It’s easy to overlook Tableau Kitchen and Bar.
At South Coast Plaza, the culinary lineup includes chefs such as Bravo’s “Top Chef: All Stars” Amar Santana, award-winning Ross Pangilinan, and Michelin-honored Tony Esnault. Not to mention the buzzy Collage Culinary Collection of eateries and Asian food powerhouses like Din Tai Fung and Miàn Sichuan Gourmet Noodles that call South Coast Plaza home.
But on the Macy’s Home side of the center, next to Paper Source and the merry-go-round, is Tableau Kitchen and Bar. What first draws most people in are the pastries. The glass case is filled with grab-and-go items: brown butter chocolate chip toffee cookies, croissants stuffed with gooey brownies, and delicate fruit tarts. Chef Holly Sao oversees the pastry department while her fiancé chef Jason Abo runs Tableau’s savory side of the kitchen.
“As of right now, I’m mainly focused on pastries and croissants,” said Sao, who grew up in Long Beach and now lives with Abo in Huntington Beach. She brings her Cali-inspired modifications to boulangerie classics.
“We have a roasted jalapeño with ham and cheese,” she said. “It’s such a classic croissant flavor that everyone is familiar with but with jalapeno. … I also made a croissant-Danish with everything seasoning and a chive cream cheese filling.”
When Tableau’s menu changes at the beginning of October, Sao plans to add a strawberry shortcake croissant with strawberry pastry cream.
In addition to the pastries, Tableau also has three menus: brunch, happy hour, and dinner. (Afternoon tea service is on pause at the moment but will eventually return, Abo insisted.)
“Most of our menu is Asian-inspired,” said Abo, who grew up in La Palma. “Holly is Cambodian. I’m Japanese. My sous chef Michael, he is Vietnamese. So we try to utilize that (diversity) and use all our past experiences.”
Abo’s culinary background includes cooking in French and Italian-style kitchens.
“I fuse those together and we just go from there,” he said.
The citrus-cured black cod ceviche starter is a perfect example of Tableau’s boundary crossing collaborations.
“Our bartender was making this mango-habanero syrup (for a cocktail),” said Abo. “He wanted us to taste it. … I thought it would be great to turn it into a sorbet, and serve it with the ceviche. … It’s a great starter for the meal, fresh and crisp.”
“That’s a perfect example of our crossover,” added Sao. “For the ceviche, (Jason) wanted me to create the sorbet. It was a combination of our bartender, our chef, our sous chef, and pastry — then it all comes out in this one dish: the ceviche.”
Instead of tortilla chips, the ceviche is served with crispy rice crackers.
“We’re trying to take dishes that people are accustomed to and reinvent them,” said Abo.
The ceviche was a popular dish at South Coast Plaza’s recent Asian Pacific Food Fest. That’s where Abo tested it.
“It did really well,” he said with a proud smile.
Similar to its sister restaurant concept, Toast Kitchen and Bar, which has locations in Costa Mesa and Tustin, Tableau is known for its brunch menu.
“Our brunch is really good,” said Sao. “The Jasmine French Toast, everyone knows us for that.”
Another brunch item that Tableau garnered attention on social media for is its chicken and waffles. The fish-shaped “waffles” accompany garlic soy chicken wings and are a play on Japanese-style street food.
“The taiyaki is very whimsical and playful,” said Abo.
At Tableau, the taiyaki are filled with custard, which is flavored with kecap manis, a Southeast Asian sweet soy sauce.
Though Abo runs the kitchen, Tableau’s co-owner chef John Park also contributes to some dishes.
“For dinner and for happy hour, we use pieces of short rib that chef John does off-site and we make it into a poutine dish for happy hour. So it’s smoked short rib poutine, French onion gravy, melted cheese, and soy-pickled jalapeños. It’s Asian, American, and French — all together,” Abo said.
“It’s served with house-cut fries that we make ourselves,” adds Sao.
Sao and Abo were part of Tableau’s opening team in December 2021. Around that same time, their relationship evolved.
“We literally got engaged two months before we opened the restaurant,” said Sao with a chuckle. “It’s been almost two years now.”
“(Opening a restaurant), it’s a big project,” added Abo. “We love each other very much and we have each other’s backs. There are tough times but we are there for each other every single day.”
“This place helped us communicate even better,” said Sao. “If I didn’t have him, then I would have crumbled and cried everyday when opening this place.”
Now, nearly two years later, the team has found its groove and they’re invigorated by each other’s creativity. They’re also concentrating on highlighting the happy hour and dinner menus. In October, Tableau’s menu is changing for the fall.
“We’re not taking anything off, we’re just adding things,” said Abo. “Focused more on fall and winter. Savory and really rich. Comforting and filling.”
For dinner, the duck breast with charred broccolini, pickled cherry jus, and roasted garlic mashed potatoes is a dish Abo is exceptionally proud of.
“It’s all about preparation,” he said. “It’s a two-day process for the duck. You have to dry out the skin to get that nice crispy crust. We’re really putting love into it. If there’s anything that’s going to be on the menu for a long time, it’s the cauliflower steak and the duck.”
But Abo also sees his kitchen as a place to train the next generation of chefs.
“To be in this industry you have to like organized chaos,” said Abo. “There’s so many moving parts, so many variables. Communication is key. It’s more pride for me that these cooks have come a long way. It’s a really good feeling; and we’re having fun.”
He’s currently working with one of his cooks to perfect a dish for the new menu.
“He’s Filipino and always wanted to do something with adobo flavors,” said Abo. “So I’m working with him to create a pasta dish that incorporates those flavors. It’s almost like a Filipino adobo ragu. It will be Filipino and Italian.”
“As a cook you want to be able to share your dishes,” added Sao. “He’s able to push everybody and get them to do what we need to do to put out good dishes. It’s his idea and their ideas. It always morphs.”
“A lot of restaurants — most restaurants — don’t let cooks have that freedom,” Abo said. “But I think it’s the best way to get somebody to grow. … I’m not going to be a chef forever so we need to make way for the new ones. And if you never give them a shot to be creative, they’re never gonna get there. You have to be a chef but you also have to be a teacher. Mentor them and let them express themselves on the plate and really let them shine. I love doing that.”
Information: Tableau Kitchen and Bar, 3333 Bear Street, Suite 119, Costa Mesa; 714-872-8054; tableaukitchenandbar.com