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Why Does The Orange Curtain Exist? - A Discussion Regarding OC's Trailing of LA

I truly do not understand this. Los Angeles, although it has been ignored by the "elite" of the culinary world for it's focus on casual dining (looking at Michelin here), still manages to produce some of the best restaurants in the country. Not only that, but I would say, some of the most interesting food in the country, heck, even the world. Maybe there isn't a huge collection of 3-Michelin star restaurants, but that is largely irrelevant to the point. I think Chowhound probably understands this.

But thinking of dining in the range of $40-60/per person (food only), there is an abundance of restaurants pushing the envelope in incredible ways. Places like Bäco Mercat, Animal, Ink... I am sure they are all known to Hounds.

It's more than that though. There is some innovation going on in OC, but the underlying QUALITY appears to be lacking.

Does Los Angeles simply get better produce, and meat than what is available in OC?

Look at somewhere like Salt's Cure. Are they doing revolutionary cuisine necessarily? Not entirely, except for the fact that the pork chop there tastes about a million times better than pork chops at much fancier places. Why? Because it's locally sourced, fresh meat, simply prepared.

You see this theme emerge even in the restaurants that are pushing the envelopes. The vegetable program at Bäco Mercat is stunning. A simple beet salad is elevated to new heights. Ricardo Diaz makes Huazontle sing at Bizarra Capital. Bucato elevates cauliflower to new heights.

In LA, you find places that elevate cuisines such as Mexican, and Italian by doing things by hand. Look at the flourishing Italian scene: Bestia, Angelini, Bucato, Sotto, Chi Spacca, etc... is there even a single equivalent in the OC?

Look at places like Corazon y Miel, Babita, Bizarra Capital, etc... is there anything with that kind of execution in OC?

Let's not get caught up with focus on these specific cuisines necessarily. What about places like Farmshop, Huckleberry, heck, even Joan's onThird, etc... ? These places offer simple market fare with slight twists, but mainly a kind of dedication to quality that is simply not seen in OC. Why?

One thing is for sure, there is no lack of money in OC. Diners are willing to spend fairly outrageous sums of money here.

Surely there is the chance to reap rewards in OC. And we have some burgeoning talent. But the talent seems somehow limited.

So what is wrong? Is there a real problem in sourcing of ingredients to work with in OC? I believe this to be somehow true, as the vegetables, and meats never taste quite as good at OC restaurants, no matter how high end they are.

Is there a solution here? Could we start a campaign to get better sourcing?

Or is the problem more fundamental?

I am very interested in this discussion, and hope others have some insights.

I also recognize that things are changing somewhat. Taco Maria for example, is an astounding accomplishment for OC. Perhaps that is a sign of things to come.

But in general, this ethos of "hand crafted", "locally sourced" high-quality ingredients is not coming out.

The statement of the problem is a bit hazy, so hopefully others can help to clarify it by adding insights as well. I am inspired by some of the game-changers in OC currently though to actually dedicate part of my life to improving the situation if I can identify the factors involved in the issues with dining in OC.

Edit: Is it possible that food criticism is to blame? LA has eater.la, the LAWeekly, a host of major food bloggers, and J Gold (arguably one of the best food critics in the world). I have noticed that OC has almost no bloggers by comparison, and very soft-reviews in the OC register. the OCWeekly is practically a joke compared to the LAWeekly, and proclaims dishes from chains like Del Taco to be among the best dishes in OC...which is utterly disparaging if true. The reviews often read like infomercials...

Are there simply no food critics pushing OC chefs to innovate, and tighten their execution? Or is this inconsequential?

Look forward to the discussion.

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  1. Like anything else it's complicated. I've spent a fair amount of time in OC and I know there is good food there. But a month or so ago, I asked where the Sunday farmers market was around some well versed resident OC food folk, including some Pros and just got blank stares....

    That being said, the Saturday Irvine farmers market is fine, they are in close proximity to some truly great farms, ranches and purveyors to the south. There is a lot of innovation and great ideas. But I think what is missing is a central area. OC, is even more than L.A. the land of cars. There are very few neighborhoods where you can walk to a good variety of restaurants. The ones that exist, its either is an artificial construct (SoCo or LAB) or just unpleasant to walk around (Westminster). So every restaurant has to be a destination... this has left a handful really dominating because you can't stroll down the block and see some place new and go, Oh! I'll try that next time!

    Now, being an L.A. Native, I can say, right now we are truly a high point of L.A. Fine and Casual dining. Lots of factors come into play to that as well, just as I can still see the scars of the OC Bankrupcy in my childhood when I'm down there, here in LA. I see one by one wonderful clothing boutiques now being replaced by 'food salons' and it makes me worry about a well rounded (and dressed) future of the city...

    But it wasn't that long ago when I was entertaining clients and I hit a rotation of the same 5 restaurants (Water Grill, L'Ongerie, Matsuhisa, Crustacean, and Spago) if I had a 'casual' client, perhaps Michaels or Jirafe,.. Now I have direct reports straight out of B School expecting me to take them out to Red Medicine during their orientation... LOL!

    I say, instead of point out, we encourage. I've been a HUGE fan of the Mart Mix since they first opened. Although, as I noted, it's more of 'destination' than a place I could spend the entire day, I do tailor a day around it (tomorrow for example, I'm going to Break of Dawn and a visit to Mart Mix's Savory Spice Shop is a must!).

    --Dommy!

    12 Replies
    1. re: Dommy

      "I asked where the Sunday farmers market was around some well versed resident OC food folk, including some Pros and just got blank stares...."

      So, is it very seriously a sourcing problem? Do restaurants in LA simply get better food to work with?

      "But I think what is missing is a central area."

      Well, ok, but what would you say is the central area in LA?

      If everywhere has to be a destination in OC, wouldn't you think that would mean the quality of food would be HIGHER, and the cuisine more unique at every successful place as compared with LA, where restaurants can count on just getting foot traffic to some extent?

      What about downtown Santa Ana now? It seems like that is becoming a central location. It's coming to resemble DTLA more and more it seems like.

      I do all I can to encourage. I think the OC Mart Mix is great. I go there every day at the moment (I split my time between OC and LA). Obviously it is the high-point of OC dining at the moment, as it houses the best restaurant in OC (Taco Maria). The only serious Oyster Bar. ARC, whose burger is one of the best things to come out of OC dining scene in a long time. And The Cheese Shop, which is at least a first step towards having something like Huckleberry in OC. It's an astounding accomplishment. But even the places there tend to suffer a little. The produce at ARC for example, just feels a bit off to me.

      I am truly curious where you work that you have new hires expecting to be taken out to Red Medicine... but I guess you could take them late night for the bar food, which is actually incredible, and very reasonably priced haha

      I have been meaning to go to Break of Dawn myself, was actually thinking of possibly going tomorrow. I'm relatively new to posting here though...do Hounds ever meetup for meals? Or is that mainly a Yelp thing?

      1. re: Stravinsky

        I actually posted about finding meetups and haven't received any responses yet. Would love to find groups similar to what I've had in Chicago and Phoenix.

        1. re: PHXeater

          I didn't know. I think me and some others are down to meet up.

          Stravinsky, I take it that you are residing in OC right now ?

          I think LA has a lot of tourist and tourists dollars that help the bottom line in LA. LA is close to Hollywood and the epicenter of the entertainment business where actors, producers, writers (ok, maybe not the fucking writers) are wined and dined. OC does have Disneyland.

          But I would hazard a guess that LA has many more tourists per capita to help sustain great restaurants in LA because regulars can only make a restaurant go so far, and of course restaurants do in fact need regulars too besides the tourists.

          so it may be a tourist thing. And a historical development thing. Where a lot of the chefs back in the late 70s to early 80s settled in LA: think Wolfgang Puck, Joachim Splichal, Nozawa, Michael McCartyy (more of a restaurateur), Nancy Silverton and her husband at the time, and the too hot tamales who hopened up City, then City Cafe and then Border Grill in the very late 80s.

          1. re: kevin

            Very thoughtful response Kevin! Good point with the added tourist money. Also good point about the historical development with chefs. Solid post and only 1 question mark. Bravo! :-)

            1. re: Porthos

              I think Jesse James remarked about fucking prose. And then when I saw the fucking length of the responses and no one mentioned the Tourist possibility, there I went as opposed to my usual crappy prose.

              And I definitely see your point on SF Italian/French in comparison to LA, complete apples to oranges.

              Thanks for the compliment. That made my chowhound month. :)

              1. re: kevin

                Tourists are a good point. I thought about that a little bit then realized I was long winded enough :).

                Anyone interested in a meetup can email me, phxeater at gmail dot com. Would be fun to get a group together to really dive into a menu at a restaurant.

            2. re: kevin

              Having only read this far into the thread, please indulge me if I've duplicated what has already been stated. Not to chip away at your tourist theory, but WTFF (oh sorry - What The Fucking Fuck) is Disneyland? Probably the biggest-ass tourist draw in our Golden State! I think the average Micky-tourist is far more interested in Fast-passes (Food? Huh?), while those who come to LA to actually experience LA are a far more mixed bag of people. I think difficulty in getting to and from places beyond the areas immediately adjacent to Disney can be a challenge.

              I don't spend much time beyond the Orange Curtain, but here's my take. OC's huge predominantly Caucasian and Asian (but banana through and through) middle- to upper-class bedroom communities played out as a somewhat monocultural culinary blase or sorts. A sprinkling of good to great eateries dwarfed among chains and mini-chains were the rule. I have a generous handful of friends who moved down to the OC specifically because they felt safer behind those walls, liked the whiteness of the population in those areas, felt the schools were superior, as well as enjoying all the contests of pretentious exhibitionism of toys, trips and couture ("My daughter just can't decide which academy to attend - we are leaning toward the one with the better equestrian program. Heck, we'd better - we just spent a small fortune on new boots and saddles!" "Yeah, that's a problem...").

              For me, the scenery started to change with the influx of Vietnamese immigrants to north OC. The Latino population also grew in adjacent communities in Santa Ana and Anaheim, further diversifying the culinary landscape. Not forgetting the Arab and Indian communities, but these various ethnic eats couldn't really break into the areas of gentry due to higher costs and lack of demand/openness to "differnt food." In other words, diversity was encapsulated within these communities. Not that LA is a rainbow of cultural blending in every household, but the mindset of comparatively more folks was and probably still is more open to food beyond places represented in every one of the 50 states (so to say).

              While the Little Saigon area started to pick up more steam, opening higher end Vietnamese eateries, the bulk of the OC continued to build more gated communities, further isolating themselves from the scary outside world. Behold the internet. This was and still is the window beyond the beige-colored brick walls of all of these cookie-cutter closed-off neighborhoods whose occupants had previously feared to look beyond their locked car doors and security gates. Couple that with the increasing popularity of food-related shows (driven by interest spawned by what could easily be found on the internet) on cable/sat (required in most of these communities) and the interest in more diverse cuisines and more focus on techniques and ingredients has started to increase.

              The growing Japanese expat community in OC is adding more dimension to the landscape, as is the Taiwanese/Chinese-Asia scene in the Irvine area. I know many Singaporean expats were initially drawn to Irvine's long-time "Safest city in America" title starting back in the 80s - I think they planted the first seeds in that area - and the Taiwanese were soon to follow, also because of the UC.

              Again, this is just my unqualified assuming take on things but I have to wonder if tourists are an issue? OC sure isn't lacking them in numbers - maybe just what they're primarily focused on.

              1. re: bulavinaka

                Is WTFF trademarked by you as well? :-)

                1. re: bulavinaka

                  London is famous for those traps. I find myself eating lots of Indian and Pakistani food when there...

                  1. re: bulavinaka

                    Bula,I wouldn't think you'd trademark some fucking vukkshit. But what the fuuuucccckkkkkk do I know ????,?

                    By the way, you have drafted an exceptional fucking treatise ; and I don't mean to denigrate it by using the word fuuuuyccccxcxkkkk.

            3. Look at the flourishing Italian scene: Bestia, Angelini, Bucato, Sotto, Chi Spacca, etc... is there even a single equivalent in the OC
              ======================
              Pizzeria Mozza Newport and Ortica (Chefs and some of the staff at Sotto started here before opening Sotto).

              I get what you're saying so I shoot up to LA on the weekends for dinner at least twice a month. I think high end sushi like Mori and Shunji are even more lacking down here.

              I'd take Playground over Animal or SoaG any day. They provide something you won't get in LA: no corkage on as many bottles as you want, any night of the week.

              Also, with the emergence of Taco Maria, the question is why doesn't LA have something like this?

              http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/916198

              Shuck Oyster Bar bests Hungry Cat for raw oysters.

              Several dishes at Marche Moderne are what you would find at many of the farm to table restaurants in LA. Great salads, well prepared calamari, octopus, sweetbreads, etc.

              On the plus side, Katsuya failed down here.

              Playing to OC's strength, does LA have any Vietnamese as good as you can get down here?

              It's not as bleak as you make it out to be. And don't forget, the population is like 9 million in LA county to 3 million in OC.

              Also on the plus side, Ipse asked the SD board where they ranked SD as a food city and most SD denizens ranked OC higher than SD.

              http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/905844

              35 Replies
              1. re: Porthos

                "Pizzeria Mozza Newport and Ortica"

                That's the lower end of LAs Italian cuisine. It makes no sense to compare Pizzeria Mozza to the places listed.

                I have to wonder if you've actually been to those places or not?

                Pizza is one thing. Hand-made pastas, finely butchered meat dishes, etc... I like Pizzeria Mozza, but it's not in the same league as those places.

                Taco Maria:

                "Also, with the emergence of Taco Maria, the question is why doesn't LA have something like this?"

                First, LA has many places like that. Trois Mec, Alma, Orsa and Winston... just to name a few.

                Ok, OC has a one place. Great.

                "Shuck Oyster Bar bests Hungry Cat for raw oysters."

                Perhaps, but asre they as inventive in their cuisine as L&E Oyster Bar?

                "Playing to OC's strength, does LA have any Vietnamese as good as you can get down here?"

                I'm sort of ignoring the ethnic cuisine scenes. The Mexican scene in SanTana is different from, but obviously on par with East LA's scene for the most part.

                There's actually plenty of great Vietnamese food in LA though. The answer to your question is: yes. Golden Deli in the SGV, Pho cafe in Silver Lake even does a good Bun Thit I'd argue, Pho Filet in the SGV, Nem Nuong Ninh Hoa...

                I'd give up all the Vietnamese in OC for a late night thai scene as vibrant as LA's Thai Town...hah

                "I'd take Playground over Animal or SoaG any day. They provide something you won't get in LA: no corkage on as many bottles as you want, any night of the week."

                Ok. I don't really drink alcohol due to medical conditions, so this makes literally no difference to me I guess. I don't really see what bearing corkage fees have on food quality though. Animal has one of the best curated wine lists in the country, so not exactly sure why you would forgo that as someone that enjoys wine.

                As much as I like the Playground, the execution of dishes is not on par with Animal. I think it's giving credit where it isn't exactly due to suggest that it is. I know the urge to defend The Playground is quite strong, since it is one of the few places at least making the attempt, and mostly succeeding, but exaggerating the reality of it doesn't help anyone.

                But The Playground is an experimental place, so it's ok. I'm not knocking it at all.

                It's more a general ethos thing though.

                I legitimately think there is some kind of issue with ingredient sourcing in OC.

                Would a restaurant like Salt's Cure be possible in OC?

                1. re: Stravinsky

                  Well you seem pretty intent on bashing OC so have at it.

                  You mentioned fresh pasta, have you tried the ones at Ortica? You can see where the dishes at Sotto come from.

                  You also know Pizzeria Mozza both Newport and LA branches do great appetizers al forno, salads (eg. kale salad with 3 types of baby kale), and dishes of the day right?

                  "I have to wonder if you've actually been to those places or not?"

                  That's hilarious considering the number of posts with pictures I've posted on Bestia and Sotto.

                  "First, LA has many places like [Taco Maria]. Trois Mec, Alma, Orsa and Winston."

                  None of these are high end Mexican with a touch of Coi.

                  "Animal has one of the best curated wine lists in the country"

                  Been to Animal 6 times. I actually think their execution is every bit as hit or miss as Playground (overly salt buffalo pig tails, bland BBQ ribs, etc). Their wine list is far from what I would consider best in the country: Daniel, Veritas, Corton, Babbo, Joel Robuchon Vegas...yes. Animal, not even close. Talk about over stating things. Would probably put Patina, Hatfield's, Providence, Valentino, Melisse and several others above Animal for wine list in LA.

                  1. re: Porthos

                    Melisse has a stunning wine list.

                  2. re: Porthos

                    "Playing to OC's strength, does LA have any Vietnamese as good as you can get down here?"

                    Hey porthos,

                    can you list the vietnamese places that you go to, and the items u order?

                    I'll be going to oc soon to try a few places, then compare them to the LA equivalents soon.

                    Thank u!

                    1. re: blimpbinge

                      Vien Dong: bun cha hanoi, bun bo hue, and there is a pork spareribs with taro stems and plantains noodle dish that I don't know the name of but is wicked good. They also have bun rieu oc and good sizzling catfish plate.

                      Com Tam Thuan Kieu. Broken rice plate combo. I get the one with grilled chicken, meat pie, and fried fish cake in bean curd. I think #56-58-ish on the menu. The fried fish cake is wicked good especially when it's right out of the fryer.

                      http://www.yelp.com/biz/com-tam-thuan...

                      Trieu Chau: house special noodles. You can get it dry with thin yellow noodles (add a side of bone soup if you like gnawing on bones) or thin white rice noodles in broth. Outstanding.

                      Pho Thang Lich: oxtail pho, add a side of rare filet mignon. They also have good chicken pho, and duck noodles with bamboo on the weekends.

                      Pho 86: for brisket and tripe pho

                      Look into a 7 courses of beef place. I haven't been to Pag o Lac since they relocated but that was really good. Also, of course, there is Favori for their mutant sized baked/fried catfish

                      1. re: Porthos

                        Has anyone heard from or anything about Haley from the former Xanh Bistro in Fountain Valley?

                        1. re: Porthos

                          thanks! need to find ox tail pho and pork spare ribs w/ taro in the 626 now

                          for any of the teochew style noodle houses, you can customize it in any way, thick or thin, rice or egg, soup or dry, etc. I tend to pick wide egg noodle, dry, then sprinkle some soup in before i eat. Or just soup + wide rice noodle.

                          have u tried the 626 equivalents of each of these dishes? i'm always curious to see how they compare. A lot of my vietnamese friends and co workers always say that vietnamese food in OC is better. so when I go, I expect to have my mind blown, but the food just ends up being "good" instead of "incredible"

                          1. re: blimpbinge

                            When I lived in Westwood I did Pho So 1 and Pho 999 out of desperation sometimes. It's no Pho Thanh Lich. The chicken pho with dark meat should also highlight the quality difference. Great broth.

                            Tried Kim Ky in SGV...we might have had this discussion before. Found it terribly bland compared to Trieu Chau. I even prefer the house special lobster at the Newport branch down here over SGV.

                            Didn't get to any broken rice plates or the noodle dishes I recommended at Vien Dong. Since I worked down here, I just ate at those places on the weekends when I had to work or after work weeknights before heading back. Tried a 7 courses of beef place around Rosemead, it was pretty good.

                            1. re: Porthos

                              As a little Saigon expat I would say that SGV is a 9/10 for Vietnamese food where little Saigon is a 10/10. SGV then makes up for the deficit in Chinese/Taiwanese/HK places

                              1. re: ns1

                                Huh, interesting. What would you score the places in Saigon and Vietnam proper if little Saigon gets 10/10? And this isn't being facetious. I've heard the argument that beef is higher quality in the US so pho may even be better in Westminster.

                                Are you speaking only pho or does that include all the sub-specialties within Vietnamese cuisine?

                                1. re: Porthos

                                  all sub-specialties. I'm still lamenting the loss of Pho Minh (I know I say that everytime).

                                  For me (and my parents), the food in US > food in VN due to quality of ingredients. Of course, neither they nor I have done an Anthony-Bourdain-style crawl through VN recently, although they did go a few years back and confirmed the above statement.

                                  The only thing I haven't been able to find over here that I found in VN was that awesome shellfish right on the beach from vendors. Best snails ever.

                                  1. re: ns1

                                    So maybe you can tell B-binge where s/he can find oxtail pho with a side of filet mignon, and the stuff I recommended at Vien dong so a report comparing the two can be done. Looking forward to it! With photos please! :)

                                    1. re: Porthos

                                      So Pho Than Lich is still good? Seems like lots of recent Yelp reviews talk about a decline in quality.

                                      Am hoping they're false.

                                      Just wondering if you've been recently or not.

                                      1. re: Stravinsky

                                        Haven't been since the move. Recommended it to KK from the SF boards when he was visiting a couple of weeks ago and he raved about it. My last visit was within a year.

                                  2. re: Porthos

                                    I don't feel like the places of origin are always absolutely better than the rest. Though there may be more restaurants of high quality since there are just more places that serve that type of food.

                                    My vancouver and hk trips were only a few months apart and i preferred dimsum from vancouver over hk. I didn't specifically eat at the top dimsum places in hk, just ate with my hk/gz friends, and again, was surprised that dimsum in hk doesn't absolutely wipe the floor with north american dimsum. I was actually shocked to see that random dimsum places in hk were similar in taste and quality to some places in socal. Me and my guangzhou friend thought we went on "off" days, but this happened at more than one place on more than one day.

                                    or maybe I just went in with unrealistically high expections?

                                    I have a feeling I'll feel the same with kbbq in korea vs LA when I go. (hopefully this year..)

                                    1. re: blimpbinge

                                      "My vancouver and hk trips were only a few months apart and i preferred dimsum from vancouver over hk."

                                      You may be alone on that one ;-)

                                      Never been to Vancouver so I can't say but I was impressed by the dim sum in HK. Did Victoria City at 1030 and Lei Garden IFC at 1230 ish (yep, 2 dim sum meals in 1 day). Both were very good and easily superior to Koi Palace and LA's finest. The single $5USD crab XLB at Lei Garden was perfect and insanely good. Roast goose was of course superior. Not dim sum but flower crab with hua tiao liquor sauce blew my mind.

                                      1. re: blimpbinge

                                        Where did you eat? Cos even a touristy place like Luk Yu in HK is better than the ever popular Fisherman's Terrace in Richmond (and I really like the latter!).

                                        Going really OT, but I'll be in Seoul next May, and the KBBQ had *better* be better than KTown. Look forward to your report!

                                        1. re: stravaigint

                                          Honestly I don't recall any of the names. I was taken out to 3 or 4 places all in (or near) the richmond area 3+ years ago during a time that I wasn't good at documenting where I went (unlike now). I remember it being some of the best dimsum I had eaten at that point in time and had returned from a hk trip just 2-3 months before that.

                                          I'll be going to hk again early next year (and hopefully korea), and this time i'll be hitting up places that are mentioned often on chow. In past trips, I usually leave it to my hk friends to take me out. I wanna see the difference in taste between hk locals and socal hounds heh

                                  3. re: Porthos

                                    kim ky used to be good, those times have long gone. Even if they've improved since then, it's not worth dealing with the lines imo.

                                    ..unless you want their satay beef noodle

                                2. re: Porthos

                                  Com Tam Thuan Kieu. #58

                                  My bad. It's fried bean curd with shrimp paste, not fish cake.

                                   
                                   
                              2. re: Porthos

                                porthos, would you say the food in general at playground is superior to the cocktails?
                                or are they sorta at the same level?
                                i've only drank, not eaten there.

                                1. re: linus

                                  The beer selection is tremendous. Have never had cocktails there. Just beer and BYO. Certain food items are very very good and always on mark.

                                  The fried chicken is always a must. It's spicy and vinegary in the best way. Never had a bad rendition and I've been at least 10-12+ visits the past year.
                                  The black fig toffee bread pudding is a monster and always pleases. I don't even like dessert that much.
                                  The mazemen ramen is also quite tasty loaded with beef fat and soft egg. Perfect with a squeeze of lime

                                  After that, the menu changes frequently but lamb belly, grilled fish of the day collar, wagyu skirt are usually all very good. Their beef brisket khao soi was also very very tasty. Not a fan of the sauce and noodles that came with it but the brisket disappeared quickly. .

                                  Within the past few months, the heirloom tomato salad with basil panna cotta was very good as was a heirloom tomato with watermelon salad. The dungeness crab rolls were also outstanding. The amount of dungeness crab was twice what I was expecting given the price point.

                                  Their major fault is that sometimes they are a bit heavy handed with the salt and usually that's with experimental Asian dishes or dishes using fish sauce or soy sauce.

                                  I don't do the 2.0 dinners because they usually don't allow BYO but the Chino Farms one sells out pretty quickly.

                                    1. re: linus

                                      If they have the wagyu shortribs on the menu, ALWAYS order them.

                                      I have no idea why more places don't do them, but they are always beyond phenomenal there.

                                      1. re: Porthos

                                        That dessert is worth the pride of admission on its own.

                                        1. re: JAB

                                          I had four stellar dishes out of five on Saturday, my first trip there. The chef is heavy handed with flavor but I like to make sure I really taste my food anyways :). The boyfriend had a Manhattan which he was really happy with, but I can't speak to the cocktails overall. We were both incredibly satisfied with our meal.

                                          And yes, the fig toffee pudding is absurdly good. Didn't try the fried chicken though, too many other things that looked too good and I knew we could get it next time, unlike the rest of the dishes.

                                          1. re: PHXeater

                                            i thought the drinks i had were good. basic. solid, but nothing more, if i'm picking nits, which i am.
                                            if i put on my pretentious hat, and i often do, i guess i was looking for the barkeep to go off book when i asked for dealer's choice. but then again, i could have been more specific about that.

                                            the plates of food i saw looked tasty.

                                            1. re: PHXeater

                                              You know, it's terrible...I haven't gotten the chicken yet because every time I go I think, "well, it'll be on here next time...but will these other things?? Probably not!"

                                              It's a slippery slope...

                                              I really need to order the chicken next time!

                                              1. re: Stravinsky

                                                Not to mention that the menu description scares you off from selecting it.

                                                1. re: JAB

                                                  Usually those kind of warning entice me into ordering things! not sure why it didn't work with the fried chicken there haha

                                                2. re: Stravinsky

                                                  It's quite good. Not fancy but really, really tasty.

                                        2. re: Porthos

                                          I never liked The Playground and thought it was a bad version of Animal.

                                          But I do like Shuck, though there is no comparable Pug Burger on it's menu.

                                          Vietnamese coffe joints are swell, Tonyc, wouldn't you agree ???? :)

                                          Though I did like Arc.

                                          1. re: Porthos

                                            I would also rank OC much higher than SD.

                                            SD is not very good at all, there i said it. Those are fighting words and my apologies for that.

                                            In OC you can still get pretty good sushi: think shibucho, wasabe (though some hate it, nozawal style), abe, kazen. that's four right there more than SD. Mex food is better in OC than SD, i could go on....

                                          2. Two years ago, I'm at Chapter One, having dessert, and I see a lot of black flecks at the bottom. I'm thinking, well it can't be vanilla, because for the amount of specks, the vanilla taste was not proportional. I asked the manager, he confirmed it was vanilla. Then, we figure out that instead of scraped vanilla seeds, they grind up the whole pod into powder and use that. I haven't been back except for a cocktail.

                                            For my birthday this year, I went to The Ranch and ordered a lobster salad. It came out, and the lobster clearly smelled fishy, even my boyfriend remarked upon it. However it did not taste off, so I didn't send it back even though I should have.

                                            I've worked in LA and OC and I could not believe the amount of cost cutting I saw down here. Granted one was fine dining and one was middle market, but it was ridiculous. We switched from Weiser farms beets to regular old ones without any sweetness. Then I was slicing tomatoes... and was told to take the stem-end slice, and chop around the stem for pico de gallo. Another time, I wanted to throw away some old squid because it wasn't quite fresh and was told to rinse it with water, which actually did work, but I never asked for permission again to throw anything away, I just did it. We were supposed to log anything we threw away due to waste, which in itself is ok for tracking inventory. What bugged me was that I was supposed to get a sous or exec chef to sign off on it, and my sous did not have the same standards that I did.

                                            I think it basically money thing. They're trying to pass off stuff that has little business being sold. Is this food spoiled, or is it not spoiled but merely degraded in flavor? What are the chances that this dish will get sent back? Can we pass off lower quality, cheaper products and still make as much money? There's a lot of cutting corners.

                                            I don't go back to a restaurant if my last visit wasn't good. I think Brodard is going to get crossed off my list, at least for the famous nem nuong spring rolls, which are now premade way ahead of time and the rice wrapper hardens.

                                            5 Replies
                                            1. re: jaykayen

                                              It does seem like it. Which is truly sad. I don't understand the cutting of corners like that. It makes no sense to me. Food can be SO much better by paying attention to the quality of ingredients.

                                              The ethos in LA is exactly the opposite it seems like. Always send out the freshest possible ingredients.

                                              How could this ethos change?

                                              The pretense exists... the restaurants model themselves after places in LA, but then don't follow through.

                                              Places in LA are proud to print the farms they source their food from. How did that happen? And how could that ethos be brought to OC? Does OC need stronger food critics willing to call these restaurants out? A community effort to call them out?

                                              1. re: Stravinsky

                                                Since my belief is that its a money issue, whoever has the gold makes the rules. We only get what we demand. As I said, I don't go back to a restaurant if I think something is off, which is why I have only been to The Playground once and refuse to go back despite good reviews.

                                                Take the case of the Brodard spring rolls. They're too busy, it is one of the most popular dishes, so they wrap it ahead of time and then they probably cover it in plastic wrap. Well, they could easily solve the problem of dried out rolls if they put down a layer of damp paper towels, but they don't. It is a simple solution, but my guess is they don't care because people keep coming anyway.

                                                1. re: jaykayen

                                                  Maybe that's part of it. I've noticed that many of the restaurants in LA are chef-owned.

                                                  Did you find the quality of ingredients to be off at the Playground, or the execution?

                                                  So the famous spring rolls at Brodard are not even made fresh? That seems truly sad.

                                                  I guess I haven't been missing too much by not going.

                                                  1. re: Stravinsky

                                                    Execution. I remember this turkey dish, a true failure of the night. It was some kind of hot sandwich, a "hot brown." heritage turkey that was overbrined and then overcooked, lending it that institutional or premade frozen aisle entree taste.

                                                    It's not the ingredients, LA Specialty delivers to OC, too.

                                                    Go to Brodard Chateau, the classic Brodard dishes are just as good and they have some fancier dishes, too.

                                                    Another mistreatment of food story. I think I'm at the Yard House or something like that. A couple the next table over orders a fish plate, and even I can smell the fishiness.

                                                    1. re: jaykayen

                                                      The hot brown was a childhood fave of the owner. I would not judge a restaurant on 1 dish. Especially one made with turkey.

                                            2. Personally, I think there are two factors in play: I think because OC lacks the health letter grades in the front windows, the lack of freshness is more prevalent as there isn't the pressure like in the rest of SoCal to minimize "minor violations" to retain the A.

                                              The second factor is, in my opinion, cultural. I think OC on the whole is less cultured and more about conspicuous consumption than LA. "Does the restaurant look fancy?" and "Is it expensive?" seem to resonate more than "Is the food high quality?" or "Is this innovative cuisine?" do. Your mileage may vary, of course.

                                              1. As a newcomer to SoCal in general I find this thread really interesting. I can't help, despite being an Orange County resident for only a few months, but feel a little offended. Obviously I've quickly realized many of the recommended restaurants are in LA vs. Orange County but I think that is for various reasons and although some may be the fault of some the "less cultured" OC residents vs. the cultured LA residents I don't really think it boils down to that.

                                                1. "City Center" - From every city I've lived in the city center has the HUGE majority of high end restaurants, innovation, etc. Even with LA/OC the city center is still LA (no matter how big that city center is!). I know for certain types of meals I need to travel into LA, that's fine. I knew when I moved here that OC is basically one large suburb - minus the beach cities perhaps.
                                                2. Sourcing - I don't have enough experience to say either way but I am shocked that the ingredients are worse in OC vs. LA. If Phoenix had a resurgence in ingredient driven, locally sourced food over the past 5+ years then it doesn't make any sense that logistically OC hasn't already and I'm sure they can get the same ingredients LA gets.
                                                3. Chef driven restaurants typically leads the locally sourced ingredient charge. In Chicago this was true and in Phoenix. I have noticed that there seem to be less chef owned and operated restaurants in Orange County so this could be a factor.
                                                4. Trends will always take longer to show up. Just a big city vs. smaller city factor.
                                                5. You are comparing LA to OC. I think it's an apples to oranges comparison. It would be a little more valid to say LA vs. SF or other similar size cities but OC has never been on the same level as LA, and never will be.

                                                I do also think your response to Porthos basically saying that all his points were incorrect and LA does everything better is a stretch. Will LA "win" most of the time? Yes, but again I point to points #1 and #5. Plus, I am positive OC does something better than LA at at least one restaurant :). But this shouldn't be about winning or losing, but about finding the most quality restaurants. I think OC still has damn good food once you start looking. If only I could find a decent Szechuan restaurant... :)

                                                17 Replies
                                                1. re: PHXeater

                                                  "It would be a little more valid to say LA vs. SF"

                                                  Exactly this. When comparing LA to SF or NYC you can lament the same. Why doesn't LA have the diversity SF does for Italian: La Ciccia, SPQR, Quince, Cotogna, etc. Why doesn't LA have something like Atelier Crenn or Benu or Manresa or Coi? Is it sourcing? Is it an inability to appreciate? Is it culture? All similarly misguided.

                                                  Each city has it's own dining signature be it LA, OC, SF or NYC. Enjoy the strengths of each city. You'll eat better and be happier.

                                                  1. re: Porthos

                                                    "When comparing LA to SF or NYC you can lament the same."

                                                    Huh? Have you eaten in LA recently?

                                                    "Why doesn't LA have the diversity SF does for Italian: La Ciccia, SPQR, Quince, Cotogna, etc."

                                                    I would say it does. In fact, my post contains a specifically Italian element identifying just some of that diversity.

                                                    " Why doesn't LA have something like Atelier Crenn or Benu or Manresa or Coi?"

                                                    Again, it does. Not sure if you've just been ignoring the LA dining scene for the past few years since Michelin left or what?

                                                    "Each city has it's own dining signature be it LA, OC, SF or NYC."

                                                    If the general quality of food was the same in all of those 4, that would be true. But when you have a general ethos in an area of restaurants that don't seem to care about the quality of their ingredients, it's difficult to have it compete with the others. Maybe smaller areas simply can't establish that kind of culture though. It's still worth the discussion in my opinion, to see if things could change. At one time LA didn't embrace that ethos, and dining was not nearly as good there. I don't see why the same couldn't happen in OC.

                                                    1. re: Stravinsky

                                                      " Why doesn't LA have something like Atelier Crenn or Benu or Manresa or Coi?"

                                                      Again, it does. Not sure if you've just been ignoring the LA dining scene for the past few years since Michelin left or what?
                                                      ====================
                                                      Name them.

                                                      I dine in LA at least twice a month and SF, Miami, and abroad multiple times a year. Feel free to look through my posts.

                                                      1. re: Porthos

                                                        Alma, Allumette, Red Medicine, Orsa and Winston, Providence, The Bazaar, Melisse, Trois Mec, Scratch Bar, Patina, Drago Centro, N/Naka...

                                                        I am sure you must know them all, so now I suppose you can explain why you find these all to be inferior to the SF places you love.

                                                        But based on the criteria merely of "being like", as you phrased it originally, I honestly don't see how these places are not at least presenting cuisine that is like the cuisine at the places you named. The point being that at least you can point to quite a few places even making the attempt (and, in my opinion, succeeding at it quite often).

                                                        1. re: Stravinsky

                                                          Alma, Allumette, Red Medicine, Orsa and Winston, Providence, The Bazaar, Melisse, Trois Mec, Scratch Bar, Patina, Drago Centro, N/Naka...

                                                          I am sure you must know them all, so now I suppose you can explain why you find these all to be inferior to the SF places you love.
                                                          ====================
                                                          First of all, I never said inferior. That's your stance. I go to SF for things I can't get in LA/OC but I still very much enjoy what I have down here.

                                                          I've been to most of those and none of them are along the lines of Crenn, Benu, Coi, Manresa. Have you been to the restaurants you listed? N/naka (or Drago, or Trois Mec, or Patina, or Bazzar) is very different from Crenn, Benu, Coi, and Manresa. I would say SF has nothing like n/naka. Even the regional Italian in both cities have different focuses. Doesn't mean either city is inferior.

                                                          You started a "discussion" of why one place doesn't have another and implied inferiority based on it. I used SF as an example to illustrate how each city is different. Doesn't mean either city is inferior or that it lacks focus or culture or care for food.

                                                          1. re: Porthos

                                                            I truly don't know what you're getting at.

                                                            I mean, to a certain extent, the cuisine at the restaurants we are talking about is so high-level that it is going to be unique to the restaurants themselves. You wouldn't see a food trend based on the cuisine of N/Naka, or Atalier Crenn...

                                                            So how could you expect there to be the same restaurants in another city?

                                                            I don't understand what you are getting at really.

                                                            I had previously figured you meant the general approach to food. Like techniques, general style, presentation, quality of ingredients, etc...

                                                            I guess I don't really know what the question "is there anything like..." means. If it means "are there direct copies of X?" then obviously there aren't.

                                                            I had interpreted it more broadly.

                                                            I guess by that standard, of course it is unreasonable to compare anywhere to anywhere else.

                                                  2. re: PHXeater

                                                    "the city center is still LA"

                                                    What does this mean exactly? LA is huge.

                                                    "If Phoenix had a resurgence in ingredient driven, locally sourced food over the past 5+ years then it doesn't make any sense that logistically OC hasn't already and I'm sure they can get the same ingredients LA gets."

                                                    I completely agree. That is what motivated this thread. I don't see why OC hasn't embraced this.

                                                    In thinking about it, it could simply be that there is a strong link between ingredient-driven cooking and "hipster culture". The OC remaining mostly a conservative suburban place simply hasn't caught fire. Indeed, the few places where chefs are doing good things tend to be in places that are the center of "hipster culture" in OC, like the OCMartMix, or downtown Santa Ana.

                                                    "5. You are comparing LA to OC. I think it's an apples to oranges comparison. It would be a little more valid to say LA vs. SF or other similar size cities but OC has never been on the same level as LA, and never will be."

                                                    Well, LA rivals SF in every way except maybe the ultra-high end. I am not interested in that tireless debate. It's not really the same debate at all.

                                                    There may never be as many great restaurants in OC as LA due to size factor, but the general quality of food ought to be something that can rise. Shouldn't it?

                                                    Perhaps it is just trends taking time. I hope that's right.

                                                    I wouldn't be offended really. It's just the reality of things.

                                                    But there's actually tons of fun eating in OC. It's not like it's a total wasteland or anything. At the "low" end, there is incredible Mexican cuisine all over. Awesome Indian food. Vietnamese. Some of the best donuts in the country. Various "surfer cuisine" places that do interesting stuff.

                                                    "But this shouldn't be about winning or losing, but about finding the most quality restaurants."

                                                    That is the goal. I don't really care if OC "beats LA". I care more about helping to establish a culinary culture that values high-quality ingredients so that the general level of dining is the same in the two areas.

                                                    Taco Maria currently does something very special in OC. ARC might have crafted a better burger than anywhere in LA.

                                                    But man...you have some truly wonderful adventures ahead of you in LA if you've hit everywhere in OC. I am almost envious of that neophyte status in some ways haha

                                                    1. re: Stravinsky

                                                      ""the city center is still LA"

                                                      What does this mean exactly? LA is huge."

                                                      - I mean that people from Inland Empire, the Valley, OC, etc. all seem to still congregate towards "LA" for high end, or cutting edge, dining. This is coming from a newcomer perspective but it seems that way to me - I'd say the majority of threads here support that but please correct me if I'm wrong. I realize it's not as much of a city center as Manhattan, but the majority of really good food in ANY city tends to be where the densest population is, not the far flung, sleepy suburbs (I'm looking at you Mission Viejo :) ).

                                                      "Well, LA rivals SF in every way except maybe the ultra-high end. I am not interested in that tireless debate. It's not really the same debate at all."

                                                      -I'm not interested in that tireless debate either :), but the point was that is a fairer comparison than comparing OC vs. LA with the large population differences and that OC is in many ways a massive suburb of LA (again this is from a mostly outsider perspective)

                                                      "But man...you have some truly wonderful adventures ahead of you in LA if you've hit everywhere in OC. I am almost envious of that neophyte status in some ways haha"

                                                      - I agree with you here, when tackling a metropolitan area this huge it is REALLY hard to know where to start so I started close to home and am working my way out. The possibilities of the hundreds of restaurants I have yet to try is exciting. Heck, even my Costa Mesa ramen tour had me incredibly excited!
                                                      ----

                                                      Overall though, I don't think the quality in OC is as dire as you make it out to be. To be fair I have very limited experiences in LA so far but have eaten my way across many cities in this country and don't think it's THAT bad. It's not as if we're getting canned green beans at our best restaurants, or anything.

                                                      As far as the story of refreshing squid with cold water...ew. I hope that type of story was just restricted to that restaurant.

                                                      1. re: PHXeater

                                                        "I mean that people from Inland Empire, the Valley, OC, etc. all seem to still congregate towards "LA" for high end, or cutting edge, dining. This is coming from a newcomer perspective but it seems that way to me - I'd say the majority of threads here support that but please correct me if I'm wrong. I realize it's not as much of a city center as Manhattan, but the majority of really good food in ANY city tends to be where the densest population is."
                                                        Totally agree that the urban density drives that engine.
                                                        if you can have around 500K people within a 15-minute commute to your place, especially with quality incomes, then you stand a much better chance of success than having a lower density, meaning in the OC, the SFV, Santa Clarita, South Bay, etc.
                                                        A large and available employment pool to meet all staffing needs, and having the public transportation to get them to work, makes the situation even easier.
                                                        Rent - in LA the retail rents are really not much different from those in the OC, but in LA you might not need as much parking, as valet seems to rule for most places.

                                                        1. re: PHXeater

                                                          So, how do you feel about down town Santa Ana?

                                                          Having grown up here, while it's true OC is a suburb of LA, it's hard to view it that way. It seems like a distinct place, with similar sections to LA's.

                                                          "It's not as if we're getting canned green beans at our best restaurants, or anything."

                                                          Are you sure? =/ I feel like it actually does get that bad... not at the very, very top, but you find some stuff going on that is almost that bad at places with the pretense of serving high quality, high-priced food...

                                                          It's bad enough that I am almost wary to try a new place in OC...

                                                          If you would like some essential recs for LA though...I have all of those you need. I agree, it's almost impossible to choose where to go in LA. I am actually working on launching a dining guide service to have guided dinners at LA restaurants in order to help people out with this problem!

                                                        2. re: Stravinsky

                                                          Quote: "But man...you have some truly wonderful adventures ahead of you in LA if you've hit everywhere in OC. I am almost envious of that neophyte status in some ways haha"

                                                          You haven't bothered to click on Porthos's profile to see his/her posting history, I take it? He/she is very well-versed in the LA dining scene....

                                                          My own take on this is what has been mentioned above. I'm not hugely familiar w/ the OC, but it doesn't seem very "urban" to me. It seems like a place where people settle down to find affordable housing in safe areas w/ good public schools to raise their families. They have many priorities besides blowing $ on food on a regular-enough basis to make establishing many higher-end places worth it. JHMO.

                                                          1. re: ilysla

                                                            Idk...what about down town Santa Ana?

                                                            As far as the urban/suburban thing, well, it's somewhat correct, but there are plenty of parts of LA that are just rows of houses where people live quiet lives.

                                                            It seems to me like a lot of well off people in OC, who like to go out and spend lots of money at restaurants.

                                                            Maybe I'm simply wrong...the existence, and flourishing of places like the OCMix Mart seem to confirm that people like to go out and spend lots of money on good food in OC though. At least when it's available.

                                                            1. re: Stravinsky

                                                              They spend a lot of money but most of it is on mediocre or boring food in pleasant surroundings nearby (Gulfstream, Charlie Palmer, pretty much any restaurant in Newport). They simply don't know any better.

                                                              Playground is doing a good job of gradually expanding the palates of the rich Newportians but there are limits, even for them.

                                                              1. re: matcohen

                                                                There is a lot of stereotyping about OC residents and Newportians happening by some folks here. It's natural to some degree but some responses make me wonder if some of you really think that about us!

                                                                1. re: PHXeater

                                                                  I live in the OC. I've eaten in the restaurants. Call it stereotype. Call it a conclusion after extensive observation. It is what it is.

                                                                2. re: matcohen

                                                                  Playground fucking sux though Lola Fucking Gsapar is slightly passable especially in re to their butterscot h pudding.

                                                              2. re: ilysla

                                                                Yeah, don't mess with Porthos. And he really knows his shit. He's da man. :)