Blaze of Glory

Costa Mesa's wood-fired Arc is heating things up in Orange County

Chef Noah Blum is lighting a fire under the O.C. dining scene with his five-month-old Costa Mesa restaurant, Arc.

We mean that both literally and figuratively: The only heat sources powering his open kitchen are a brick oven and a barbecue grill, both wood-fired. A row of booths and a lengthy seated bar offer full views of the ember-flecked action.

Ostensibly, Arc serves unfussy American food: You can count the components in most dishes on one hand, while menu descriptions read like stark, punctuated haikus.

But when your superheated cast-iron skillet arrives, its contents bubbling furiously and spotted with char, it becomes a meditation on the bold flavor wood smoke imparts. With Blum's minimalist setup, the label "rustic cooking" holds actual truth.

Almost everything here is kissed by fire, from hanger steak with duck-fat-roasted potatoes ($15) to baked calamari with shishito and lemon ($15). Juicy pork meatballs ($15) swim in sweet crushed tomatoes, lightly blackened on their exterior and joined by shaved Parmesan, a roasted head of garlic and wedges of crusty bread.

At lunch, try the large-enough-for-two BLT ($20), made with house-cured bacon cut as thick as matchboxes, and buttressed with slices of yellow heirloom tomato.

It's no secret that cooking over flames requires a deft hand–but Blum makes it appear as effortless as striking a match.