dishes could stand to be reworked.
Meridans Eclectic Eatery’s name represents it well. It has a pleasant atmosphere full of diverse flavor profiles and a happy staff. Though merely a tiny dot on the huge map of Earth, it offers a world of options and prodigious portions for your dollar.