Saturday, November 21, 2015

Playground (Santa Ana, CA) [3]

Playground Restaurant
220 E 4th St, Santa Ana, CA 92701
714.560.4444
www.playgrounddtsa.com
Sat 11/21/2015, 08:00p-01:00a




Playground Exterior

If you recall, my last dinner here was a bit of a beer-focused affair, so when we were looking for a place to open some of our nicer bottles, Jason Quinn's Playground quickly came to mind. And given that this is probably my favorite restaurant in Orange County, I'm always looking for an excuse to return.

Playground Menu Playground Beverage List Playground Menu Introduction
As for the menu, it's largely the work of Chef de Cuisine Carlo Guardado these days, but is still in the same format as before, still colorfully-described, and still daily-changing, which makes for excellent replay value. Drink-wise, Jarred Dooley's got 15 beers on tap, a few dozen more in the bottle, and craft-y cocktails, while Rhett Butler oversees an ever-expanding wine list (now much, much more legit than when the place opened). Click for larger versions.

2015 Side Project La Fosse
We had a lot of stone fruit sours this evening, so we got right into it with the 2015 Side Project La Fosse, a Missouri wild ale aged with apricots. Aromas were deep, funky, oaky, sour, while its taste was puckering, dry, acidic, with an undercurrent of apricot that heightened as time went on.

Eddie Learns To Make Pão De Queijo, White Guava Jam, Goiabada Butter
Eddie Learns To Make Pão De Queijo, White Guava Jam, Goiabada Butter [$8.00]
Food-wise, we got started with some delightful pão se queijo, which came out crisp 'n' cheesy on the outside, but still hot 'n' creamy on the inside. Tasty alone, or with a dab of the two fruity guava-based condiments.

Pepinos & Pepitas, Avocado Mousse, Tajín, Radish, Crispy Tortilla
Pepinos & Pepitas, Avocado Mousse, Tajín, Radish, Crispy Tortilla [$9.00]
Cucumber was bright and bracing, spiced up a touch by the Tajín while the avocado added a cool, creamy component. My favorite part? Those savory, crunchy shards of tortilla.

2014 New Glarus R&D Wild Peach
Next to imbibe came the 2014 New Glarus R&D Wild Peach, a blend of 1/2/3-year-old sour brown ale, spontaneously fermented, aged on oak, with Michigan peaches. It was one of the highlights of the night for me no doubt, and one of the best smelling beers I've ever had, with a nose that was ridiculously redolent of candied peach rings. The palate was more subdued, with subtle notes of stone fruit joined by an oaky, leathery, smooth sort of tartness.

Tostones & Grilled Avocado, Black Beans, Garlic & Cilantro Mojo, Orange, Burnt Sweet Onions
Tostones & Grilled Avocado, Black Beans, Garlic & Cilantro Mojo, Orange, Burnt Sweet Onions [$9.00]
Fried chunks of plantain came out salty and properly crunchy, perked up by the zing of the mojo with the orange adding a juicy, citrusy quality. I was a big fan of the beans as well--earthy, tangy, and key in providing the right amount of heft to the dish.

Seven Stills Dogpatch Whiskey
At this point, Josh and Jordan (the guys running the beverage program this evening) brought out the Seven Stills Dogpatch Whiskey to share. Now if you recall, I'd sampled the Almanac Dogpatch Grand Cru recently at Hanjip. This was actually a distillate of Almanac's Dogpatch Sour, aged in new American oak, finished in Dogpatch Sour and Dogpatch Sour Grand Cru barrels for up to three months. It was pretty wonderful, with a boozy, honeyed, sticky nose and a palate that was sweet, floral, candied almost, with notes of caramel and creeping stone fruit over a boozy backbone.

Gordita De Chicharron Al Pastor, Charred Pineapple, Salsa Roja, Queso Fresco
Gordita De Chicharron Al Pastor, Charred Pineapple, Salsa Roja, Queso Fresco [$8.00]
Chicharrones were super porky and well spiced, offset by the presence of zesty lime and tart pineapple with the hefty masa cake moderating it all.

French Onion Soup Croutons
French Onion Soup Croutons [$9.00]
Utterly rich and cheesy, with loads of deep, dark, sweet & savory flavors--the essence of soupe à l'oignon captured in crouton form.

2014 The Lost Abbey Veritas 013
Next was the 2014 The Lost Abbey Veritas 013, a sour Brett ale with peaches, nectarines, and honey, aged two years in French oak barrels. The aromas here definitely veered funky, with a slight honey accent, while the taste was tart, oaky, a bit barnyard-y, with very subtle stone fruit and a honeyed component that grew and lingered.

Charred Cauliflower, Housemade Lamb Bacon, Dried Apricots, Garlic Chips, Mint Vin
Charred Cauliflower, Housemade Lamb Bacon, Dried Apricots, Garlic Chips, Mint Vin [$12.00]
Cauliflower had a nice char going, with the lamb bacon adding an extra punch of salt and smoke to the mix. Lovely textures here too, as well as a hint of sweetness for the apricot.

2015 Modern Times Monsters' Park Aged in 12 Year Old Elijah Craig Bourbon Barrels
Time for a stouty interlude. The 2015 Modern Times Monsters' Park Aged in 12 Year Old Elijah Craig Bourbon Barrels was the rarest beer of the night, a single-barrel, nine month-aged creation that yielded just 155 bottles. Huge dark fruit and equally massive amounts of cocoa powder in the bouquet. The palate, meanwhile, was super chocolate-y, with pervasive coffee notes and a hint of vanilla, but what struck me the most was how smooth this was. One of my dining companions described it as "buttery," and she was spot on.

Hillary's Orecchiette, Burrata, Broccoli Hearts, Charred Pickles Ramps, Pine Nuts, Calabrian Chile Puree
Hillary's Orecchiette, Burrata, Broccoli Hearts, Charred Pickles Ramps, Pine Nuts, Calabrian Chile Puree [$15.00]
Orecchiette came out substantial and firm to the bite, enrobed in a mélange of creamy, tangy, and spicy flavors. The crux for me was the pine nut, which lent crunch and a great nuttiness to the pasta.

Albacore Poisson Cru, Coconut Water Ice, Spicy Coconut Jam, Lime Pickled Hearts Of Palm, Fresno Chile, Mango, Cucumber
Albacore Poisson Cru, Coconut Water Ice, Spicy Coconut Jam, Lime Pickled Hearts Of Palm, Fresno Chile, Mango, Cucumber [$18.00]
I don't think I've had albacore quite like this before, with the fish serving as a clean, lean base for some sweet, fruity flavors going on. I got a pretty bracing temperature contrast from the coconut ice as well, and overall the textures were quite intriguing.

2015 The Lost Abbey Veritas 016
The newest beer of the bunch was the 2015 The Lost Abbey Veritas 016, a blended oak-aged sour with white peaches that was just released earlier in November. This one smelled very tart, with a trace of juicy stone fruit sweetness. The taste, meanwhile, had even more tartness, joined by a persistent barnyard-y character, with the fruit becoming more and more apparent as time went on.

Duck Breast Tataki, Beautiful Soy Ponzu, Satsuma Tangerine, Masago, Cilantro
Duck Breast Tataki, Beautiful Soy Ponzu, Satsuma Tangerine, Masago, Cilantro [$17.00]
Duck was super "ducky," with boatloads of deep, earthy flavors further augmented by the richness of ponzu. At the same time, satsumas added some brightness to the mix, as did the cilantro.

Domaine Dupont Cidre Reserve
Given the amount of beer we were sharing, the guys at the restaurant contributed a bottle of Domaine Dupont Cidre Reserve to our tasting. It was a Normandie cider brewed with apples harvested in 2013, and then aged six months in Calvados casks. I found it a welcomed change of pace to the beer: lots of sweet, fruity apple notes initially, with a barnyard-y, funky complexity coming through on the midpalate and lingering long.

Risotto w/ Crab Stock & Fancy Parm
Risotto w/ Crab Stock & Fancy Parm [$30.00]
Made using live Alaskan king crab ($800 for two, apparently), the risotto was one of the tastiest I've had in a while: rich, creamy, cheesy, with a deep brine that I found completely satisfying.

Roll w/ Yuzu Koshu Kewpie
Roll w/ Yuzu Koshu Kewpie [$35.00]
A king crab roll delivered as well, putting the crustacean's sweetness front and center, enhanced delicately by the application of tangy, creamy Kewpie. Probably better than most any lobster roll out there.

2015 Cantillon Fou' Foune
Next was perhaps the most iconic stone fruit sour out there, the 2015 Cantillon Fou' Foune. I'd had last year's vintage of the apricot lambic not long ago at Elite, but tonight's was even better (probably because it was fresher). I got a ton of super aromatic, juicy, in-yo-face apricot on the nose, and the palate didn't let up, with more permeating, omnipresent fruit backed by a funky sourness. This one lives up to its reputation.

Santa Barbara Uni & Charred Satsuki Rice, Amazing Toasted Nori From Japan, Butter Lettuce, Macadamia Nuts, Jalapeño, Toasted Coconut, Sushi Tare
Santa Barbara Uni & Charred Satsuki Rice, Amazing Toasted Nori From Japan, Butter Lettuce, Macadamia Nuts, Jalapeño, Toasted Coconut, Sushi Tare [$90.00]
This large-format, interactive dish was one of the standouts for me. I wasn't exactly sure how to eat this, so I ended up rolling all the ingredients in nori, then wrapping that with lettuce. The end result was damn tasty fo' sure, with the creamy, sweet brine of the urchin at the forefront, offset by toasty umami notes from the seaweed while the rice imparted savoriness and a fantastic crunch. Super cohesive together, especially with the sugary-savory tare.

2015 Alpine Kiwi Herman
With the stone fruit sours drunk up, we moved on to the 2015 Alpine Kiwi Herman, a kiwi and strawberry sour blonde aged in wine barrels. I also had this back at the Elite tasting in May, and the beer didn't seem quite as strong this time around. It was still tasty though. Nose was oaky, tangy, with what someone described as a "Capri Sun"-like quality to it. More fruit on the tongue, with more pronounced oak and seemingly less acidity compared to before.

Merus 'Hot Dog' w/ Melted Butter
Merus "Hot Dog" w/ Melted Butter [$40.00]
This may have been the priciest "hot dog" ever, but it was also delicious. Taken alongside the cold prep above, this highlighted the briny, oceany aspect of the crab, a pure, focused sort of sensation enriched by the application of butter. That sweet, tangy relish on the side wasn't even necessary.

Savory Clams, Jan's Kimchi Broth, Butterkin Squash, Steam Bun Croutons, Scallion, Lemon
Savory Clams, Jan's Kimchi Broth, Butterkin Squash, Steam Bun Croutons, Scallion, Lemon [$18.00]
Clams were on point, supple and springy to the bite, with a mild, saline taste that was well-matched to the piquancy of the broth and astringent slivers of scallion. The steamed bun croutons were an unexpected, but effective addition, doing a good job mixing things up texturally.

2015 Almanac Hoppy Sour: Mandarina
The staff dropped another freebie on us, the 2015 Almanac Hoppy Sour: Mandarina, a sour blonde aged in wine barrels then dry-hopped with Mandarina Bavaria. Great smell to this one, with loads of super juicy citrus and pine. The taste showed some more of the same, along with a heightened acidity and a dank, almost musty underpinning.

Pan Roasted Wild Mushrooms, Goat Cheese Cream, Fried Acorn Squash, Hazelnuts, Dried Cranberry, Crispy Sage
Pan Roasted Wild Mushrooms, Goat Cheese Cream, Fried Acorn Squash, Hazelnuts, Dried Cranberry, Crispy Sage [$19.00]
This next dish really tasted of the season, bringing together homey, hearty mushrooms in a creamy, cheesy sauce along with sweet squash and cranberry, the hazelnuts imparting a nutty finish to it all.

2015 Upland Pawpaw
The most beguiling beer of the night was the 2015 Upland Pawpaw, a gueuze-style ale aged on pawpaw, a fruit that I don't think I'd ever even tasted before. I got a nose of soft, tropical citrus notes. The taste was much more interesting, with the aforementioned tropicality joined by a funky, earthy, lactic quality that persisted.

Hillary's Short Rib & Mascarpone Cappelletti, Soubise, Onion Brodo, Pickled Pearl Onions, Crispy Shallots, Chive Blossoms
Hillary's Short Rib & Mascarpone Cappelletti, Soubise, Onion Brodo, Pickled Pearl Onions, Crispy Shallots, Chive Blossoms [$23.00]
Our second pasta dish was a cozy, comforting one, with the tender, savory bits of pasta-encased short rib set against the zip and tang of onion in multiple forms.

Uncle Lou's Fried Chicken
Uncle Lou's Fried Chicken [$10.00]
We closed out the savories with Playground's signature fried chicken. I'd had it before, so I actually didn't taste it tonight, instead giving up the pieces to those in my party who hadn't. They seemed pretty content with the bird.

2015 Bottle Logic Fundamental Observation
With desserts about to commence, we popped open the 2015 Bottle Logic Fundamental Observation, an imperial stout aged with Madagascar vanilla beans in a blend of Buffalo Trace, Four Roses, and Heaven Hill bourbon barrels. It's easily the most hyped beer to come out of OC this year, but didn't quite live up to said hype for me. That being said, it was still great to drink. Aromas of dark, sweet, fruity malt and slight vanilla--one person at the table likened it to a Tootsie Roll. The taste offered up more malt along with lots of brown sugar and oak, with the vanilla presence subtle at first, but intensifying as the beer warmed.

Strawberry & Basil Lemonade Sorbet
Strawberry & Basil Lemonade Sorbet [$5.00]
Pastry Chef Eddie Perez got us started with a refreshingly sweet, tangy, herby sorbet, a perfect intermezzo of sorts.

2015 Goose Island Bourbon County Vanilla Rye
We did a back-to-back comparison with the 2015 Goose Island Bourbon County Vanilla Rye, a rye whiskey barrel-aged stout with Mexican and Madagascar vanilla beans. It's sort of the benchmark for the style, and tonight I think it prevailed, though not by much. I got stronger vanilla on the nose, commingled with dark chocolate. The palate was definitely sweeter, and tangier, with a touch more vanilla that again really made itself apparent with time in the glass. I will say though that the beer has fallen off from the last time I had it, down at Juniper & Ivy in San Diego.

Tres Leches, Chocolate Cake, Almond Streusel, Dulce de Leche Panna Cotta
Tres Leches, Chocolate Cake, Almond Streusel, Dulce de Leche Panna Cotta [$8.00]
The two preceding stouts played nicely with the cake here. It didn't quite taste like a traditional tres leches to me, but was still delicious, with a balance of chocolatey flavors and sweet spice set off by the presence of that streusel.

Black Garlic Tart
The best dessert of the bunch just may have been this little off-menu number, made with persimmon, housemade chai, pistachio marzipan, a fried apple-maltodextrin rose, and, amazingly, a black garlic custard inside that tart shell. Just a super smart back-and-forth of savory, sweet, spicy flavors, with an additional brightness from the juicy, almost glass-textured apple. A lot of confidence and complexity here.

2015 de Garde Peach Bu
We seemingly forgot that we had one more stonefruit sour left, so we went back to it: the 2015 de Garde Peach Bu, a Berliner Weisse style ale aged in oak with Oregon peaches. Fantastic tart peach skin aromas in the beer, and on the tongue there was a bit more of a funky, wheaty quality, but again more than enough lingering, sour peach peel.

Yuzu Cake, Ginger Snap, White Chocolate Ice Cream
Yuzu Cake, Ginger Snap, White Chocolate Ice Cream [$8.00]
The yuzu cake was a winner as well, with zippy notes from the citrus playing off the sugary white chocolate in stellar fashion, the streusel-y bits providing a fitting accent to it all.

De Molen Mout & Mocca
For our final beer, the staff offered up another complementary bottle, the De Molen Mout & Mocca, an imperial stout with coffee added. I found this quite smoky actually, both in the smell and taste, its chocolatey base layered with astringent coffee notes.

Black Sesame Churros, Kaya, Banana Cream, Coconut Sorbet, Thai Basil
Black Sesame Churros, Kaya, Banana Cream, Coconut Sorbet, Thai Basil [$10.00]
Churros made for a fitting close to the meal, arriving beautifully-textured, their sesame-esque flavors meshing swimmingly with creamy-sweet elements of coconut and banana. Yum.

Beer Bottle Graveyard
The requisite end of the night graveyard shot.

Another strong meal from the Playground team, across all fronts. True to the name, there continues to be just this element of fun, of amusement, of whimsy that pervades the food here (though that's not to say that the cooking's lacking in seriousness). This experience just reinforced why the restaurant's perpetually on the top of the heap in OC, and we left already thinking of our next meal here...

18 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

How many people were at this dinner??? Did you get the entire menu???

Wednesday, January 06, 2016 3:26:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Man, how do you get all these beers....

Wednesday, January 06, 2016 8:53:00 AM  
Anonymous Katy said...

Please don't egg him on.
Kevin, You should really have a separate beer blog, or at least segregate the beer part from the food part of each posting.
Nobody has those beers, so telling us about them is of no interest.
Also:
"Drink-wise, Jarred Dooley's got 15 beers on tap, a few dozen more in the bottle, and craft-y cocktails, while Rhett Butler oversees an ever-expanding wine list (now much, much more legit than when the place opened)."
What the hell do you even care, since you brazenly insist on bringing your own stuff anyway.

Wednesday, January 06, 2016 5:57:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Omg 155 bottle count WHALEZ" "lol we forgot the de garde so had to go back for it," ugh when did this blog officially become unbearably #newmoney

Wednesday, January 06, 2016 10:01:00 PM  
Anonymous Becoming Douche said...

Yeah it's getting weirdly pathetic, but also ruins the usefulness of the blog as well as our enjoyment of it.

Thursday, January 07, 2016 7:41:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

if any of you want these beers, you can purchase them on mybeercollectibles.com or mybeercellar.com just like Kevin does. #newmoney #whaleznoob

Thursday, January 07, 2016 10:22:00 AM  
Anonymous ttn said...

Haters gonna hate.
Kevin's had commenters trolling about his supposed "new money" status for years. The fact is that we're all here because he covers items in greater detail than most other sources. His descriptions of beer are no different from those of food, wine or cocktails. Why should he have to create a separate blog or segregate his postings simply because you don't enjoy beer with your food like he does? @Katy and @Becoming Douche, the simple solution is to scroll past the beer if you don't like it, and not pathetically bitch and moan that Kevin's beer hobby is "of no interest" to you or has ruined your enjoyment of HIS blog. Believe me, given the huge craft beer wave there are plenty of people who find his beer coverage useful.

Thursday, January 07, 2016 11:12:00 AM  
Anonymous Witte said...

ttn,
Does your defense extend to his repeated sneaking of alcohol into restaurants where it is illegal?

Thursday, January 07, 2016 5:45:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Seriously. I could not agree more. Can't go one blog entry without, what seems like the same person anonymously bitching about the beer.

Friday, January 08, 2016 3:02:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have no problem with him bringing in beer to restaurants like Playground. Who cares if it's boring? It's a blog! Don't read it.

But when he sneaks them into restaurants with it's reckless, stupid and selfish. He's putting the restaurants and their owners' livelihood at stake.

Two separate things.

Friday, January 08, 2016 8:19:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

*into restaurants WITHOUT alcohol licenses, it's reckless

Friday, January 08, 2016 8:20:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Witte,

I get your concern and it could be a big problem for the restaurant. But if it was THAT big of a concern, don't you think they would ask him to put it away?

Friday, January 08, 2016 8:21:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It only takes 2 morons to ruin the comments section. Its a food blog dumb-asses. He is with a large party he didn't drink all of this and pay for it himself. Get over it and go work harder and stop complaining you dumb liberals. Sorry i digress.

That was one of my favorite meals you have ever posted. Great photos and great descriptions. That risotto almost me fall out of my chair.

Friday, January 08, 2016 12:18:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Who is the other moron besides you? :)

Friday, January 08, 2016 5:31:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I could care less that is between him and the establishment. Relax . Breaking rules is ok. I give you permission to live a little sir. Maybe go out and jaywalk, get away from the Internet for a bit.

Saturday, January 09, 2016 6:40:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I really don't understand the hating. If you don't like what he's doing, then don't read it....

Saturday, January 09, 2016 10:12:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's nothing like jaywalking, idiot. If I jaywalk and get caught, I get a ticket. All on me. If the ABC or some other local regulator finds out about Mr Fancybeer sneaking booze into their place, the restaurant gets a fine or could get shut down and Kevin faces no consequences.

Could the restaurants police their customers more? Yeah, sure, but working in a restaurant is hard and owning one is even harder and at the end of the day Kevin is making an informed choice and fucking over small business owners all over the nation.

And it's couldn't care less. Not could. JFC.

Monday, January 11, 2016 9:36:00 AM  
Blogger Micah Zehnder said...

What's with the $40 sliver of crab in a roll?... $35 basic lobster roll? Why such insane rip-off prices?


Is 2015 Bottle Logic Fundamental Observation easier than Bourbon County to acquire? I love BC more than perhaps any other beer, but it's literally impossible for most of us to acquire =/ I would love to be able to easily get something similar.

Friday, January 15, 2016 4:11:00 AM  

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