Date: July 26, 2013
I had heard great things about Playground 2.0, the pop-up haute cuisine concept from Chef Jason Quinn in Santa Ana, California, and while I wasn’t able to try the pricey new OC hit, I was able to try the original and pretty affordable gastropub, Playground. I love this restaurant for what it stands for. It’s a no-holds barred, Chef’s way goes (but it’s not yet a dictatorship where the customer’s preference is entirely disregarded), rebel standout. The menu is eclectic, the craft beer choice is extensive, and the overall vibe is hip without the “ster.” I came with my family and we tried a bunch of different dishes, all of which were delicious. The
Course 1: Pan Roasted Corn, Tare, Crispy Chicken Skin, Scallion
The tare sauce was really interesting…it had a really complex tangy tamarind-y rich sour umami-ness to it. The sweet corn and sauce paired well together, with the sweet corn undercutting the intensity of the sauce.
Course 2: Pork & Duck Pate, Sweet Potato Puree, Sour Cherries, Pistachio Crumble, Pangratta
The richness of the pate was really well balanced by the cherries and sweet potato. The flavors were complex, although I had wished the pate was a bit more smooth. The texture was much more like a headcheese.
Course 3: Dragon Roasted Summer Squash, Feta, Chimichurri, Mint, Pine Nuts
A really light and refreshing course. The crunchy pine nuts were a welcome contrast to the soft and meaty squash. I wish there was a bit more feta to contrast with the light mint and chimichurri sauce, but it was still a great dish.
Course 4: Pan Roasted Wild Mushrooms, Slow Egg, Garlic Confit, Marcona Crumble, Macrona Puree
Such wonderful garlicky taste throughout the mushrooms. The sous vide egg was tasty too, and made the entire dish a bit richer.
Course 5: Duck Breast, Cherries, Kale, Poultry Jus, Black Pepper Waffle Crispies
I liked the cherries and the sauce but the skin could’ve been a lot more crispy. Not the best, not the worst.
Course 6: Maple Glazed Pork Chop
Hollllly pig, this pork chop is amazing. It’s massive, about the size of a small bowling ball. I would guess it’s about 2.5 solid pounds. The meat was extremely tender and juicy, with such a sweet maple glaze. The meat itself had the texture similar to a great ham, just being soft while melting in the mouth. The char on the outside is great too. I guess it’s sous-vide, no other way for such a massive chunk of meat to be so tender throughout.
Course 7: Wagyu Tri Tip, Country Mustard Vin, Shaved Red Onion, Baby Kale, Confit Fingerling Potato
I thought this dish was quiiiite disappointing and forgettable. Very bland, and meat didn’t taste fatty and tender like wagyu normally does. I kind of just ignored this dish and turned back to the massive pork hunk on the table that seemed to never end.
Course 8: Coconut Sorbet, Ashley’s Shortbread, Burnt Lime Meringue
The coconut sorbet was pretty refreshing, and was also made via pacojet. I like the meringue but wished there was more besides the tiny smudge across the plate.
Course 9: PacoJet Flavor of the Day: Chocolate Milk Ice
A great ice cream, it’s a little bitter, and overall had a great dark chocolaty taste.
Course 10: Black MIssion Fig Sticky Toffee Pudding
This dessert was amazing. It was so sweet, but with raisin and cinnamon spices undercutting the total sweetness of the caramel. It was warm, sticky, and just oozed all over the taste buds. Incredible.
Exec Chef: Alice Waters
Date: June 29, 2013
I’d been here only once beforehand, it was several years ago with two of my best friends from growing up. It was amazing then, and I fondly remember their baked alaska with strawberry ice cream as being my favorite dessert ever. The meringue was so soft and chewy like a marshmallow, and I had never in my life liked strawberry ice cream before but Chez Panisse’s made me have that Ratatouille moment where my eyes glistened and I was mentally transported to a sunny field of strawberries. These memories had built really high expectations that I had to keep curbing, the giddy kid in me to be undoubtedly disappointed unless I gave him reality checks.
Luckily, it was a great experience. Alice Water’s pioneering of local organic food has always been admirable and I never fully appreciated it until I moved to New York. The fresh ingredients truly shine and make the dining experience a thoughtful one.