220 E 4th St
Santa Ana, CA 92701
Dining date: 3/7/15
I don’t often come to Orange County too often to dine, but Playground has been on my radar for some time. It was probably the OC restaurant I’ve most wanted to try and I finally got the chance when it was chosen for a birthday dinner.
Jason Quinn, probably best known for being a member of The Great Food Truck Race winning The Lime Truck, helms Playground. It’s gotten rave reviews since opening, even leading to the opening of a bakery and a lunch spot just around the corner. The menu changes often, and there’s a sort of attitude about the place. The restaurant encourages trying new things and being adventurous, disclosing on the menu that they will not charge you if you don’t love it (in fact, I observed it in practice on a neighboring table). Perhaps this is the way they’ve been able to get more conservative OC palates to try some of their more forward-thinking creations?
Corkage is free, although there is a well-priced beer and wine list available.
Kurobuta Pork Belly Steam Bun Guacamole, Radish
Pork belly was braised tender then seared, creating some very flavorful, tender bites that were brightened by the guacamole and fresh radish. Pretty delicious.
Hamachi & Peruvian Bay Scallop Crudo Sorrel Granita, Grapefruit, Ginger Oil, Black Vinegar
Tender slices of fish and scallop were bathed in a citrusy, bright sauce. A light starter.
Air Dried Wagyu Tri Tip Charred Satsuki Rice, Curried Peanut Crumble, Pickled Hearts of Palm, Thai Basil Scented Coconut Milk
This air dried wagyu didn’t exhibit as much beefiness as expected. It was just OK, with a lingering sweetness and crispy rice. Probably the most disappointing dish of the night.
Wild Mushrooms Peas, Tomato, Raita, Rice, Papadum Crunch
Indian flavors were definitely upfront in this mushroom dish. The papadum crunch added some nice textures.
Uncle Lou’s Fried Chicken
Fried chicken was very well done with a solid crunchy battery and very moist meat. Would totally eat a bucket of these.
Homework: Vegetable Offal
Scallion Bottom Soup Aerated Cheddar
Mushroom Bottom Wellington Proscuitto, Asparagus Duxelles, Mustard, Mushroom Veloute, Chive
There was a section of the menu called ‘homework’ in which executive chef Jason picks two oft-discarded ingredients for two chefs to make a dish focused on those ingredients. Diners are able to grade each one for a winning chef each week. The ingredients were scallion bottoms and mushroom bottoms; we tried both of the dishes.
Both of these were actually very good, with the scallion bottom soup being warm and slightly sweet (and not too onion-y). The mushroom wellington, featuring layers of flavors within a puff pastry, was very creative and very well-executed if not a touch salty. I loved this concept of ‘vegetable offal’ and our whole table was impressed with what they were able to do with these ingredients.
Slow Roasted Duck Breast Mole Del Guero, Tons of Citrus, Cilantro, Pickled Red Onion, Grilled Masa Cake
The duck breast was cooked a nice medium with crispy skin. A deep mole sauce provided depth, contrasted by citrus and pickled onion.
Maple Glazed Pork Chop
The pork chop came to the table in impressive fashion with a knife stuck in it. More like pork roast than pork chop, I think there were three ribs on this bad boy. The pork was flavorful, cooked to a medium and juicy with a sweet glaze. A good hunk of meat and a relative bargain at $35.
Black Mission Fig Sticky Toffee Pudding
As we were celebrating a couple of birthdays, the restaurant was nice enough to treat us to a couple of these desserts. This was a good sticky toffee pudding, served warm and not too sweet. I wanted a bit more cream though.
Playground didn’t disappoint; I enjoyed the meal. The kitchen showed off a nice array of flavors from around the world and the food was generally pretty delicious. The vegetable offal was a great idea and a lot of fun, too. Like many of my OC experiences, there’s a lot of value to be had (particularly compared to LA pricing). I look forward to trying Playground 2.0, the restaurant’s 17-seat tasting menu dining format next door.