For months now I’ve been hearing great things about The Playground in Santa Ana, CA. My wife and I finally had a chance to check it out on our date night and I have to say it lived up to the hype. When you sit down the first thing you will notice is that the menu is printed on a sheet of white paper with the date at the bottom. This is because their menu changes daily based on what ingredients are fresh. For those of you that don’t know what it is like to cook professionally, the fact that they change their menu daily acts like a double edged sword. Implemented correctly and they will be known for the best dishes year round, but on the other hand if they execute this system poorly then they will end up hurting themselves by serving inconsistent quality dishes. Right now it is too early to say how The Playground will perform year round, I will have to eat there at least a few times before I can give a thumbs up for seasonal dishes. However, for my first visit I have to say they earned a five star rating overall. Cauliflower Nachos were the first thing on the menu that caught our attention so we had to give it a try. I love cauliflower and I also really like nachos, so it wasn’t a shock to me when I fell in love with this dish. The cauliflower is cooked perfectly, it is a little crispy on the outside yet nice and soft on the inside. It holds up well with the cheese and sauce but make sure you get some of the picked jalapeno because it really helps to balance out the flavor and it keeps the dish from being too rich.
Our next dish was the Iberico De Bellota which is a black Spanish pig tartare on a piece of toast. These specific pigs eat acorn which gives them a very rich and nutty flavor. It pears very well with the hazelnuts, shallots and Piquillo peppers. Make sure to eat all of the ingredients at the same time to get the full effect of flavor, if you eat the meat by itself it will taste salty but when eaten as a whole it is perfect.
For those of you that follow Foodilistic.com, it is no secret that my wife and I love duck! With that being said, I want to make it very clear that The Playground 100% knocked this dish out of the park and instantly became one of my favorite duck dishes. The duck itself is cooked to perfection with a crispy skin while the meat was juicy and divine. It is served with picked peaches which is an awesome pallet cleanser because the sour and sweet taste cuts through the fatty flavor of the duck. It is also served with braised fennel, sherry & black pepper gastrique (sugar and vinegar sauce), mustard frills and sweet onion. If you like duck you have to try this dish out if it is available.
Now the term “saving the best for last” really comes into play at The Playground. Personally I am a huge sucker for bread puddings when they are prepared well. So when I saw a Black Mission Fig Sticky Toffee Pudding on the dessert menu I didn’t even bother looking at the other options. At dinner my wife and I sat at a community table and the guests to our left and to our right both ordered this dessert while we were still eating our entrees. One of the guests made a comment about this dish which pretty much says it all. After her first bite she looked at her friend and said “orgasm in my mouth”. I apologize if that statement wasn’t in best taste, but I honestly can’t think of a better description.
I plan to go back to The Playground at least once every season so I can try out different dishes. After I’ve eaten there a few times I will make sure to update this post but overall I was very impressed and I will definitely be back soon.