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OC: Playground (July 2013)

September 28, 2013 1 comment

Author: Monte
Date: July 26, 2013
Website: http://playgrounddtsa.com/

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

Here’s the Menu! Really creative stuff, and all on small plates meant to be shared like tapas.
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Course 1: Pan Roasted Corn, Tare, Crispy Chicken Skin, Scallion

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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

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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

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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

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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 

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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.

SF: Wood Tavern (in Berkeley, CA) (June 2013)

June 9, 2013 Leave a comment

When I went to Cal for undergrad, I must’ve walked by Wood Tavern a million times, and just never went in. What a loss.  The cooking is phenomenal and while the menu has this rustic french feel to it, the food itself is wholly modern and “California” in style. It’s a true gastropub, but is very inviting at the same time and has this neighborhoody vibe to it that is easy to fall in love with.

First off, and I didn’t take a picture of this, but there’s complimentary bread from Acme! Acme bread is the bomb. If you’re in SF and haven’t tried it yet, you should. I haven’t tried anything from them that I haven’t liked. At Wood Tavern, the bread from Acme served was the walnut and regular baguette – both are great. Especially the walnut one-I could munch on that for hours.

For Starters: Duck Rillette with Fennel Mustard and a Dates “Butter” 

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I was torn between ordering this and the whiskey laced chicken liver pate, but the super friendly bartender/waitress pointed me in the direction of the duck. It was heavenly. The rillette is very smooth and fluffy, with a very rich and meaty flavor profile. The fennel mustard paired along phenomenally with it – just a little bit of sour and spiciness to cut through the richnes of the rillette. The dates “butter” was also great- and although it paired ever so slightly less well with the duck, it was tastier by itself and I could eat whole spoonfuls of this stuff. There’s no actual butter, but the chef purees dates and adds a bit of orange juice and other secrets to come up with this sweet sauce.

I kind of wanted to order the chicken liver pate at this point, since the rillette was such a home-run, but I had already eaten a whole basket of the Acme bread and knew I needed to save my stomach.

Second Starter: Crispy Pork Belly with Green Tomato, Watercress, and Feta Cheese, with a Cured Black Olive Aioli and Chili Oil

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The other blogheads are familiar with my fascination with acid but this dish truly exemplifies how acid can brighten up a dish and make an otherwise great dish become perfect. This dish is pretty darn close to perfect. The pork belly was crispy on the outside like bacon and juicy on the inside like pork belly should be. So you get all this rich porky flavor and it’s intense, but the brightness of every single other element of this dish made it feel so light! The black olive aioli adds a little bit of earthiness and tang, and the green tomatoes do a rocking job of adding further acidity and a juicy texture. The feta cheese mellows everything out a little bit, and the creaminess adds a further texture, but the kicker is the chili oil – which is so subtle but lingers just enough so that you know the heat is there and adds one final complex element to this symphony of flavors. I think the execution of adding so much acid to the pork belly is genius, and the tangy earthiness of the olives worked incredibly well and was very creative.

Main Course: Pan-Fried Rock Cod Sandwich –  with Brandade, Romaine, Scallions, Lemon Aioli, on a La Farine Baguette (La Farine is one of my favorite bakeries in Berkeley, and happens to be about 3 doors down from Wood Tavern on the same block!)

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The quality of this sandwich rivals that of Gregoire’s, another Berkeley staple. The bread was fantastically fresh and toasted, and the crispy cod was brightened up by the salad that came on the sandwich. I think the lemon aioli really complemented the cod, as again, it all comes back to acid.

I was stuffed at this point, having also enjoyed a beer (I forgot to note what brewery it was from (maybe Almanac?), but it was from SF and was this great extra pale ale). I really want to try the whiskey-laced pate though, and all the other scrumptious noms offered during dinner. I’ve heard their seafood stew is good, and the desserts sound great…so be on the lookout for a second post! I can’t overstate how much I loved this lunch.