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Feb 13, 2008 08:24 PM

Review: The Crow Bar and Kitchen - Corona Del Mar

My wife and I went to The Crow Bar and Kitchen in Corona Del Mar on Friday night, and were completely blown away by everything. The first thing you need to know about this place is that it refers to itself as a “gastro-pub” – the food is fantastic and worthy of an upscale place, but the atmosphere is loud, raucous, and a total blast. Now, this place has only been open since the day after Thanksgiving, and it was completely packed when we rolled in slightly after six – incredible for a place that’s barely been around. Just as incredible was the service here – our waiter kicked all kinds of butt (seriously, ask to sit in Davis’s section); he was knowledgeable about everything on the menu, was completely spot on with his food and drink pairing suggestions, and was completely engaging without being intrusive. Everything was like clockwork, to the point that we kept having to remind ourselves that it had only been open for about a dozen weeks or so. And the food rocked. We started off by ordering a “pot of pickles,” a wonderful assortment of pickles, turnips, asparagus, and other goodies of that ilk soaked in the chef’s own homemade brine. I’m not one who normally digs on that kind of thing, but we got it because my wife wanted it, and I’ll tell you, I can subsist on the stuff for weeks. They have a great selection of cheeses to nosh on – I recommend the Mine Shaft blue and the St. Regis from France (creamier than brie) – and they pair it with some really nice fruit and nut pestos, curries, and pastes. In addition (yes, we pigged out), we ordered a round of panko-battered Vidalia onion rings served with a buttermilk dipping sauce. Normally, I’d be touting how great they were, but if there is one side you have to get, it would have to be their duck fat fries. Yep – fries cooked in duck fat, baby! I don’t know how damaging that is to my arteries; frankly, I don’t want to know. They were so dang good. As far as the entrees go, my wife went with the ahi niciose burger, while I ordered the classic Cubano sandwich. Both were fantastic. Her burger had a smoky, grilled tinge to the taste which made it wildly flavorful, and my Cubano was everything that a Cuban sandwich should be – pressed thin, smoky, with a subtle sweet tang. For dessert, her sticky toffee pudding was absolutely delicious, but not as good as my “not just a ding dong,” homemade (right down to the filling), and had a dark chocolate taste. Freakin’ great. Oh, and the beers at this place rule, too. Forget about grabbing a Bud, Coors, or any one of those college age “practice beers,” this place thrives on selling you beer best found in the back section of your local BevMo. My wife, who’s not much a beer drinker, enjoyed a Hoegarden witte beir from Belgium that was fruity, light, and is probably going to take up residence in our fridge soon, and I got a dark beer called an old Rasputin that knocked me flat on my butt. Good times.

Obviously, we ate like we hadn’t eaten in a week. For more sensible palates, you could probably get out of there by around $40-$75. It’s totally worth checking out; just make sure you call ahead to get a table – they fill up fast!

The crow bar and kitchen
2325 east coast highway
corona del mar, california 92625

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  1. Nice one, Manning 2 !

    I love love the duckfat fries. The fact that they also have beers from Craftsman in Pasadena, is really something too - as far as I know this is the only place in the County that offers this very limited brew.

    1. I also love this place. My wife and I have been probably once a week since opening. It keeps getting better and better.

      What I also love about this place is the employees. Davis is incredible helpful and gracious as well as the Chef Scott. He was many times gone out of his way to come to our table and explain the food. He also is one of the few chef in OC that goes out of his way to meet his purveyors.

      FYI. They are open for lunch everyday now. If you want a great meal without the noise and crowds it is pretty mellow on Sat and Sun.

      2 Replies
      1. re: cdmedici

        Glad you gave a shout out to Chef Scott. My wife said that he reminded her of a mix between Anthony Bourdain and Eric Ripert. I had the pleasure of interviewing him and Steve the owner a couple weeks ago (I do some writing for DiningOut), and they are incredibly nice, down to earth guys. Scott's passion for his food is infectious -- it's hard to catch him not smiling when he's working, and I love how both of them constantly emphasize the importance of their purveyors. In fact, Steve was saying that they have plans in the future of hosting a purveyor dinner, in which they would get one of their vendors down to the restaurant, and feature a special menu with the purveyor's ingredient being the main focus of each course, a la Iron Chef. Should be fun once that gets rolling.

        1. re: cdmedici

          Yes, this place WAS great, before chef Scott Brandon left over differences with the owner, who I heard is a real jerk who wanted to take all of the chef's ideas and not compensate him for it. I haven't been in since they got a new chef, but I know the new guy hasn't changed the menu, so they are getting by on all of chef Brandon's ideas and previous brilliance there. Too bad, I'm sure they will only be able to coast on that for so long...

        2. We're only a 10 minute drive from Crowbar in CDM so we've been several times since their opening. Below is a review I wrote from our first trip there in early December:

          As it turns out, we went to Crow Bar last night for a late Sunday dinner after a long day at a tradeshow in Pasadena. I thought it was a great experience! The menu is surprisingly affordable for such lush digs in the pricey neighborhood of Corona Del Mar. The dining room is small and quaint and lively (see loud). I didn't hear much of the music because the chorus of voices from well-to-do young CDM hipsters was quite loud, not that I'm complaining.

          We had three cheeses to start. Two were forgettable but the Mahon was delicious, especially when paired against the tart fruit compote it was served with. The beer list is nice and there are a ton of producers that I wasn't familiar with. If you're into artisan beer producers, the draft and bottle list are really fleshed out and full of gems. We ordered the Chicken Pot Pie special and the Fra'Mani Bangers and Mash. The sausage and potatoes arrived just slightly warm which was a big bummer. However, the piping hot and ultra comforting Chicken Pot Pie really made up for it. The filling was creamy and savory and full of peas, chicken, and mushrooms. Actually, a chicken leg "lollipop" was the centerpiece, poking through the buttery and rosemary spiked crust. It was scrumptious and I would order it again in a hot second. They should really keep that one on the menu through the winter months. We also ordered a side of duck fat fries with aioli and tomato marmalade. They weren't exactly the fries I was hoping for. They didn't have that French bistro style fry made beautifully and crunchy with russet potatoes. These were a bit flabby and not to my liking, but I was excited nonetheless to see duck fat featured on a menu item. For dessert we had a Root Beer Float and an "Irish Car Bomb". I'm not exactly sure what the car bomb dessert was, but I know we destroyed it. It appeared to be a light, Bailey’s infused frozen custard topped with a candy coating and served in a creme anglaise. It was addictive.

          Our service was surprisingly on point. I wasn't expecting much from a new restaurant and such pretty employees, but we were served quickly and efficiently and nothing ever lapsed. It was pretty crowded for a Sunday. A football game played on the plasmas to the delight of a completely packed (2 - 3 deep) bar area and most of the tables were seated with diners.

          Would I go back? Absolutely. They're serving the kind of comfort food I typically crave. Pot pies? Burgers? Fish & Chips? French Onion Soup? Salumi? It was all there and offered at fair prices. You can stop in and get a draft beer and a damn fine house burger for under $20. In a dining room that nice and in a town that high-end, that's a surprising bargain.

          One funny note though . . . when we arrived the room was too full to be let in (by a bouncer in the front). Another couple was also waiting with us and the gentleman decided to ask the bouncer what the food was like. The bouncer, a thick-headed lug, had no idea and offered nothing of substance in response. The gentleman persisted though and even gave the bouncer some leading questions to try and figure out what the food was like. Again, the bouncer offered nothing in return and I was getting frustrated that this poor guy wasn’t getting his answer. He even told the bouncer that if they didn’t know what they were in for here, they could just walk a few doors down to Bungalow. At that point I couldn’t keep my lips shut anymore and I went into a very quick dissertation on the gastropub movement and what the menu at Crow Bar would offer him. He was stoked and started making fun of the bouncer for not knowing the correct answer even though a random patron, i.e. me, knew heavy details about the restaurant.

          1. Their Sweet Potato fries are AWESOME!! Also enjoyed the Crow Burger. Not as impressed with the $10 Bloody Mary, but nice & friendly bartender.

            1. ARE YOU KIDDING ME?

              We were happy to hear about this place and had high expectations based on these reviews. I don't like being negative, but we were so underwhelmed with this place that our table basically was laughing about it and I thought we should warn others.

              #1: There is no pub atmosphere at all here -- it is just a typical CDM restaurant (not a compliment) with a bar in front. No pub ambiance or fun/socializing that a pub might imply.

              #2: Our server rushed us out. We were enjoying ourselves and talking among our party and our server told us that he had another reservation at 9 and we had to speed it up. I've never been told that at *any* restaurant, let alone one of this supposed caliber. Our plates had to be constantly guarded lest a bus boy pick them up before you were done eating.

              #3: The food was good but not great. I'd recount exactly what we had, but their menu images are now broken on their web site. From what I remember, the deviled eggs were good, but not that big of deal. The wrapped dates were awesome. The fish in the fish and chips was good, but of very small portions and the fries were ordinary pub in taste -- not what i thought we'd get. The beer list is impressive. In general, the food was good but in such small portions and disappointing in places that it really is nothing to write home about.

              Summary: not a pub in any way, rushed service, some nice menu features but with other disappointments mixed in that don't warrant a return.

              9 Replies
              1. re: peakay

                We were not impressed with their food's portion and quality either. The fish and chips was Ok, but the portion didn't satisfy. The burger was very small and the meat quality was not that great. Their flat bread was Ok and the croque monsieur was way too salty. We are not in a hurry to go back.

                1. re: peakay

                  Agree with peakay,totally disappointed with the room, no feeling of pub. Menu reads great, lots of fun , comfort,modern pub items,,very disappointing execution-
                  from the mussels to the scotch eggs to the sticky toffee pudding.
                  Great beer list. This is not a gatropub.

                  1. re: peakay

                    Overall, we were pretty disappointed, as well. The meal started well -- fava bean crostini was tasty -- the puree was light and the flavors came together well. The flatbread special was good, too -- 4 cheeses with a spicy tomato sauce. Mains sucked, though. The oven roasted shrimp (recommended by the waiter over the cubano) was horrid; it tasted like a frozen shrimp bowl from the supermarket gone horribly wrong. The rice was mushy and watery, the shrimp tasted like it had been frozen for the past year and the whole thing had a vaguely gross seafood flavor. Pear salad was ok, but the cheese, almonds, greens and roasted pears didn't come together at all. Duck fat fries were only worth eating for the aioli; otherwise, they were totally boring. I thought the sweet potato fries that came with the steak simply tasted like oven-roasted wedges of sweet potato and weren't really worth eating. Churros and horchata for dessert was good, though; the churros were custardy in the middle and heavily coated with cinnamon sugar. Better than any of the churros I ate in Spain. Much better than I had expected.

                    I wouldn't go out of my way to eat here.

                    1. re: peakay

                      I agree. Everyone in OC is much too excited about the novelty of a local 'gastropub', so much so that they can't objectively review the place. I thought the whole experience, food and service pretty okay. Not bad, not great, somewhat expensive for what you get.

                      Their burger fell flat. Nothing in comparison to the FO burger. Dessert was far too sweet. Beer list is good. Service is better than average.

                      I won't be in any rush to return either.

                      1. re: vlad

                        Having been to FO many times, I must say that the burgers at the crow bar and kitchen are far better. The portions on all of the dishes are just right, offering an opportunity to be able to graze through many parts of the menu. The atmosphere is lively and lots of fun. Extensive list of beers and a wine list put together by a Master Sommelier. Some people get stuck on what a gastropub is 'suppoosed' to be, in their little world. Yet, the concept is broad in its application as evidenced by the many different types and styles of these type places in Great Britain. The crow bar and kitchen is a welcome addition to the lackluster dining scene in OC dominated by chains and boring independents that won't take any chances.

                        1. re: teamcompri

                          Couldn't agree with you more. The Crowbar is a great addition to OC, and thankfully it's not a chain (at least not yet!). I think the complaints about portions being too small are written by those who simply dont't get it! This is a restaurant for grazing...much like a tapas bar, or AOC in L.A. The idea is to share multiple small dishes. Although not everything is great here, there are enough interesting things on the menu to please most palates, and they have great drinks, beers, and wine here! Love it!

                          1. re: Midlife

                            For those of us unfamiliar with commonly used text abreviations, could you please clarify "FO"?

                            1. re: josephnl

                              Father's Office (in Santa Monica) - supposed to be the best burger in LA (if you read the thread with about 100 replies).