OC: Playground (Feb. 2014)
Author: Victor, David, and Simon
Restaurant: The Playground
Exec Chef: Jason Quinn
February 7, 2014
This gastropub is really casual and laid-back, but the food is exceptional. Most of the menu changes a bit each day depending on fresh ingredients, but the maple-glazed pork chop and Black Mission fig dessert seem to be permanent.
The kitchen really seems to enjoy cooking, and it kind of shows in the experimentation of both the food and meals. They do special event meals at their sister restaurant, Playground 2.0 (from pop-ups to invitation-only tasting menus), and they also have some fun with Sunday suppers.
Regarding the meal, it was generally really good. There were some dishes that were outstanding, but there were also some that were merely good (they were simply outshone by the amazing ones). All the flavor combinations worked very well, but two dishes were way too salty (the wild mushrooms and broccolini). I’d come back just to eat the rich, indulgent pork chop or the intensely flavorful mazemen, though; they were that amazing! I really have to applaud Chef Quinn. This place is exciting!
???? ???? with granola, rhubarb, rocket, and black pepper.
(The ???? ingredient was pate of liver from a certain bird… I’m sure you can guess.)
David: Rhubarb tasted like cherries – nice surprise.
Simon: I’m typically not a fan of rhubarb, especially in desserts, but it worked exceptionally well here. The granola added great texture and a nice nuttiness.
Wagyu ribeye tartare with guajillo, avocado mousse, caramelized onion, and corn nuts.
Victor: The flavor of the corn nuts complemented the others well, but the texture was too distracting. Simon said that the texture was too “noisy”.
Pan-roasted wild mushrooms with rajas, lime crème, queso fresco, tortilla strips, garlic, jalapeno, and Oaxaca (??? This is a type of cuisine…).
Victor: Way too salty. The mushrooms had a surprisingly meaty taste that was very welcome, but the saltiness of the entire dish was too overpowering and stopped us from really enjoying the dish.
Simon: The mushrooms even had a touch of lobster flavor. I agree it was overly salty, but I think it would’ve worked well if mixed in the mazemen.
Fried cauliflower with yellow curry, pineapple, coconut, cashew, and rice.
Simon: All the ingredients were typical ones related to curry and SE Asian cuisine, but they somehow came together in a way that exceeded expectations. It may have been because the curry was not used as the main component of the dish and instead was used as an equal to the other ingredients which resulted in something that was really well balanced.
Victor: This was AMAZING. As Simon said, the proportions of each ingredient balanced really well, and the result was a dish that was greater than the sum of its parts. Or each individual ingredient was just that amazing. It could be both hahaha.
“Bacon and Eggs” mazemen ramen with bacon fat, “beautiful” soy, slow-cooked egg, scallion, and shaved red onion.
Victor: This was surprisingly good. Bacon fat can really do no wrong.
David: Probably my favorite 1st course that night.
Simon: Definitely one of the highlights. I think each of us could’ve easily had two bowls each. It’s hard to go wrong with egg+bacon fat.
Charred County Line broccolini with San Marzano and broccolini ragout, and polenta.
Victor: Way too salty.
David: Agreed – one of you guys suggested mixing the San Marzano with the polenta which might have helped.
Simon: The polenta was lovely. The saltiness was less of an issue if polenta is included in a bite.
“Tails and Trotters” pork collar with Vindaloo-braised cabbage, pig jus, pomegranate, and baby carrots.
David: Out of this, the pork chop, and the duck breast, this dish seemed the most tender out of all them.
Simon: I loved the baby carrots.
Maple-glazed pork chop.
Victor: This tasted just like “zhu rou gan” (Chinese pork jerky, also known as bak kwa)! It was incredibly rich and delicious. It was both very sweet yet wonderfully savory.
Simon: The pork was sooo tender and juicy.
Pan-roasted duck breast with spätzle, blackberries, braised mustard greens, and poached mustard seeds.
Simon: I think I liked this better than the pork collar. The spätzle reminded me of German class, haha.
“Can I Have S’more?”
Chocolate pecan streusel, ganache, meringue, beer caramel, and whip.
Black Mission fig sticky tofu pudding.
Victor: This was so, so sweet and rich. This was basically the maple-glazed pork chop… in dessert form. The other two agree with my analogy!
David: Agreed – this dessert was big enough to satisfy a party of three.