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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!).


    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?


              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.


              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.


                      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. :)

                                                          2. Every city in the U.S. is different.

                                                            Having traveled and eaten extensively at NYC, SF, Portland, Austin, Nashville, and sporadically at places like Boston, Atlanta, DC, Chicago and Dallas, and with business interests in various corners of the U.S., and living here in SoCal, I can tell you no two cities are alike.

                                                            I can also tell you that there's no rhyme or reason for why no two cities (or regions) are alike.

                                                            It's not about whether one place is necessarily "better" than another -- it's just that they are different. Uniquely good in their own way.

                                                            And for that we should be grateful.

                                                            Your question is like asking why two snowflakes are never identical.

                                                            Terrific tête-à-tête topic for those in-between moments during a good chess match.

                                                            But if you're looking for a definitive answer here on Chowhound, you should first try and help out Captain Ahab. I hear there's this fish he's looking for ...

                                                            8 Replies
                                                            1. re: ipsedixit

                                                              I disagree.

                                                              It is not merely "different".

                                                              I think this discussion has already been fruitful in identifying some problem factors.

                                                              The lack of chef-driven restaurants.

                                                              The lack of cultural ethos pushing restaurants to be ashamed of cutting costs in favor of delivering the best/freshest ingredients.

                                                              Suburban environment/lack of dining culture.

                                                              It largely seems like an information and education problem. That's something that could be worked on. I also don't think it is necessarily just "different". Using lower-quality ingredients and presenting it with the pretense of freshness and high-quality is not merely a "difference". Examples abound just in this thread of this happening in OC dining establishments. I believe it's something worth thinking about how to change. The projects that already are making headway in OC should be heavily encouraged, and enjoyed.

                                                              How does wanting to make the dining scene in general better equate to not enjoying the good elements of the dining scene for what they are?

                                                              How do things improve without criticism?

                                                              It's been a good topic for learning from those interested in discussing it. I think there are things that can be done about these things as well.

                                                              1. re: ipsedixit

                                                                i'm kinda with ipse here. every city is different, and they all have good things and bad things.
                                                                the whole competitive aspect of this is...kinda like a hamster wheel, i guess.
                                                                the reward for all that running is i've learned some good restaurants to go to.
                                                                as for answering your question, let's give up a tribute for the times: "i guess/but i just don't know."

                                                                1. re: linus

                                                                  Difference shouldn't include "lower quality ingredients passed off as high-quality".

                                                                  1. re: Stravinsky

                                                                    oddly, i have rarely if ever run into a restaurant "passing off" anything.

                                                                2. re: ipsedixit

                                                                  Melville may be shocked to learn that it's a mammal.

                                                                  1. re: J.L.

                                                                    I thought it was an inside reference to a certain overly ubiquitous Seattle coffee chain that took up where a certain golden "arch"-type left off?

                                                                    1. re: J.L.

                                                                      That's why he's had such a hard time finding it.

                                                                    2. re: ipsedixit

                                                                      Terrific tête-à-tête topic for those in-between moments during a good chess match.

                                                                      But if you're looking for a definitive answer here on Chowhound, you should first try and help out Captain Ahab. I hear there's this fish he's looking for ...


                                                                      I have to admit that I loved the above statements.

                                                                    3. Why is it a problem that a suburb has a lesser food scene than a city?

                                                                      The food scene in Manhattan is better than in the Outer Boroughs. SF is better than South Bay. LA is better than OC.

                                                                      Could probably extend to most large cities in the world. The food scene in Taipei is certainly better than in Hsinchu.

                                                                      It should be more interesting and worthy of discussion if the food scene in a suburb was better than the city itself.

                                                                      32 Replies
                                                                      1. re: huaqiao

                                                                        What's truly worthy (which happens on CH on a daily basis) is discussing "...the best restaurants and food in the Greater Los Angeles Area (inc. Orange, Ventura, and SW San Bernardino Counties)"

                                                                        The rest of it is much ado about nothing.

                                                                        1. re: huaqiao

                                                                          A lesser food scene in the sense of "less great restaurants" is one thing.

                                                                          A lesser food scene in the sense that the quality of ingredients used is lower is something else.

                                                                          At least that's my feeling.

                                                                          I don't think it's worthwhile asking why there isn't a Bäco Mercat clone in OC.

                                                                          I do think it's worthwhile asking why it isn't considered part of being a high-end restaurant to user Weiser Family Farms beets in OC, like it is in LA.

                                                                          1. re: Stravinsky

                                                                            "I don't think it's worthwhile asking why there isn't a Bäco Mercat clone in OC."

                                                                            Not enough hipster wannabees in OC to keep them in business.

                                                                            1. re: matcohen

                                                                              How can you be a hipster-wannabe?

                                                                              Have you been to the OCMart Mix? Or The Camp? Or downtown Santa Ana? I assume those are the types of people you mean...seems like there's enough of them?

                                                                              1. re: Stravinsky

                                                                                How can you be a hipster-wannabe?

                                                                                The clothing without the philosophy.

                                                                                DTSA actually now has a decent number of Newportians supporting places like Playrgound. You need hipster wannabes with decent cash.

                                                                                1. re: matcohen

                                                                                  What is the philosophy?

                                                                                  I mean, if you're eating at the Playground, then you're engaging in the philosophy, aren't you?

                                                                                  1. re: Stravinsky

                                                                                    no, if you're eating at playground, you're just...eating at playground. sheesh.

                                                                                    1. re: linus

                                                                                      I don't think so...

                                                                                      If that's true, then, there is no such thing as a hipster. So it's a moot point.

                                                                                      1. re: Stravinsky

                                                                                        a very strong argument could be made there is, indeed, NO such thing as a h**ster.

                                                                                        1. re: linus

                                                                                          I friend of mine is somewhat of an expert on hipster subculture. I'm sure he'd disagree.

                                                                                          I'm somewhat familiar with hipster wines.

                                                                                          1. re: linus

                                                                                            Well, it's certainly almost impossible to define them...

                                                                                            1. re: Stravinsky

                                                                                              It's hard to be an exert on hipsters unless you are one. I'm not. But hipster hats are hard to miss. :-)


                                                                                              1. re: Stravinsky

                                                                                                I would not have thought that the hipster thing would turn in to the most controversial topic on this thread.

                                                                                                1. re: matthewlcohen

                                                                                                  "you just keep thinkin, butch. that's what you're good at."

                                                                                                  -- william goldman.

                                                                                        2. re: Stravinsky

                                                                                          I don't think Playground is a hipster place. I can't say that I've seen many hipsters there.

                                                                                          1. re: matthewlcohen

                                                                                            Alright, well, Bäco is no more or less a hipster place than the Playground then.

                                                                                            1. re: Stravinsky

                                                                                              They had ton of people in those goofy hats with silly hipster haircuts when I was there.

                                                                                              At any rate - I was (i thought obviously) joking about the hipster thing.

                                                                                              I think that Baco's food is not wow enough to really succeed in OC. Playground has some of that kind of food but they also have stuff with more broad appeal like Pork Chops, Fried Chicken, Wagyu steak, etc.

                                                                                              Also - don't get me wrong, I liked Baco. A lot. I just don't think that it would do well in the OC at present.

                                                                                              1. re: matthewlcohen

                                                                                                "I think that Baco's food is not wow enough to really succeed in OC. Playground has some of that kind of food but they also have stuff with more broad appeal like Pork Chops, Fried Chicken, Wagyu steak, etc."

                                                                                                This doesn't make sense... do you mean "too wow to succeed"?

                                                                                                1. re: Stravinsky

                                                                                                  No - I mean that you need a certain number of dishes that are fairly obvious to bring in the Newport crowd. A wow dish. Wagyu beef - wow! Look at at size of that pork chop - wow!

                                                                                                  1. re: matthewlcohen

                                                                                                    Ah, ok. I see. That is a different sense of wow than I was thinking of.

                                                                                                    I have to admit, I am total sucker for the Playground's wagyu though. The 48 hour shortribs they do are the best presentation of wagyu I've had anywhere I think. I m guilty of always ordering it =(

                                                                                                    1. re: Stravinsky

                                                                                                      There is nothing to feel bad about. The dishes are great. Not everything has to be some clever, innovative intellectual exercise.

                                                                                                      1. re: matthewlcohen

                                                                                                        I suppose not.

                                                                                                        Personally, I feel like every great dish is somewhat of an intellectual achievement though.

                                                                                                    2. re: matthewlcohen

                                                                                                      Is that why it's described as A5 prime Wagyu Beef at the Playground ???????

                                                                                                      1. re: kevin

                                                                                                        You'd have to ask them. I know that they are proud of the quality of Wagyu that they serve. I am personally not a fan of Wagyu.

                                                                                                2. re: Stravinsky

                                                                                                  It seemed like everyone at Baco had some sort of ironic hat.

                                                                                        3. re: matcohen

                                                                                          BacO stinks.

                                                                                          Sorry Mr Igor Starvinksy.

                                                                                          1. re: kevin

                                                                                            It doesn't stink it just is what it is. It's more cerebral and interesting than blow your head off with richness/umami.

                                                                                      2. re: huaqiao

                                                                                        LA doesn't have a Manhattan and to many it sort of looks like a featureless plain in terms of a center. It's not, but that kind of view generates an expectation that Orange County will be just the same as core LA, which you wouldn't expect in Westchester County, New York.

                                                                                        This thread hasn't really discussed demographics. It seems to me that a lot of your pricier restaurant dining is done by affluent 25-40 year olds, many of whom live in central city or inner suburban areas A lot of them are childless.. Of course there are lots of other people who eat out, but they are a key constituency. That group exists in droves in LA, all the more so with the presence of the entertainment industry.

                                                                                        To the extent there's a strong center, these folks have an easier place to congegrate. LA offers Downtown, Santa Monica, to some extent West Hollywood.

                                                                                        Orange County is famously rich, but it tends to be a different kind of rich--older, family-oriented, more settled. They eat out some, but not as much as the LA folks. The stereotype at least is that as people get older they become more interested in the experience than the food, though I'm sure that's not true of chowhounds.

                                                                                        1. re: redrover

                                                                                          "To the extent there's a strong center, these folks have an easier place to congegrate. LA offers Downtown, Santa Monica, to some extent West Hollywood."

                                                                                          To an extent WeHo?... Come on man, a huge number of LA's best restaurants are on the various stretches of Beverly Blvd in/immediately adjacent to WeHo.

                                                                                          What about Culver City?

                                                                                          What about Venice?

                                                                                          What about Silverlake / Echo Park?

                                                                                          All of those places have insanely good restaurants.

                                                                                          Surely there are places of equal congregational possibility in OC.

                                                                                          Perhaps it is the lack of the 25-35 set of young professionals?

                                                                                          Well, we've seen that OC folks are supporting more places. Maybe they are dining out more? If they can support places like The Playground, and Taco Maria, then why not more?

                                                                                          It seems like Down Town Santa Ana will have to increasingly be the site of this as it seems like the most likely center where people can walk around and congregate.

                                                                                          1. re: Stravinsky

                                                                                            it's not like every restaurant in LA is good, either. and there are a lot of good restaurants in OC that have been mentioned but you don't seem to be interested in ethnic places, which is OC's strength.

                                                                                            Many popular restaurants in LA are booked a month in advance. OC doesn't have the density to be capable of supporting restaurants like that.

                                                                                            1. re: jaykayen

                                                                                              I'm exceptionally interested in ethnic cuisine. However, there is no problem really with that cuisine in OC. That's part of the reason I don't understand why the higher end doesn't match up with it.

                                                                                              1. re: Stravinsky

                                                                                                Because the ethnic cuisine is eaten by ethnics. Some of those are knowledgeable foodies (mostly Asian) who patronize high end places but there aren't enough rich white folk who support the good high end places and disavow the bad ones to create a solidly good high end dining scene.

                                                                                      3. restaurants go where the customers will support them. and culturally, people in OC spend their money in other ways than going to fine-dining restaurants. until the customers support them, many will try to find ways to make money by cutting corners, etc. until very recently in la, that was just the golden triangle (santa monica to beverly hills). as we've seen, that can change.

                                                                                        12 Replies
                                                                                        1. re: FED

                                                                                          But clearly someone is supporting places like The Playground, Lola Gaspar, Taco Maria, ARC, Marche Moderne, Mozza, Ortica, etc... So there is some kind of crowd right?

                                                                                          Perhaps (hopefully?) it is just a matter of time before that ethos gets spread out more?

                                                                                          1. re: Stravinsky

                                                                                            There is but those places all came in the last 10 years. Most in the last 5 years.

                                                                                            And I hardly think that Mozza and Marche Moderne are so great. Mozza's food is underseasoned and soulless and Marche Moderne either under or over salts half of the food. If they executed properly, they would be fantastic.

                                                                                            Losing the Goodells was a major blow to the OC dining scene.

                                                                                            1. re: matcohen

                                                                                              I'm throwing some bones to OC...

                                                                                              What are your top picks?

                                                                                              1. re: Stravinsky

                                                                                                Pinas Bistro.

                                                                                                I should not even be recing this joint bc I don't want it overrrrrun but whatever fuuuuuuucccccckkkkkk it.

                                                                                                No joke.

                                                                                                1. re: kevin

                                                                                                  The marinara sauce there is off the hook. Everything else is ok. But its worth it for the sauce. I could drink the sauce.

                                                                                                2. re: Stravinsky

                                                                                                  Unfortunately, matcohen is correct about Marche Moderne and Mozza if one is feeling critical. Tough cookies...

                                                                                                  Have you tried Side Door at Five Crowns in Corona del Mar?

                                                                                                  1. re: jaykayen

                                                                                                    Side Door is ok but very standard gastropub fare.

                                                                                                  2. re: Stravinsky

                                                                                                    For High End Food
                                                                                                    1. Playground 1 and 2
                                                                                                    2. Sol del Sur
                                                                                                    3. Taco Maria
                                                                                                    4. Ikko
                                                                                                    5. Ohshima
                                                                                                    6. S
                                                                                                    7. Little Sparrow - certain dishes are terrific
                                                                                                    8. Golden Truffle (some dishes are amazing)

                                                                                                    Honestly, much after that, I can easily beat at home. Anyone wanna bring a decent bottle of non-spoofulated wine and join me, E-Mail me at matcohen@cox.net.

                                                                                                    There are a TON of great meals to be had though that are not high end.
                                                                                                    1. Trieu Chau
                                                                                                    2. Philly's Best
                                                                                                    3. Las Brisas de Apatzingan
                                                                                                    4. Shin sen Gumi
                                                                                                    5. Amorelia
                                                                                                    6. Ostioneria Bahia
                                                                                                    7. El Cabrito
                                                                                                    8. Chili Chutney
                                                                                                    9. Ramos House
                                                                                                    10. Gelato Paradiso
                                                                                                    11. Mil Jugos
                                                                                                    12. Pho Thanh Lich
                                                                                                    13. Sushi Shibucho
                                                                                                    14. Rincon Chilango
                                                                                                    15. The Mess (Irvine Halal)
                                                                                                    16. Break of Dawn
                                                                                                    17. Granjenal
                                                                                                    18 Reynas Market
                                                                                                    19. Baja FIsh Tacos
                                                                                                    20. Shuck
                                                                                                    21. Pandor
                                                                                                    22. Il Dolce
                                                                                                    23. Kappo Sui
                                                                                                    24. Early Bird
                                                                                                    25. Ole
                                                                                                    26. El Moctezuma
                                                                                                    27. Mollies Country Kitchen
                                                                                                    28. Mattern
                                                                                                    29. Tacos Jerez
                                                                                                    30. Kasen
                                                                                                    31. Mick's Karma Bar
                                                                                                    32. Break of Dawn

                                                                                                    1. re: matcohen

                                                                                                      What are the specific dishes at Little Sparrow and Golden Truffle?

                                                                                                      I'll have to keep this list in mind.

                                                                                                      Is Breaking Dawn so good in your mind it was worth listing twice? =P

                                                                                                      1. re: Stravinsky

                                                                                                        Golden Truffle
                                                                                                        Avoid 1970s sounding dishes like
                                                                                                        Lido Veal Sweetbreads with Bacon, Mushrooms & Madeira Cream
                                                                                                        or lobster salad
                                                                                                        Get fresh fish or smoked or cured fish.
                                                                                                        If you can call ahead and ask for Choucroute garnie do so - stunning. If you do that email me and I'll join you.

                                                                                                        Little Sparrow
                                                                                                        charcuterie plate is sick (house made)
                                                                                                        chocolate cake

                                                                                                        1. re: matthewlcohen

                                                                                                          Interesting. Nice that someone is doing housemade charcuterie in OC.

                                                                                                          What dishes do like particularly like at S?

                                                                                                          Out of curiosity, have you ever been to D4, the gastropub out in Mission Viejo?

                                                                                                          Or, more importantly, the Anepalco's at the Ayres that does dinner?

                                                                                                          I'm really surprised it seems like no one has been to that Anepalco's on chowhound. It seems like a very interesting menu, but would like to hear about it's execution from others before jumping into it.

                                                                                                          1. re: Stravinsky

                                                                                                            Many have mentioned that place here.

                                                                                                            Golden truffle does quirky, eccentric, and somewhat experimental riffs on Cal-French cuisine.

                                                                                            2. I'll help you answer your own question. If you can figure out why most of the "hip" new restaurants open up in the mission and SOMA in SF vs. Noe Valley, the Sunset or Glen Park, then that it should make sense.

                                                                                              5 Replies
                                                                                              1. re: chezwhitey

                                                                                                That's easy to figure out. Mission has cheaper rent and is better configured for restaurant locations.

                                                                                                  1. re: chezwhitey

                                                                                                    Seems like you should just enlighten the world.

                                                                                                      1. re: chezwhitey

                                                                                                        I think my suggestion was a lot more helpful than the link you posted, which doesn't say anything about rent prices and space available. More enlightenment, please...

                                                                                                1. re: Chandavkl

                                                                                                  suburban is actually an important factor. not just because the people who choose to live in those areas (like me) have other priorities than dropping a couple of hundred dollars for dinner very frequently, but because of the issue of driving -- not only are restaurants longer distances, but there's the alcohol situation as well.

                                                                                                2. Many cities in the OC are relatively newer cities with more recent commercial developments. Quite often, newer commercial developments have requirements that a certain percentage of the restaurants or other establishments must be national or local chains because the planners think it would be more popular and upscale that way.

                                                                                                  3 Replies
                                                                                                  1. re: raytamsgv

                                                                                                    That really sucks.

                                                                                                    Thank goodness that places like the OC Mart Mix, and The Camp seem to have been able to avoid this hassle of development.

                                                                                                    1. re: Stravinsky

                                                                                                      I think that they also have difficult terms and prefer the more established brands as they are lower risk.

                                                                                                      OC Mart Mix, and The Camp were set up for that purpose. Heck with the Mix Mart, you have to do something different to get people to traipse out there.

                                                                                                      1. re: matthewlcohen

                                                                                                        Portola Coffee had a big hand in it. When they were first there it was them and a bunch of furniture stores... crazy.

                                                                                                        Now it's an oasis. The space that coffee built!

                                                                                                        You have to traipse no matter where you go in OC, don't you? Is it that much further than South Coast Plaza?

                                                                                                  2. The existence of the lack of a great number of superior restaurants in Orange County is not the result of a curtain; it is from a gap as wide and deep as the Grand Canyon.

                                                                                                    LA successfully marketed and sold the dream.

                                                                                                    No pretty girl ever grew up saying, "I want to leave Iowa and go to Anaheim; it was always, Hollywood, baby".

                                                                                                    No miserable, wretched, talented East Coast writer ever left the horrible winter weather to move to Santa Ana to write screenplays that would finance their time for the next "Great American" play or novel.

                                                                                                    At one time, LA had world class newspapers producing world class journalism, attracting another level of intellectuals contributing to the image and the dream.

                                                                                                    Then and now, Orange County has "the Register", the former house organ of the John Birch society.

                                                                                                    Then and now, like attracts like. The search for wealth, beauty and achievement consumes enormous amounts of energy and creates great hungers.

                                                                                                    7 Replies
                                                                                                    1. re: Gypsy Jan

                                                                                                      I'm actually surprised by the number of Eastern Europeans and Germans I'm meeting down here these days who are on vacation and stop by OC before heading up to LA. Not an insane number but at least a group every 1-2 months. How does one from Europe even know to come to OC?

                                                                                                      1. re: Porthos

                                                                                                        Moscow Deli.

                                                                                                        Matteren deli.


                                                                                                        Maybe there's a huge expat community but I'm not quite sure.

                                                                                                        1. re: kevin

                                                                                                          Doesn't explain the Khazakstanian and Romanians.

                                                                                                        2. re: Porthos

                                                                                                          Disneyland, Knott's Berry Farm, the beaches, etc. They probably just don't go for the food.

                                                                                                          1. re: raytamsgv

                                                                                                            Ha! Totally forgot about that Disneyland thing.

                                                                                                            1. re: JAB

                                                                                                              Obviously. That's more than reason enough for me to be a tourist of the greener pastures of The OC.

                                                                                                        3. I think OC has always represented the "second string", if you will. Do we see Gustavo Dudamel conducting the local philharmonic orchestra at the OC Performing Arts Center ? Nnnnnnoooo, we don't. We have...somebody else, who I'm sure is quite good, just fine...but we don't get the A-listers, much. I think it's the same with cuisine, in general. We might (and do) get spinoffs from the big chefs (like Splichal, Silverton, and so on), but the brilliant innovators probably either started in a major metropolitan city like LA, or gravitated there once it became clear they had the chops.

                                                                                                          So, ever since I've been here (a long time), things trickle down to OC pretty gradually, whether it's food trucks or craft cocktails, or farm-to-table....I'm super-happy that Surfas finally could make a business case to open a location in Costa Mesa - may they live long and prosper. But I do worry, sometimes, when I go in at an off-peak time and the place is kinda empty except for the employees. Come on people, I can't do it all myself ! :-)

                                                                                                          62 Replies
                                                                                                          1. re: mikester

                                                                                                            I too have thought about this.

                                                                                                            Maybe it is just that there are a few first-stringers in OC that have fooled me.

                                                                                                            The best example has to be Portola Coffee, and their lab Theorem. They manage to produce coffee that beats virtually everywhere in LA, despite LA being one of the biggest/best cities for coffee in the country.

                                                                                                            Then you have Taco Maria, which is quite recent, but clearly able to stand with any place in LA.

                                                                                                            Another might as well be Sidecar donuts, which at least competes with, if not beats the best donuts in LA.

                                                                                                            So OC has some first-stringers.

                                                                                                            Why not more?

                                                                                                            Maybe it's true, it's just not as appealing to live in OC.

                                                                                                            The main thing I'd like to see trickle down is the farm-to-table thing, which high-quality, local ingredients being used. It really makes all the difference.

                                                                                                            I wish I could convince the guys behind Salt's Cure to open one up in OC...

                                                                                                            1. re: Stravinsky

                                                                                                              Yes, totally agree about the exceptions you note. I'd also note a place like ARC, in the SoCo Mix or whatever it's called. Or Bruxie, for that matter. But these are very recent additions to the food scene here - hopefully a sign that things are really turning around and of more great things to come !

                                                                                                              1. re: mikester


                                                                                                                I guess it's a nice chain. What about the Iron Press?

                                                                                                                I would rather see less gimmicky dining take a foothold, but yeah, I guess it is nice to see something that like that be successful anyway.

                                                                                                                1. re: Stravinsky

                                                                                                                  Well I mention Bruxie because I'm fairly sure they were well before Iron Press, and they started in the City of Orange, in a little shack across from Chapman College. So they pretty much led the way when it came to innovating the waffle as a sandwich, using creative fillings, at least in the OC (was there anything like it anywhere in So Cal ? I'm not talking about a Roscoe's or other soul food type Chicken and Waffles thing, these are in a class by themselves and anyway, not sandwiches.)

                                                                                                                  And, it's pretty damn good IMO. I like their version of the fried chicken waffle sandwich quite a bit more than the one I tried at Iron Press.

                                                                                                                  Too bad they don't have the craft beers, but their shakes are really really good.

                                                                                                                  As far as Bruxie being a (LOCAL) chain, I certainly don't hold the owners' ambitions and aspirations against them, so long as the high quality and standards can be maintained (and from what I've heard and experienced so far they are).

                                                                                                                  1. re: mikester

                                                                                                                    I don't necessarily dislike Bruxie, just not sure I'd have thrown it in the same league with the other places I mentioned haha

                                                                                                                    It's something that's nice to have. Hopefully the quality doesn't decline with the somewhat rapid expansion.

                                                                                                                    I guess really my only wish is that I liked waffles more =P

                                                                                                                    You know another thing that OC has that is better than LA, funnily enough, is ice cream (popped into my mind because of the mention of Bruxie shakes). Between the shakes at Bruxie, and the shakes, and frozen custard at Strickland's, and actually, the gelato at N'Ice Cream, the ice cream scene pretty much blows LA's out of the water.

                                                                                                                    Especially in terms of shakes. Pretty much nowhere in LA seems to know how to make a proper milkshake...

                                                                                                                    But in terms of just eating ice cream...haven't found anything that is as gorgeous as Stricklands. Now if only they would use some artisan ingredients instead of throwing crap like M&M's in it... (but why would you get those flavors anyway, when you can get banana, or black raspberry that is out of this world?)

                                                                                                                    1. re: Stravinsky

                                                                                                                      Respectfully disagree, but I do like Stricklands though (I also like the old-school ice cream from Hans). To build off your ingredient-sourcing argument re: why LA is better, you can't discount that factor when it comes to ice cream as well. Artisan places like Sweet Rose use organic milk and farmer's market produce in their ice cream. Stricklands is technically a midwest chain/franchise, and their process is more...industrial as well. But again, I do like them a lot.

                                                                                                                      And milkshake argument? If you mean a proper one a la diner-style, I just had an excellent one from Pann's. No fuss, all-American classic. And there's plenty of places that can do that in LA.

                                                                                                                      And I didn't know that N'Ice was supposed to be gelato...

                                                                                                                      1. re: chrishei

                                                                                                                        Nah, diner shakes are fun, but there is a different type of milkshake I like even more. In OC, Harbor house does the best version of a diner shake I've ever had with their peanut butter shakes.

                                                                                                                        I like thick shakes though. Places in LA use way too much milk in their shakes. I don't want to drink flavored, thickened milk. Milkshakes are as much about texture as flavor to me.

                                                                                                                        Anyhow, whatever Strickland's uses to make the actual frozen custard works out pretty well. Their stuff comes out fresher than Sweet Rose. As I said, it's a shame they choose to muck it up with poor-quality stuff quite often, but ultimately, they get a flavor, and texture that is somehow better to me than a lot of what is done in LA. I guess it does come down to preference though. You get more singularity of flavor in Sweet Rose and Bulgarini. However, to me the height of ice cream is not necessarily eating it and thinking "oh, this tastes exactly like the thing!" If I wanted to just taste coffee, or pistachios, I would've just gotten coffee, or pistachios... I actually like for my ice cream to taste like "coffee + ice cream".

                                                                                                                        I wonder what kind of milk Stricklands actually uses now... I wonder how much it would be improved by using something like Clover milk...

                                                                                                                        Han's is also spectacular. That Huckleberry is amazing. I was amiss in not mentioning them earlier.

                                                                                                                        1. re: Stravinsky

                                                                                                                          This response is completely understandable. Your previous claims/remarks were more on the "best of" and absolute side...and only the Sith deals in absolutes.

                                                                                                                          I also understand the too much milk in milkshakes argument, but again, there are plenty of options in LA that should fit your criteria. You sound like a more well-traveled diner than me, and should have no problem searching this out.

                                                                                                                          But I do like Sweet Rose/Bulgarini because of the very reasons you gave. It's like eating (insert flavor ingredient here) in ice cream form. To eat ( ) + ice cream would not be a fully-constructed scoop IMO. But this is purely a preference issue.

                                                                                                                          I think Strickland just uses Altadena, or at least that's what I heard years ago.

                                                                                                                          1. re: chrishei

                                                                                                                            Yeah...you would think I'd be able to find what I desire in LA out of a milkshake huh? I've had them from pretty much everywhere it seems like. It's just something about LA preferences I suppose. People like thin shakes there...

                                                                                                                            Of course, in some sense, any claims of an absolute sense only apply relatively in terms of "I absolutely prefer X" haha

                                                                                                                            I think both ice cream scenes are sufficiently advanced in LA and OC that they come down to preferences.

                                                                                                                            Anyway, I try not to make the consumption of milkshakes too much of a regular thing, so it doesn't bother me too much haha

                                                                                                                            I mean, yeah, in an objective sense, the quality of Bulgarini and Sweet Rose is better than pretty much anywhere in OC.

                                                                                                                            It's still worth asking, in some sense, I would say, why there is not really an equivalent of those places in OC.

                                                                                                                            On a personal level though, the fact that Stricklands uses Altadena instead of Clover milk is negligible to me.

                                                                                                                            This is probably sacrilegious, but I'd go to Pazzo over Bulgarini most days even when I'm in LA for their salted caramel...(also the fact that they are open late).

                                                                                                                      2. re: Stravinsky

                                                                                                                        Scoop may have the best ice cream in the us. Best in Oc is gelato paradise which is excellent.

                                                                                                                2. re: Stravinsky

                                                                                                                  You keep talking about farm to table places...... What about the Ranch? I've never been, don't know much about it, except that it has it's own farm in the foothills of Orange.....

                                                                                                                  1. re: Dirtywextraolives

                                                                                                                    i think the farm to table thing might just be a shtick sometimes and quite overrated if not genuine.

                                                                                                                    uh-oh, hopefully i didn't start WWIII with that comment.

                                                                                                                    1. re: kevin

                                                                                                                      Do you mean at that restaurant, the Ranch, or in general? I'm really curious about the place, but it looks like a chainey place....can't decide.

                                                                                                                      1. re: Dirtywextraolives

                                                                                                                        Oh, I just meant in general, yeah. This was not in reference to The Ranch itself.

                                                                                                                        The people in OC have raved about The Ranch though, but some are raving about more for the nightlife aspect of it, I think.

                                                                                                                        Though Porthos did like it if I'm not mistaken.

                                                                                                                        1. re: kevin

                                                                                                                          That's what I was thinking, it kinda reads like a club/meat market..... I'm too old for that shit....but I thought I had read it had great food, but feel like I may be confusing it with some other place.

                                                                                                                          1. re: Dirtywextraolives

                                                                                                                            It does have some good food, I think.

                                                                                                                            And one of the few dining joints with good though maybe not exceptional food by LA standards.

                                                                                                                            1. re: Dirtywextraolives

                                                                                                                              The Ranch is a fancy steakhouse. Next door is The Saloon where people go for line dancing. I've only been on the Saloon side. I liked it because I found some great deals on their wine list. I did one of their sliders for DOM. That's the extend of my experience with them. The Ranch does get good reviews for their food though.

                                                                                                                                  1. re: Porthos

                                                                                                                                    now i'm picturing porthos line dancing, and it's not doing my digestion (chow content) any favours.

                                                                                                                                    1. re: linus

                                                                                                                                      I don't line dance. I attempt to salsa. ;-)

                                                                                                                            2. re: kevin

                                                                                                                              What's the gimmick?

                                                                                                                              If places really buy from high-quality farms and present it fresh to you, the taste is unmistakable.

                                                                                                                              1. re: kevin

                                                                                                                                It is a shtick when done poorly.
                                                                                                                                When done properly, it's just called Italian food.

                                                                                                                                1. re: matcohen

                                                                                                                                  When done properly, it is called French food.
                                                                                                                                  No such thing as good Italian food, unless of course the ingredients overlap, which of course they always do!!!
                                                                                                                                  In which case, good farm to table is good farm to table, regardless of location.

                                                                                                                                  1. re: carter

                                                                                                                                    Italian food is more minimally interventionist and hyper-seasonal.

                                                                                                                                  2. re: matcohen


                                                                                                                                    Well, honestly, how can it be done poorly?

                                                                                                                                    If you begin with solid ingredients you really have to be a poor chef to really mess them up.

                                                                                                                                    I do somewhat agree though. In Europe the whole farm-to-table thing makes no sense, as everything is farm-to-table.

                                                                                                                                    That is one way in which I am highly envious of Europe. It's truly tragic that the USA is not like that...

                                                                                                                                    1. re: Stravinsky

                                                                                                                                      There's plenty of bad food to be found in Europe. Lots of tourist traps serving bad food in Rome and Paris. Not everything is farm to table. The worst high end meal of my life was at some 2* restaurant (Hibiscus) in London.

                                                                                                                                      1. re: Porthos

                                                                                                                                        You can get artichokes year round in Rome. The locals don't eat them tough - they're frozen (other than the short season).

                                                                                                                                        1. re: Porthos

                                                                                                                                          That's true, but on average it seems to me the food is much better than in America.

                                                                                                                                          I really mean "on average" in a very general way. Just walking into a random place in Europe seemed to yield decent results. I would never walk into a random place in the USA...

                                                                                                                                          Even gas station food seemed to be decent in Europe.

                                                                                                                                          As far as the high(er)-end goes, and searching out meals, eh...yeah, I actually prefer USA dining weirdly enough.

                                                                                                                                          I am, admittedly, lacking in that much experience with European dining though. So my comments are in no way definitive.

                                                                                                                                          It just seemed to me that, in general, things were made/gotten locally in Europe, whereas that's mainly a "high end" thing in the USA.

                                                                                                                                          1. re: Stravinsky

                                                                                                                                            Just walking into a random place in Europe seemed to yield decent results
                                                                                                                                            In my experience this is a myth and no less true than than what you find here. Those beautiful romantic rotisserie chickens in Paris? Most of them are dried out.

                                                                                                                                            1. re: Porthos

                                                                                                                                              You can eat well in Europe and you can eat poorly. I think that it is easier to find a good place in most areas of France and Italy than it is here. They just have an older and more established culture of food than we do in most places.

                                                                                                                                              Having said that, in places like New Orleans where they have an established food tradition, you can do about as well as Europe if you are looking for certain things that are done well (po boys, gumbo, etc.).

                                                                                                                                        2. re: Stravinsky

                                                                                                                                          "Well, honestly, how can it be done poorly?

                                                                                                                                          If you begin with solid ingredients you really have to be a poor chef to really mess them up."

                                                                                                                                          I would say that more than 80% of American professional chefs cannot properly season their food, even at high end restaurants. So yes, it is very easy to mess up top quality ingredients. You can also over or under cook them.

                                                                                                                                          1. re: matcohen

                                                                                                                                            I really need to check out your favorite places... seems like you probably have some tremendous standards! (Which is not a bad thing in my book).

                                                                                                                                            1. re: Stravinsky


                                                                                                                                              And you might just have more time on your hands than me.

                                                                                                                                              And that aint no fucking joke.

                                                                                                                                              1. re: kevin

                                                                                                                                                I don't have a ton of free time but I eat out 2 times per weekend and I am very careful about where I eat. Gustavo Arellano and Dave Lieberman give excellent recommendations.

                                                                                                                                                I avoid lots of places based on the menu if it looks foolish.

                                                                                                                                                I've also lived here as an adult for 10+ years.

                                                                                                                                    2. re: Dirtywextraolives

                                                                                                                                      Guess I need to try it out. I didn't realize that they are literally a ranch.

                                                                                                                                      It seems likely to be pretty good if it's that locally sourced, haha.

                                                                                                                                      1. re: Stravinsky

                                                                                                                                        The Ranch. Whatever. Good place for a corporate event. White Boy Food Heaven,

                                                                                                                                        Buy some steaks at Bristol Farms or Meat House, cook in duck fat, rest 10 minutes serve and save yourself the trouble (and $60 a head)

                                                                                                                                    3. re: Stravinsky

                                                                                                                                      Don't know why there has to be a comparison to LA or, anywhere else but, have you been to 370 Common or Il Garage for OC farm to table?

                                                                                                                                      1. re: JAB

                                                                                                                                        I'm still looking to experience the food at Sol Del Sur Bistro http://soldelsurbistro.wordpress.com/ down in San Juan Capistrano.

                                                                                                                                        A place that puts together dishes such as their "Honey roasted Forelle pear infused with mascarpone & Dark Chocolate covered Bavarian blue cheese ice cream" must be doing something outside the typical run of the mill steak, chicken and fish.

                                                                                                                                        1. re: Servorg

                                                                                                                                          Wow, that looks like a heck of a find if they can execute on the dishes on that menu!

                                                                                                                                          1. re: Stravinsky

                                                                                                                                            It takes 15 minutes per dish so it can take a while but when they hit it, they hit it. A unique experience.

                                                                                                                                          2. re: Servorg

                                                                                                                                            Shame on you for not going. The food is great and he needs all the diners he can get.

                                                                                                                                            1. re: matcohen

                                                                                                                                              If I didn't live 60 miles away I'd have gone by now. I feel no sense of shame in not having gone. Some regret? Yeah, that I can cop to.

                                                                                                                                              1. re: Servorg

                                                                                                                                                Sheesh - that's probably one night's bike ride for you. :)

                                                                                                                                                1. re: bulavinaka

                                                                                                                                                  Getting riding in your bike already. :)

                                                                                                                                                  And grab me a couple dozen fucking donuts from Primo's.

                                                                                                                                          3. re: JAB

                                                                                                                                            That's the other place I was wondering about, il Garage.....

                                                                                                                                            1. re: Dirtywextraolives

                                                                                                                                              Il Garage is good, I went for my birthday two years ago.

                                                                                                                                              1. re: jaykayen

                                                                                                                                                Looks like Italian wannabe with 1 too many ingredients per dish.
                                                                                                                                                Fegato - Calves Liver, Balsamic Onions, Pesto Whipped Potatoes [lose the balsamic]
                                                                                                                                                Linguini Fresh Clams, Wine, Pancetta and Leeks [lose the pancetta]
                                                                                                                                                I am generally highly skeptical of any restaurants that uses (commercial) balsamic vinegar. It's like a steak house that puts ketchup on the steak.
                                                                                                                                                But it sounds like you could do worse.

                                                                                                                                                1. re: matcohen

                                                                                                                                                  To each his own. Pancetta and clams is a classic pairing, though surely you're correct a pasta dish doesn't need it

                                                                                                                                                  Onions is probably the one of the more legitimate uses for commercial balsamic. Commercial balsamic is used at the table in Italian homes, I don't really have a problem with it. Nothing wrong with disliking, or liking the taste of commercial balsamic.

                                                                                                                                                  1. re: jaykayen

                                                                                                                                                    I've never seen the commercial stuff at a good resto in Italy. I've eaten fegato alla veneziana a dozen times in Italy and made. It about as many times at home. There is no reason to add balsamic. If you cook the onions properly they are plenty sweet.

                                                                                                                                                    Also pasta with clam sauce does not have pancetta. Nor leeks for that matter.

                                                                                                                                                    It just shows the lack of a pure and mature approach to the dishes.

                                                                                                                                                    1. re: jaykayen

                                                                                                                                                      Pasta & pancetta are classic. Why wouldn't you want pancetta with pasta. I make carbonara with it all the time, as guanciale is not easy to come by without a trek.

                                                                                                                                                      1. re: Dirtywextraolives

                                                                                                                                                        Not with clams and leeks.
                                                                                                                                                        This is not about that dish. It speaks to an approach. Italian in Oc sucks bc chefs can't resist adding more ingredients than needed. Real Italian in Italy is very simple and restrained.

                                                                                                                                                        1. re: matthewlcohen

                                                                                                                                                          Before you go ripping OC chefs for using panchetta and clams together, realize that Osteria Mozza (and Babbo in NYC for that matter) uses panchetta in their linguine with with clams. Before you go ripping into Mozza and Batali, you have to at least recognize how many successful restaurants he has.

                                                                                                                                                          I agree with you leeks seem a bit out of place but if you google linguine with clams and leeks, there are other recipes by Italian chefs out there adding leeks. If you google "linguine con vongole e porri" there are italian recipes using leeks in linguine con vongole.


                                                                                                                                                          1. re: Porthos

                                                                                                                                                            "Before you go ripping OC chefs for using panchetta and clams together, realize that Osteria Mozza (and Babbo in NYC for that matter) uses panchetta in their linguine with with clams. I agree with you leeks seem a bit out of place but if you google linguine with clams and leeks, there are other recipes by Italian chefs out there adding leeks. If you google linguine con vongole e porri there are italian recipes using leeks in linguine con vongole."

                                                                                                                                                            I'm sure you can find peanut butter with clams somewhere. But clams and pancetta and leeks? Why? So if you are a chef and you have great, great clams and you want to make them with linguini. Why add leeks? You should add a neutral onion or shallot. Do you need pancetta? If not, then why add it? I guess I could live with the leeks but leeks and pancetta? Why? It's a distraction and not really of the Italian ethos.

                                                                                                                                                            And it wasn't just that dish - there were other dishes with too many ingredients. The balsamic in the fegato alla Veneziana is just silly. If you properly sautee the onions, they are perfectly sweet without adding commercial balsamic vinegar. It speaks of laziness or muddled thinking.

                                                                                                                                                            In my opinion, this is the main problem with Italian food in the OC. They don't make simple dishes with few ingredients that really sing like the chefs do in Italy (and a few places in the US like La Ciccia or Obelisk). If you have perfect tomatoes, you don't need to drown them in balsamic binegar yet so many places do just this (well they also have crappy tomatoes).

                                                                                                                                                            "Before you go ripping into Mozza and Batali, you have to at least recognize how many successful restaurants he has."

                                                                                                                                                            That's really not a great argument. There are plenty of mediocre successful restaurants. Heck, pretty much every successful restaurant in Newport Beach would fit into this category.

                                                                                                                                                            And I'm not knocking Batali. I have a couple of his cookbooks and his recipes are very well thought out. I thought that Mozza in LA was a bit soulless and the one in OC was particularly so. It seemed that the goal of the restaurant was to make money and avoid offending anyone. There was only 1 dish of the 4 savories that I had that was seasoned properly.

                                                                                                                                                            The thing is that Batali lives in New York. I'm sure if he were in the kitchen at Mozza in LA daily it would be terrific.

                                                                                                                                                            1. re: matthewlcohen

                                                                                                                                                              >>Why add leeks? You should add a neutral onion or shallot. <<

                                                                                                                                                              Onions in linguine and clams? I've yet to see that anywhere. Wonder what an Italian chef would say about that suggestion. It's well known leeks are more mild than onions.

                                                                                                                                                              >>Do you need pancetta? If not, then why add it? <<

                                                                                                                                                              Plenty of professional chefs and recipes use pancetta with linguine and clams.

                                                                                                                                                              Your complaints more reflect your tastes and preference than any dining "ethos".

                                                                                                                                                              1. re: Porthos

                                                                                                                                                                Porthos - it's hard to explain these concepts in words but it has nothing to do with mildness. Leeks are certainly more mild than onions but they are more impactful which I've tried to explain, obviously unsuccessfully since you keep going back to mildness.

                                                                                                                                                                If you want to test this out, my suggestion is to make 3-4 versions of oeufs en brouillade, one plain and then each with a different onion (yellow, sweet, shallot, leek). See which alters the intrinsic taste of the egg and which enhances it. If you want to do this together, E-Mail me. I think it would be an interesting experiment.

                                                                                                                                                                I'll be honest, this discussion has got me thinking and I want to try this with cipollines, which I don't use very much, largely because they are hard to source and a pain to chop.

                                                                                                                                                                1. re: matthewlcohen

                                                                                                                                                                  Oh boy, an eggs and onions compare/contrast cookoff? That sounds enticing, irresistible (and delicious)!

                                                                                                                                              2. re: JAB

                                                                                                                                                I really find this subject akin to why can't I get NY Pizza, NY Italian, Scrapple etc... etc... OC is OC, LA is LA, NY is NY etc.. etc.. Let's focus on what OC does offer. I think that in another post, we agreed that about the only thing that we were lacking was really good dim sum and high end Cantonese which usually goes hand in hand with the former.

                                                                                                                                                1. re: JAB

                                                                                                                                                  1. The pizza at Il Dolce is fantastic.
                                                                                                                                                  2. You can get scrapple at Philly's Best.

                                                                                                                                                  It's a fair point that OC has a dearth of great, modern chef driven restaurants.

                                                                                                                                                  1. re: matcohen

                                                                                                                                                    No fucking way ?????

                                                                                                                                                    Pennsylvania Dutch scrapple vis a vis the redding station terminal ????????????????

                                                                                                                                                    1. re: kevin

                                                                                                                                                      Never had it so I don't know the provenance. I think they only serve it during Eagles games. If you have not been to the Barranca address for an Eagles game, you need to. Words cannot describe...

                                                                                                                                                      1. re: matcohen

                                                                                                                                                        Scrapple is available daily at the Old Vine Cafe.

                                                                                                                                          4. Maybe it's as simple as chefs preferring to live in LA v. the suburbs of OC and wanting to live near their work.

                                                                                                                                            1 Reply
                                                                                                                                            1. re: whatsfordinner

                                                                                                                                              I think it's more that there is a larger critical mass of adventurous eaters.

                                                                                                                                            2. This is an interesting topic. Reading through the comments i can see some people who reside in the OC getting indignant, but i didn't find the original topic that way.

                                                                                                                                              having worked in OC for many years and in LA, i have to agree with Stravinsky's feelings. i love little saigon's treasure trove of vietnamese restaurants. i really enjoy Marche Moderne.

                                                                                                                                              but there certainly is a noticeably fewer amount of the chef-driven, excitement-fueled eateries; many of my co-workers in the OC would drive up to LA on weekends or also some weeknights when they wanted to try out more interesting things.

                                                                                                                                              as others have said there are quite a few expensive restaurants in OC (look at all the overpriced eateries on PCH in Newport Beach (all the ones i tried were mediocre when I was there)).

                                                                                                                                              i think kevin's explanation makes a lot of sense (tourist factor, financial ramifications). besides that i think there are a bunch of other things that all contribute to the disparity.

                                                                                                                                              6 Replies
                                                                                                                                              1. re: chowseeker1999

                                                                                                                                                I am curious why tourist money is needed to sustain chef-driven restaurants, as opposed to just money from locals, any thoughts?

                                                                                                                                                1. re: Stravinsky

                                                                                                                                                  It should only be necessary if the restaurant is in an impoverished area or an area where tourism is the only industry and no wealthy people live there.

                                                                                                                                                  1. re: matthewlcohen

                                                                                                                                                    Well....yeah. Ok. But, people have been talking about it as if it is essential in a place like OC, which is one of the wealthiest counties in the country!

                                                                                                                                                    On the other hand, sometimes I marvel at restaurants like Corazon y Miel.

                                                                                                                                                    1. re: Stravinsky

                                                                                                                                                      Well people on forums say a lot of things.

                                                                                                                                                      Why do you marvel at Cozaron y Miel?

                                                                                                                                                      1. re: matthewlcohen

                                                                                                                                                        Because it seems like the business model is a little crazy. It depends entirely on people hearing about them/reading about them and driving from a distance to come to the restaurant.

                                                                                                                                                        They get basically zero foot traffic that would eat there.

                                                                                                                                                        And it doesn't seem like the kind of place that would appeal to locals in the vicinity much anyway...

                                                                                                                                                        Maybe I'm being overly judgmental of the area though. I suppose appearances can be deceiving.

                                                                                                                                              2. Also, I would say that the disparity between LA and OC is more like the disparity (but not exaclty the same analogy) as comparing SF with Sacramento.

                                                                                                                                                1 Reply
                                                                                                                                                1. re: kevin

                                                                                                                                                  or maybe more accurately, SF and san jose? actually, sacramento has a pretty good eating scene.

                                                                                                                                                2. Very interesting discussion.
                                                                                                                                                  I sure wish LA had a Sabatino's.
                                                                                                                                                  And maybe OC needs its own chowhound board....or throw it in with with San Diego

                                                                                                                                                  8 Replies
                                                                                                                                                  1. re: Ciao Bob

                                                                                                                                                    I don't think it makes sense to throw OC in with San Diego.

                                                                                                                                                    I do wish it had it's own board though.

                                                                                                                                                    Which Sabatino's are you referring to?

                                                                                                                                                      1. re: Ciao Bob

                                                                                                                                                        Is the sausage the main thing to get? Or do they put the same level of care into their pastas, and other meats?

                                                                                                                                                        1. re: Stravinsky

                                                                                                                                                          To put it into terms you'll understand, it's no Sotto, Bestia, Bucato but, it's very good at what it does. Meat is not one of those things.

                                                                                                                                                          1. re: JAB

                                                                                                                                                            I assume you mean "meat other than sausage"?

                                                                                                                                                            It is a useful reference point I'd say. Are you personally offended that they can't compete with the best of LA in pastas?

                                                                                                                                                            If a place is good for one thing, that's ok. *shrugs* I go to Greenblatt's in LA for the pastrami, and not much else. Why shouldn't I go to a place for sausage and not much else?

                                                                                                                                                            Actually, one of my favorite little Italian places is Basilico's Pasta y Vino in Huntington Beach. It's not Bucato, but the marinara and alfredo are gorgeous renditions from an old lady that blend on a plate in a beautiful way. They aren't really Italian, but the atmosphere is small, romantic, and pleasant. It's the height of American Italian. I still enjoy things like that.

                                                                                                                                                            I just would also like to see something similar to Bucato in OC.

                                                                                                                                                            There's a new place doing some apparently exciting things in HB actually called Cafe Caldo that I hope to check out soon.

                                                                                                                                                            1. re: Stravinsky

                                                                                                                                                              Yes, other than the sausage although I enjoy several other items on the menu other than the sausage.

                                                                                                                                                          2. re: Stravinsky

                                                                                                                                                            The Italian Sausage, hot and sweet,
                                                                                                                                                            The Olive Condiment on every table are the only things of note. The rest is OK, but nothing special.

                                                                                                                                                            1. re: Stravinsky

                                                                                                                                                              I've only had the sausage (uncooked, to be grilled or pan-fried in a cast-iron skillet at home) and it's outstanding - if you have not tried, it's a must-do. Fantastic (there's cheese in the center, so what could be bad ?)

                                                                                                                                                      2. The problem is not really sourcing
                                                                                                                                                        1) Produce - Melissa's is very good. Chino Farm has elite produce. You have to drive there but it's do-able. Farmers markets are very good.
                                                                                                                                                        2) Fish - Playground gets daily deliveries from LA for their sushi/sashimi grade fish just like LA restaurants.
                                                                                                                                                        3) Meat, poultry - you can get in OC.

                                                                                                                                                        The problem in the OC, and to a lesser extent in LA, is the dining public. OC has a lot of wealthy people who know almost nothing about food.

                                                                                                                                                        There are a lot of food ignorant "scene" diners in LA and OC who live in wealthy areas and go to places like Gulfstream that are beautiful but boring. Newport Beach is almost a culinary no-mans land. Even at Playground, people don't get many of the incredible dishes that they serve (e.g. ramp flan, squab). Squab, sweetbreads and cocks comb, for example, were tried and removed from the menu as no one bought them (or only me). It's a shame.

                                                                                                                                                        On the bright side, 10 years ago, when I moved to OC, there was almost no high end dining worth going to except maybe Pascals which wasn't really good until they revamped their menu.

                                                                                                                                                        Now, the OC has a bunch of new places like Playground and Taco Maria. Sol del Sur may have the most crazy menu in the county but it's in south county so, sadly, no one goes there. 1 guy on this experts mentioned it, to lament that he hadn't been there. The good news is that rich people from Newport are finally going to places like playground in "dangerous" Santa Ana where young chefs can afford to start restaurants outside of the ridiculous real estate prices of Newport.

                                                                                                                                                        I won't repeat everything that Porthos has said but he's pretty much dead on.

                                                                                                                                                        To sum up, OC should have a weaker fine dining scene than LA because of its smaller population. There are finally places worth going. To be honest, if I had to choose a last meal in SoCal, on food alone, it might be a Playground 2.0 25 course extravaganza.

                                                                                                                                                        16 Replies
                                                                                                                                                        1. re: matcohen

                                                                                                                                                          i largely agree with matcohen. There are good places for produce/meat/poultry/fish in OC, but they require some sussing out. Same with interesting places to eat. There are fewer due to lower population density. What folks are referring to as LA is one of the largest metro areas in the country in both population and area. OC is a lot smaller and has a fraction of the population. And I don't disagree with other posters that there may be a smaller proportion of the population here that is going to be partaking of adventurous/interesting dining I think this is due to historical factors in how OC was developed and populated. However, things are changing a lot compared to when I moved here 15 years ago. It was really bleak then.. But we shouldn't generalize to all of OC's residents, just as we shouldn't forget about the huge number of people in LA who are happy to eat at Applebees, Chili's, Cheesecake Plant, and the like.

                                                                                                                                                          1. re: stuffed

                                                                                                                                                            It's hard to explain what is happening without generalizing. I can't very well do a bio of all our 3 million residents.

                                                                                                                                                            But one can hardly not come to these conclusions if one dines in Newport Beach. The number of disappointing meals I've had there is really astounding given the amount of money I've spent.

                                                                                                                                                            There is a small core of foodies, mostly Asian in my experience (I'm not, obviously). But foodies don't support great restaurants. They are too few in number and they tend to move from one place to another.

                                                                                                                                                            The great mass of money in Newport is what should support great high end food and instead they support mediocre or awful places.

                                                                                                                                                            1. re: matcohen

                                                                                                                                                              It must be said that Newport is kinda sorta slowly coming around. While I agree the food is generally terrible, we now have Bear Flag Fish Tacos, Side Door (which while not mind-blowing is certainly a step in the right direction) and Tamarind of London.

                                                                                                                                                              1. re: set0312

                                                                                                                                                                Bear Flag is meh. I had a meal of largely tasteless fish there 3 months ago (and the raw ingredients are not awful).
                                                                                                                                                                Side Door is decent, which is a rave for Newport.
                                                                                                                                                                Tamarind is an abomination. The food is absolutely tasteless and boring, yet on the other hand very expensive.

                                                                                                                                                                A Market has very good sandwiches.
                                                                                                                                                                Negisa has good sushi.

                                                                                                                                                                Newport has not gotten any better over the 10 years since I've lived in the OC. The successful places live off of a lemming-like audience of the food ignorant. If you look at the quality of food divided by the wealth of the populace, it is the lowest ratio of any geographical area in America. I almost never there. One can eat better in Santa Ana, Garden Grove or Westminster. Heck, even Irvine has better food. It's really sad.

                                                                                                                                                                1. re: matcohen

                                                                                                                                                                  I still argue there is progression. Lemonade, Red O, and, Fig to Fashion Island. Red O, although I understand its lost whatever luster it once had in LA, is still a Rick Bayless restaurant. And how about Mozza?

                                                                                                                                                                  It seems the new trend is to open second outlets of well-regarded, although not particularly inventive restaurants. Tamarind of London has a michelin star in London. Five years ago people were suggesting Pizzeria Mozza was the best pizza in the US--heck lots of people still say its the best in LA.

                                                                                                                                                                  With that being said, I agree the scene is terrible. There is little to no ethnic food, lots of overpriced chains, and nothing remotely creative.

                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: set0312

                                                                                                                                                                    Lemonade is so average and Red O is not a Rick Bayless restaurant. If you have been to his restaurants in Chicago you realize that.

                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: mrsjoujou

                                                                                                                                                                      I agree Lemonade is not the best but if enough people like it in Los Angeles to fuel massive expansion.

                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: set0312

                                                                                                                                                                        For what it is, Lemondade is an awesome chain. If Lemonade was as popular as McDonald's, the world would be a slightly better place.

                                                                                                                                                                        But it is what it is. It's not really trying to be the best restaurant in the world or the most innovative. For what it is though, I feel it is quite good really.

                                                                                                                                                                        As far as Red O... if only it were a Bayless restaurants ... =(

                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: set0312

                                                                                                                                                                          Lemonade builds a strong following no matter where they go it seems. I personally find them kind of hit and miss. Many of their salads seem to be recipes of good intentions with mixed results. they're braised and stewed items are flavorful but a little too salty at times. Regardless, Lemonade has a ton of momentum behind them now. I hear they will be branching out as far as the UAE.

                                                                                                                                                                      2. re: set0312

                                                                                                                                                                        " There is little to no ethnic food,"

                                                                                                                                                                        ? What do you mean by this? There seems to be quite a bit of ethnic food in OC.

                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: Stravinsky

                                                                                                                                                                          I think that he was speaking specifically about Newport.

                                                                                                                                                                      3. re: matcohen

                                                                                                                                                                        The 17th Street Corridor of Costa Mesa by Newport has some weirdly decent places though.

                                                                                                                                                                        But the big places in Newport are truly horrendous... I mean, what the hell, as long as there are a bunch of wealthy lemmings, why can't they just do interesting cuisine, or at least do it well with great ingredients?

                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: Stravinsky

                                                                                                                                                                          Yes 17th street is good. And of course the Camp and the Lab have some decent restaurants. Although they are about 5 dollars more than bahn mi in Westminster, I like the sandwiches at East Burough.

                                                                                                                                                                          The scene in Costa Mesa is legitimately good, which makes the dearth of even mediocrity in Newport more tolerable.

                                                                                                                                                                          From Newport, I can get to Santouka or Ramen Zetton, Mick's Karma, Ortica, East Borough, Pitfire, etc. in less than 15 minutes.

                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: set0312

                                                                                                                                                                            Along with Taco Maria (which I am dying to try) and Shuck.

                                                                                                                                                                2. re: matcohen

                                                                                                                                                                  The thing is, if this is the problem, then couldn't that problem be rectified, or at least improved by some sort of organized education about dining/food for the OC populace?

                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: Stravinsky

                                                                                                                                                                    Hopefully, it's a gradual process of learning. Wealthy folk will try new places like The Playground and expand their palates.

                                                                                                                                                                    It's hard to learn when everything around you stinks.

                                                                                                                                                                    Now that we are starting to see some good restaurants (other than ethnic) in OC, let's hope that the customers figure it out. Playground has certainly seen it's clientele expand to rich white folk which is good for them and the white folk.

                                                                                                                                                                    Playground will add more restaurants and there will be spinoffs by its alumni as well.

                                                                                                                                                                    We are at the dawn of a new age and it's a very exciting time in the OC.

                                                                                                                                                                3. I've lived for years in both cities and they are both top of the line food destinations.

                                                                                                                                                                  The better question is really why is San Diego's food scene so weak as compared to OC's?

                                                                                                                                                                  Reading parts of your post, it doesn't sound like you have much experience eating in OC. We're perfectly happy here, I can safely say.

                                                                                                                                                                  16 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: Eater15

                                                                                                                                                                    "We're perfectly happy here, I can safely say."

                                                                                                                                                                    I think that's the point. You shouldn't be, at least insofar as the fine dining is concerned.

                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: Eater15

                                                                                                                                                                      Why are you happy?

                                                                                                                                                                      I have a decent amount of eating experience in OC. I grew up in OC.

                                                                                                                                                                      If you're happy with the dining scene, I'd say it's only because you have not dined outside of OC.

                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: Stravinsky

                                                                                                                                                                        I'm perfectly happy here and have dined outside of OC, as im sure everyone has. No city is perfect but the broad amount of options in OC beats most cities in this country. And being an hour from all that LA has to offer isn't too shabby either.

                                                                                                                                                                        This is turning into more of a "let's talk about why we hate Orange County" thread than the actual question that was brought up - why does the orange curtain exist? All the reasons for why the "orange curtain" exists have been clearly stated here. Population, suburb living, tourism, etc.

                                                                                                                                                                        Basically I feel like this topic has been beaten to death.

                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: PHXeater

                                                                                                                                                                          This thread represents the same tired "criticism" that is brought to bear upon movies by those who think they know better/best how any movie they have seen "should have been done".

                                                                                                                                                                          If only the Director included or did what I think he should have included/done. It would have been so much better. Hey, you want to make your movie (make your food) the way you think it should be made?

                                                                                                                                                                          Get the financing together and go right ahead. Then all the other brilliant critics can bash you for forgetting ingredients x, y and z and for putting in ingredients q, r and s...

                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: Servorg


                                                                                                                                                                            Mr. Stravinsky, why not open a dope/great farm to table restaurant and then be done with it.

                                                                                                                                                                            There's definitely an idea for you.

                                                                                                                                                                            1. re: Servorg

                                                                                                                                                                              That certainly isn't my point. My point is that you could get great ingredients and have a great restaurant and fail (in OC) because the patrons don't appreciate it.

                                                                                                                                                                              1. re: matthewlcohen

                                                                                                                                                                                Yes. Some patrons would rather you add onions to linguine con vongole and somehow think that's the correct way to do it. Your arguments are faulty and don't show the experience you claim to have.

                                                                                                                                                                                1. re: Porthos

                                                                                                                                                                                  Dude - give it a rest. You claim to like Burgundy but are acting like you're not legally of age to drink it.

                                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: matthewlcohen

                                                                                                                                                                                      Not being snarky here but do yourself a favor. Review the past posts and follow the future post of Porthos. I guarantee you'll learn a lot. One will also realize that the OC does have its share of culinary gems. Porthos has one of the broadest and most educated palates that I know of. He just gives lousy tech advice. :)

                                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: bulavinaka

                                                                                                                                                                                        In this thread, I listed about 40 places that I like in the OC.

                                                                                                                                                                                        The issue is that there are not many high end places that are good and most high end places are mediocre or worse. The sad truth is that I'd rather eat food made by my children than most professional chefs in OC, even at most expensive places. Their technique is not as advanced but they can at least season their food properly.

                                                                                                                                                                                        I have no particular beef with Mr. Porthos, whoever he is. I invited him over to my house to test the onion impact theory. That invitation still stands. Or I'll join him for a dinner at Playground - the conversation would certainly be lively. I have no problem with people who disagree with me. He seems to like Playground so we certainly agree on that.

                                                                                                                                                                                        The people I tend to learn the most from are professional chefs. Guys like Jason Quinn, Zach Scherer and Frank DeLoach. Or you can read the posts of Alex and Aki at http://blog.ideasinfood.com/, who I've chatted with but never met.

                                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: bulavinaka

                                                                                                                                                                                          As always, you are far too kind bulva. If only I could be as gracious as you and steve h. #workinprogress.

                                                                                                                                                                                2. re: PHXeater

                                                                                                                                                                                  I love Orange County too. There's more to life than restaurants.

                                                                                                                                                                                  The point is that given the massive concentration of wealth here, there should be a fairly decent number of very good and world class restaurants and there really aren't that many.

                                                                                                                                                                                  The fact that there's better high end food here than in Norman Oklahoma is hardly something to celebrate.

                                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: matthewlcohen

                                                                                                                                                                                    "The point is that given the massive concentration of wealth here, there should be a fairly decent number of very good and world class restaurants and there really aren't that many."

                                                                                                                                                                                    I am not sure why this point is not more recognized. It seemed uncontroversial to me when I first made this thread.

                                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: Stravinsky

                                                                                                                                                                                      Well if it were more recognized, it wouldn't be true :-)

                                                                                                                                                                            2. So - any of you homies want to do a group dinner at Sol del Sur?

                                                                                                                                                                              8 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                              1. re: matthewlcohen

                                                                                                                                                                                Well, I would be extremely interested, but I'm guessing no one else would show up if I did, haha.

                                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: matthewlcohen

                                                                                                                                                                                    Hey you two - glad to see Chowhounds meeting up to share good food IRL.

                                                                                                                                                                                    We ask you to take the planning logistics off line, per our meetup guidelines:


                                                                                                                                                                                    Thanks, and buen provecho!

                                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: matthewlcohen

                                                                                                                                                                                      How are members supposed to contact each other?...

                                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: Stravinsky

                                                                                                                                                                                        By putting up an email address on their profile page and using that for meet ups.

                                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: Servorg

                                                                                                                                                                                          There you go. You tell em buddy.

                                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: Servorg

                                                                                                                                                                                            Putting emails on profile and USING them?
                                                                                                                                                                                            That will never work.

                                                                                                                                                                                            1. re: Ciao Bob

                                                                                                                                                                                              Why wouldn't that work ?

                                                                                                                                                                                              On a diametrically divergent note: Bob, Shunji's was exceptional as always.

                                                                                                                                                                                  2. One thing that i think has been overlooked in this whole discussion is: if you want a healthy fine dining scene in Orange County, it's going to mean financially supporting restaurants that might not be competitive with LA right now so they have time to grow. Otherwise, as soon as a chef reaches a certain level of competence, he's going to leave to go where the money is.

                                                                                                                                                                                    18 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: Stravinsky

                                                                                                                                                                                        Again - how many of you have been to Sol del Sur?

                                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: matthewlcohen

                                                                                                                                                                                          I will go soon...

                                                                                                                                                                                          I don't see an email address on your profile to contact you though?

                                                                                                                                                                                          There's no way I could make it this week unfortunately though. Mea Culpa.

                                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: Stravinsky

                                                                                                                                                                                            It would be difficult to contact the same person.

                                                                                                                                                                                            1. re: kevin

                                                                                                                                                                                              Sol del Sur
                                                                                                                                                                                              Little Sparrow
                                                                                                                                                                                              Taco Maria

                                                                                                                                                                                              1. re: matthewlcohen

                                                                                                                                                                                                Shoot, Little Sparrow is actually one that I have never heard of before.

                                                                                                                                                                                                Thanks Matts.

                                                                                                                                                                                            2. re: Stravinsky

                                                                                                                                                                                              But I do think in my opinion, for what it's worth, Animal is head and shoulders above The Playground, for instance.

                                                                                                                                                                                              1. re: Stravinsky

                                                                                                                                                                                                nope. i still drive up to la when i want a big-deal meal. but i also don't complain about there not being enough good restaurants where i live. plenty of other reasons to like it.

                                                                                                                                                                                                1. re: FED

                                                                                                                                                                                                  Javier's is good, for the scene, supposedly.

                                                                                                                                                                                                  And did it start as a tiny hole in the wall cafe in downtown Laguna ????

                                                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: FED

                                                                                                                                                                                                    What's the name of the Mexican restaurant in the style kind of of La Super Rica in Laguna Beach a few blocks from the beach in the business district, it opened over ten years ago.

                                                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: Servorg

                                                                                                                                                                                                        fuckin a.

                                                                                                                                                                                                        You are pretty fucking good.

                                                                                                                                                                                                        I believe that's it I while have to cross-reference to make sure with a review in the LA Times back when and supposedly they had a crazy salmon dish on the menu too.

                                                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: Servorg

                                                                                                                                                                                                            Now here's some investigative reporting for you ?

                                                                                                                                                                                                            do you think it's related to the joint that opened in El Segundo a few years back ?

                                                                                                                                                                                                            1. re: kevin

                                                                                                                                                                                                              Put down the whip. Too tired to jump through anymore flaming hoops today...

                                                                                                                                                                                                              1. re: Servorg

                                                                                                                                                                                                                Luckily, I got there.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                Four locations and yes the original in Laguna Beach.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                Thanks man.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                I guess I might owe you a drink one of these days.

                                                                                                                                                                                              2. Just ate at Ways and Means for the second time. They have only been open 4 weeks and have some kinks to work out but this could be the fancy, high quality dining experience that we've been waiting for.

                                                                                                                                                                                                The chef got 1 Michelin star when he was 24.

                                                                                                                                                                                                Really fresh seafood.

                                                                                                                                                                                                I'm going again in a couple of weeks if anyone is interested.

                                                                                                                                                                                                Still waiting to hear about Sol del Sur.

                                                                                                                                                                                                18 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: kevin

                                                                                                                                                                                                    Sol del Sur is next on my list but with Thanksgiving probably won't get over there until December.

                                                                                                                                                                                                    Did have a disappointing meal at Taco Maria, especially after all the accolades. Will write in the main thread but man, I was REALLY excited to go there and it was a let down.

                                                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: PHXeater

                                                                                                                                                                                                      Half of my meal was great.
                                                                                                                                                                                                      Half was pretty good.

                                                                                                                                                                                                      They are finding their way and doing something different.

                                                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: PHXeater

                                                                                                                                                                                                        Doesn't surprise me that Maria Yaco sux.

                                                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: kevin

                                                                                                                                                                                                          Kevin, your positivity is overwhelming...

                                                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: PHXeater

                                                                                                                                                                                                            Is that a bad or a good thing ?????

                                                                                                                                                                                                            1. re: kevin

                                                                                                                                                                                                              Haha, sorry for the sarcasm. Your commentary is just hilariously blunt/negative sometimes, like "Playground fucking sux". I always think...and?

                                                                                                                                                                                                              1. re: PHXeater

                                                                                                                                                                                                                sorry, i will explain more in the future.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                i think it was also the not so smart phone.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                my apologies if it was blunt, i don't think that was my intent.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                1. re: kevin

                                                                                                                                                                                                                  PHX was disappointed, fuck me, Porthos, Revets etc...

                                                                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: JAB

                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Not sure if this is what you mean but if you're implying they know what they're talking about I agree, I've read their stuff and that's why I went. But that doesnt change my disappointing experience. The kitchen was clearly in the weeds, food came out painfully slow, so who knows what flavors and details were missed with it being a hectic night I'm fully prepared as a newcomer to get flamed for speaking out against a new board favorite but that's the way it goes sometimes...

                                                                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: PHXeater

                                                                                                                                                                                                                      No, own your disappointing experience. I was aiming at Kevin for proclaiming that it sux (sic) based on your simple statement of disappointment when me, Porthos, Revets and others have expounded on much better experiences.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: JAB

                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Got it. I will update main thread when I'm back on laptop and not painfully slow iPad typing (traveling). I also somehow lost my copy of the menu so will be working solely off memory.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: PHXeater

                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Thanks, I look forward to it. They may very well be in a mode where they are a victim of their own success.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: JAB

                                                                                                                                                                                                                            Where are you talking about? The Playground?

                                                                                                                                                                                                                              1. re: JAB

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                Oh, crazy.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                I'm sitting right by the restaurant right now.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                A negative experience will surely be controversial. Sounds unfortunate.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                1. re: Stravinsky

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  It shouldn't be controversial. It's one person's experience which is as valid as any other's.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  I agree with it being unfortunate.