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Feb 11, 2013 11:00 AM

The Playground review

Went on Saturday for the first time after reading great reviews. Great cozy restaurant with a unique approach. When you sit down they hand you a letter from the owner/chef explaining their ideals and how the restaurant works. No substitutions or modification on anything including drinks. They will take back any dish except for the ramen or fried chicken. First brick n mortar location from the Lime Truck guys located in DT Santa Ana. One of the best beer menus for a restaurant. I tried 4 different tap beers from all over and enjoyed each one. There is no corkage on wine and a smaller wine list.

One of the best meals I've had since Providence. The highlights
pork belly steamed bun with guacamole and radish - best bite of food I've had in years. It blows away the pork belly steamed bun at Momofuku. The pork belly was hard seared on a flat top and well seasoned. Guacamole paired well, the radish added nice crunch to the bite and steamed bun was soft.
santa barbara sea urchin with jalapeno, lime and mignonette - fresh uni from the shell. Uni was much firmer than the type you'd get at a sushi restaurant. The uni was so fresh the muscles didn't break down and soften. Delicious well balanced and lovely uni finish.
kushi oyster from BC - I am done eating big mammoth oysters from the east coast. They don't taste as lovely as the briny creatures from the cold lovely waters of the pacific northwest.
fried chicken - a vinegary version without the traditional crackling crust. A touch of Louisiana style hot sauce. It was a cut cornish game hen all 8 pieces. Some of the most succulent fried chicken ever.
wild mushrooms with soft egg - umami rich lovely earthiness. At the end it started to get a little rich but wonderful for a nice winter night.
roasted cauliflower with cumin - tasted very much like a Mexican influenced dish with the cilantro and lime flavors. It was a lot of cauliflower and there was none left when we were finished.

The only miss was the gnocchi with cauliflower/blue cheese sauce and cabbage. Everything on the plate was great except for the gnocchi. The gnocchi was pan fried with a nice crisp on the outside but dry and way too big. Definitely not soft pillows.

Would definitely recommend. Compares favorably to Animal.

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  1. Fried chicken is probably one of the best versions I've had.

    The live scallops dressed only with lime and olive oil was outstanding.

    Roasted jidori chicken was also excellent.

    The fig toffee bread pudding is killer. Better than Gjelina's bread pudding by far.

    I like it more than Animal.

    And the big plus is that corkage is free with no bottle limit.

    Truly a great restaurant that can hang with anything LA has to offer.

    7 Replies
    1. re: Porthos

      The no corkage policy is great. I was skeptical that Playground could compete with LAs best but I agree. An outstanding restaurant no matter the locale.

      We heard about the live scallops but they weren't on the menu Saturday.

      1. re: js76wisco

        Going back to Playground this Friday. Took a peek at the menu and starting kicking myself for missing the suckling pig porchetta that was served this past weekend.

        I hope it was wildly successful to the point that it becomes a regular weekend special.

        1. re: Porthos

          Whoa that sounds great. I love a nice porchetta but haven't had anything good in OC. The Mozza sandwich is the best version I've had in LA.

          I was thinking of going on Saturday but couldn't swing it. They had the live scallop and I'm kicking myself for not going.

          1. re: Porthos

            FYI, their new restaurant, IO (Invitation Only), is opening this Thursday next door. You might inquire about this while you're there if you don't know about it already.

            The Playground is one of my favorite places anywhere. I scored an invite to IO for the opener. :-)

            1. re: baetis33

              $250 all in? Really? Love, love Jason+crew, but we beg him to not experiment with such expensive ingredients...and to lay low on the salt.

              1. re: baetis33

                Hope that doesn't mean he'll be too busy to put that suckling pig porchetta back on the menu Friday!

                1. re: Porthos

                  His porchetta is consistently PHAT (yes, that's a pun)!

          1. FWIW, here's Brad A. Johnson's take on Playground, published the last week of February in the OC Register:


            However, I'm still eager to check it out, as I ascribe more credibility to comments from CHers than most other sources.

            4 Replies
            1. re: Dornfelder

              So the Father's Office/Gjelina school of "Don't even ask about altering our food in any damn way" gets another convert? lol I don't mind at all, but there seems to be a contingent that takes this "My way or the highway" stuff very, very personally (as in "They are taking away my God given, Constitutional RIGHT to have it my way!!!!)

              1. re: Servorg

                With all due respect (and believe me, Servorg, there are few on this site - let alone the entire interwebs - that I have more respect for when it comes to the issues gastronomique), there is a distinct separation for many chefs as to whether their work is merely to provide what is demanded of them by their audience (customers) and whether their responsibility is to be absolutely true to their muse.
                Like it or not, it is their right to decide whether or not they want to accede to customers requests or to say, "no, this is how I conceive the dish being seen, tasted, consumed - take it or leave it." The market will determine if they have the talent to maintain their intent.
                In the meantime, I relish the opportunity to try their interpretation of a dish in the same way I would prefer to view other works of art or architecture (material that may or may not be necessary but certainly doesn't "require" the ornamentation of Da Vinci/Koons or Neutra/Pei) without the casual consumer calling for adjustments to suit their preconceived notions of what would 'really make it work'...
                Again, said with the utmost respect.

              2. re: Dornfelder

                Fried chicken is a personal favorite of mine. Buffalo wing style. Really juicy and delicious. Vinegar is pungent, without a warning people would be crying about the heavy dose of vinegar. So it's not the crispy crusty style of fried chicken but real delicious.

                Service is so friendly it's almost fawning.

                My dinner in photos from last night:

                -uni risotto
                -roasted mushrooms with slow egg
                -suckling pig porchetta
                -fried chicken
                -baby back ribs
                -infamous bread pudding.

                1. re: Porthos

                  That toffee pudding is life altering.

              3. I've been on three occasions. The first time I went during opening. Some dishes were extremely salty, and when I complained to the server all I got was "the stage made it". I wasnt expecting a comp or anything as it was during opening week, but blaming stuff on the stage is lame. After that I avoided the place like the plague.

                Second time I went was for Ryan Carson's (the new chef for IO) pop up. Everything was refined, great, exciting....

                So I went again a third time when it was back to Quinn's menu. Everything sounds great on paper, but I found the executions too salty. Service had been spotty, and then the Chef started to pack his knives at the bar area (where I was seated) and that has set me back to a meh.

                What they are doing for the OC restaurant culture is great, but I'm not buying into the chef-nazi thing... It's called HOSPITALITY industry for a reason!

                1 Reply
                1. re: nomnomnoms

                  My first visit was with a large group of 15. We basically tried the entire menu. Everything was excellent and spot on.

                  My most recent visit, the gumbo (not pictured) and the ribs were both marred by over salting. Not sure if this has to do with the chefs doing their new "omakase only" restaurant next door.

                  As for the no substitutions thing, I don't mind it. The customer doesn't always know best, especially in this day of food TV. The only difficulty is when dining with someone with allergies at a no substitution restaurant. Sucks for me but its possible to work around it.