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Review: Taps, Brea

Das Ubergeek Mar 5, 2007 12:43 PM

We often have weird nights.

Saturday night, having spent the day working and tackling the Honey-Do list, I wanted out.

We were in the mood for American food, so we thought we'd tackle J. T. Schmid's on Katella across from the Honda Centre. What we didn't anticipate were the CIF SoCal finals between Mater Dei and Artesia -- and the traffic and massive crowds that went to go see this high school basketball game.

"Well, we can try Burger Boy on State College, or go up to Taps in Brea," I said.

I called Taps -- they'll let you put your name on the list via telephone, kind of like Outhouse Steakback -- and we headed for Brea up the lonely 57.

First, the parking. The restaurant occupies the northeast corner of Imperial Highway and Brea Boulevard, a mile or two west of the 57. The parking entrance is from Brea Boulevard, north of the restaurant. It's valet, but you can slip around the valet to the left and park free in the lot behind Old Navy.

The hostesses were very polite, explained that it would still be about a 15-20 minute wait, and handed me the Dreaded Table Pager. "Oh no," I thought, "it's secretly the Olive Garden! How could the Chowhounds not mention this?"

After 10 minutes, the DTP went off and we were shown to a small table near the bar. Menus and a wine list were given us, but no beer list (it's actually called Taps Fish House and Brewery, so beer is a big part of that scene). That said, when I asked our waitress about beer, she asked me what I normally drink, and made a recommendation for their Irish Red, which was quite tasty.

Taps isn't cheap. Your average entree is $20-$25. I was shocked, but put on my game face. Besides, there was a fresh Bing cherry crostata -- in February! -- that I had my eye on. Mrs Ubergeek ordered a crab and shrimp louie salad ($21). I ordered cedar plank salmon ($24), which came with horseradish mashed potatoes and broccolini "with 12-year-old balsamic".

Let me say right up front that I'm done with balsamic vinegar. Every restaurant, all the way down to Carl's Jr., has embraced "balsamic" vinaigrette, and 99 times out of 100, that "balsamic" vinegar has never been within 5,000 kilometres of a wood barrel in Italy and is, in point of fact, white vinegar with molasses or coloured sugar. It's used in quantities that would give a Modenese winemaker a heart attack -- I've seen enough recipes calling for "a cup of balsamic vinegar" to be very wary.

The louie salad was the largest such I've ever seen. Mrs Ubergeek and I have a rule about eating food larger than your head -- well, let me tell you, that louie salad was WAY outside that measurement. A 12" bowl piled high. Mrs Ubergeek hates fresh tomatoes (I know, can you imagine??) and asked for them to be left off -- so they replaced it with... wait for it... more Dungeness crab. I'm really not exaggerating when I say there were probably 3 crabs' worth of meat on that salad, plus a dozen shrimp. It was correctly dressed, but a pitcher of extra dressing showed up in case she wanted to drown the salad (she didn't). The only miss on that salad was the cucumbers -- insipid and limp, they'd been cut too thin and left to sit.

The salmon was very competently cooked -- it was a moist and flaky fillet, but I do wish they'd left the skin on -- the flesh near the skin is the most tender and luscious part of a salmon to me. The potatoes weren't very horseradishy at all. They had perfect texture (just a bit lumpy, thick and still very potatoey) but not much horseradish. I forgive them... the potatoes were good enough by themselves. This wasn't like that at all. This was the real stuff... about a half a teaspoonful poured over the broccolini, which was still just barely crunchy. It covered up the "broccoli" smell and was such an incredible pairing that I bought some broccolini at Henry's to pair with a drop or two from my bottle of real aged balsamic.

We had ordered dessert (the aforementioned Bing cherry crostata) with dinner, since it took 25 minutes to create. After dinner, the crostata arrived, and then the runner set down a huge chocolate souffle. "Oh," said Mrs Ubergeek, "we just ordered the crostata." The waitress came running up and said, "The souffle is on the house -- it's our speciality and it's for you since you've never been here before."

I'm glad she did -- the crostata was excellent but the souffle was incredible. We both had such amazing sugar highs after dinner that we fairly well bounced around downtown Brea.

Dinner, after a generous (23%) tip, was $84. Definitely recommend.

  1. OCAnn Mar 5, 2007 01:12 PM

    I'm glad you enjoyed Taps. Sorry for never mentioning those Table Pagers, but we bypass those by sitting in the bar area (I hate to wait) and going on weekdays. If you go on Thursdays, it's jazz/blues night (check w/the restaurant for schedule).

    After Yardhouse opened up further north on Brea Blvd, the wait @ Taps seems to have shortened. And in the future, if dinner is going to take more than 90 min (which is the time allotted behind Old Navy), you might consider parking in the structure on the west side of Brea Blvd just behind Edwards theaters.

    If you ever go to Yardhouse, they have great happy hours with 1/2 price appetizers. But like Taps, you'll receive a Table Pager on certain nights. Taps has a smaller menu for happy hour; their thin crust pizza is good.

    1. t
      T Squared Mar 5, 2007 01:22 PM

      Agreed, Taps is suprisingly good. I remember the first time going there, I too was worried that it was going to be no better than your typical chain like restaurant, but came away pleasantly surprised.

      1. notmartha Mar 5, 2007 01:27 PM

        Taps is probably one of the more underrated 'upscalish' restaurant around that area. We usually make reservations (they are on opentable) so waiting is never a problem.

        Best value is still the Cajun brunch, and they do a mean one (think Mother's Day...)

        I don't know if the pager has the range, but just across the street is a Cost Plus World Market, so if the range allows you can browse for more food stuff while you wait.

        1. w
          WHills Mar 5, 2007 01:29 PM

          I love Taps. Their steak is very good too. They are having prime time, so if you like prime rib, you should definitely check it out on Sundays. You get a prime rib, caesar salad, creamed spinach/corn, and banana foster for under $25. I heard their Sunday brunch is excellent also although I have never been. They have lobster fest in the summer...

          1. brekkie_fan Mar 5, 2007 10:23 PM

            i remember the first two times i went, and felt i was paying way too much. i think it made a difference to go during dinner and not with a group. my fiance and i felt right at home with our dinner choices.

            1. groover808 Mar 6, 2007 05:39 AM

              Dinner is a bit pricey for the food. Coworkers and I hit the happy hour there often, it's a great deal! A couple appetizers are 1/2 price until 6:30, I love the calamri provencal although I heard Scott's Seafood makes a tastier one.

              1. a
                AquaW Mar 6, 2007 08:19 AM

                Wow, glad your Taps experience was so good (esp. with the souffle & the balsamic). You should check out their sunday brunch buffet, with free flowing champagne/mimosa or two pints of their on tap beers.


                1. e
                  ElissaInPlaya Mar 6, 2007 11:07 AM

                  Thanks for the detailed review Das. On Saturday, my 84 year-old grandparents were raving about a recent lunch at Taps. Sounds like a trip to take!

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