Playground – Artist’s Village DTSA

Downtown Santa Ana Artist’s Village is a hidden Gem in the OC!  If you don’t know, you best start!

Playground Downtown Santa Ana is not the first restaurant I’ve been to in DTSA but it will be the first I review for my blog for the pure reason that the restaurant fucking rocks and the owner and staff are legit!

It was a Friday afternoon and I was harassing my fiance (like I always do) about what we were going to eat for dinner.  BTW, his number one pet peeve about me is from the moment I wake up to the moment I got to bed I always ask him, “Hun, what do you want to eat for breakfast….lunch….dinner?”  His response: “I just woke up, why the hell would I be thinking about lunch?” Or “I just ate lunch, there’s no way I’m thinking about dinner.”  My favorite: “Seriously, breakfast, that’s like 10 hours from now.”  So, when he was finally ready to talk about where we were going to eat he had a couple stipulations on where we could go.  He wanted to somewhere that was casual, low-key and eclectic.  The first place I thought of was Lola Gaspar in DTSA.  (Post coming soon.)  But we had been there already and I wanted to go somewhere new.  What to do in this situation?  Duh, you gotta Yelp it!  Playground came up as the #3 result (the first two options were Asian restaurants and my fiance was definitely not feeling that).  I click on the Playground, go to the menu, and the first item that catches my eye is ““No Silverware Allowed” Uncle Lou’s Fried Chicken  14 pretty aggressive, not for wussies” Score!  My fiance LOVES fried chicken.  I tell him and he says lets do it.  I make a reservation online, through Yelp/Opentable for 7:30 pm that night.

Google maps takes us to a parking lot near the Yost Theater (Hip venue to watch musical acts, aka DJs, kinda like Avalon in Hollywood but smaller).  Playground is on the corner of 4th and Spurgeon.  As we approach the restaurant I’m already getting a good feeling.  When you walk in the first thing you notice is the black board wall behind the bar outlining the craft beers of the night, which I personally think is super cool and wouldn’t mind having one in my house, my fiance would beg to differ.  Then you see mostly high top communal tables and a few low tops scattered in the middle.  It was super packed when we arrived, buzzing with conversation.  I did notice the Dodgers game was on by the bar, which is a plus for my fiance because he is a huge baseball fan.  The host was going to sit us in the middle of a communal table (me on one side, him across from me), which normally I wouldn’t mind sitting at with friends, but for a date night I was looking for a more intimate setting.  I noticed there was bar like seating to the left and asked if we could sit there.  And as awesome as they are, the host sat us there.

The menu, which changes daily, highlighted the specials of the day on the front, and listed their plethora of choices of craft beer on the back.  As of now, the restaurant only serves wine and beer, which for me is not my ideal situation since I am a vodka soda type of girl.  So needing to adapt, I was looking for my go to wine; Sauvignon blanc.  They only sold it by the bottle and it was definitely not a bottle type of night.  I asked the waitress what would be a good substitute and she recommended the Amicus (by X Winery), Sangiacomo Vineyard, Carneros Chardonnay Reserve 2010.  It was smooth and floral.  I liked!  My fiance went for the Shandy (Beer, OJ and Ginger Ale).  Now it was time to order food!

Dinner:

  • Fried Cauliflower, Calabrian Chile Tapenade, Fresh Lemon
  • Di Steffano Burrata, Meyer Lemon, Blood Orange, Almond, Caramelized Fennel Dressing
  • Maple Glazed Pork Chop
  • Grilled Iberico De Bellota Cheek benedict
  • “No Silverware Allowed” Uncle Lou’s Fried Chicken  14 pretty aggressive, not for wussies

Fried Cauliflower, Calabrian Chile Tapenade, Fresh Lemon:my fiance ordered this.  I had never had fried cauliflower before.  Oh boy was I surprised.  It tasted like chips with an awesome garlic topping.  It was so good, it really made me change my view about vegetables.

Di Steffano Burrata, Meyer Lemon, Blood Orange, Almond, Caramelized Fennel Dressing: this was my idea.  I love Burrata cheese and you just can’t go wrong with it.  Its a creamy mozzarella.  Anytime I see Burrata on the menu I have to order it, I absolutely just have to!  It was also served with some greens and it was a fresh and satisfying appetizer.

Maple Glazed Pork Chop: OMG, when this MOFO came out I was like you got to be kidding me.  This pork chop had to be at least 5 inches thick.  This is by far the best pork chop I have ever had.  Juicy, tender, and mouth watering.  The maple glaze was just damn sexy.  It was just sweet enough and left me with a lasting impression I will never forget.

Grilled Iberico De Bellota Cheek Benedict: this was all me again.  If I see something on the menu that looks eccentric or weird, I will order it!  Its cured pork, poached egg, homemade english muffin and some kind of cheese sauce.  The pork was amazing, it was salty and tender.  The dish as a whole was not my favorite.

“No Silverware Allowed” Uncle Lou’s Fried Chicken  14 pretty aggressive, not for wussies: save the best for last!  I forgot to tell you guys, when we ordered, my fiance changed his mind and ordered the Maple Glazed Pork Chop.  And when my Pork Benedict came out, it was super small and I knew we had to order more food.  Cue the fried chicken.  I’m telling you, by the time the fried chicken came out we were so stuffed.  But there was no way I wasn’t trying the chicken.  I grab for the chicken and its still scorching hot and at the same time this pungent aroma wafts up my nostrils and stings a little.  “Whoa, that’s vinegar!”  I go for the thigh (yeah dark meat) and bite in.  AHHHH!  Juice drips from the corner of my mouth onto my jeans.  YUMMM!  A tangy sweet and sour flavor envelopes my taste buds.  MMMM I swallow in utter elation (wait maybe I shouldn’t say that out loud).  Oh well.  Yeah, I’m gonna say it.  This is the BEST FRIED CHICKEN I have ever eaten ever!  The skin was perfectly crispy, the meat was perfectly juicy and tender and the flavor was out of this world!

Conclusion:  the Playground rocks!  I’m coming back for Brunch.  I watched their video on their website and I fell more in love with the restaurant.  The owner Jason Quinn is the guy from the Lime Truck, another favorite of mine, seems like a down to earth, culinary bad ass!  Bravo!

Clockwise: Fried Cauliflower, Maple Glazed Pork Chop, Fried Chicken, Pork Benedict and Burrata

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