Thursday, October 1, 2015

The Playground

The Playground
220 E 4th St.
Santa Ana, CA 92701

Jungle Fever has been fighting the good fight against the most unfortunate of things...cancer.  It super sucks of course, but he has been exuding a positive attitude and living life to the fullest these days.  A full life for anyone who is really living, of course, involves eating well.  Before his taste buds went all awry from chemotherapy, he planned a lovely dinner to celebrate a fun tennis season together.  We went family style at The Playground for their weekly "Sunday Supper."  The "Sunday Supper" at The Playground is an awesome deal.  For $55 (inclusive of tax and tip), you get 13 (14 if you include the cornbread) courses of anything goes food.  By the end of the night you're totally stuffed with food you're not gonna find anywhere else.  They're constantly pushing the boundaries here.  The Playground is definitely my top recommendation for any OC visitor.  Of course our team captain, Mama-Cracks-That-Whip, and Potty Pie were in attendance, as well as some others who will probably never make another appearance on this blog, so my laziness is trumping my creative nicknaming at the moment.

Fried Brussels Sprouts jalapeƱo caesar dressing, cotija cheese 
The Brussels sprouts at The Playground never fail to disappoint me.  They are perfect everytime.  Crispy and golden fried on the outside, still firm on the inside.  I can't stand a mushy sprout.  Their take on a Mexican caesar was very nice.  Seriously, most things on a fried brussels sprout is hard to mess up.  Great way to start the meal.

Mixed Green Salad hatch chili buttermilk dressing, walnuts, tomatoes, red onions
Mixed green salad?  Really?  Well it was a tasty one, with lots of different textures, which I always appreciate.  It was surprisingly VERY spicy.  Never had a mixed green salad so spicy.


Cornbread chipotle honey brown butter
This was one of the strongest offerings of the night.  You're thinking "the cornbread was the best thing you ate?  This meal musta sucked."  On the contrary, the meal was pretty good, but the cornbread was just so awesome.  It was super moist and not too sweet.  It was both fluffy and dense.  I can't decide whether I liked the cornbread here or at Hugo's better.

Pan Roasted Mushrooms edamame, sweet potato, miso sambal dressing, poached egg
I appreciate how The Playground is constantly experimenting and thinking outside of the box.  Sometimes that can lead to pure genius, but other times it can lead to a "wtf" kind of dish.  This wasn't necessarily a "wtf" dish, but it was weird.  The flavors reminded me of mediocre Chinese take out.  I mean, it was tasty and I ate it, but I was unimpressed.
Pan Roasted Corn  tare, furikake, pickled fresno chilies, sugar snap peas
I liked the corn.  Not exactly sure what the brown stuff was, furikake something.  It added a bit of crunch to the sweet roasted corn.




Fried Chicken Wings coconut jam, yellow curry, scallions
Visually speaking, I think the wings would have been more appealing had they been browner.  They were juicy and definitely wings like I've never had them.  The coconut yellow curry sauce certainly channeled a Thai inspiration.  I think Mama-Crackes-That-Whip liked the wings, but I found the coconuttiness a bit distracting.  Maybe I'm just used to Pok Pok wings or Korean chicken wings.  Thumbs up for innovation though.
Escolar charred rice, romesco sauce
The fish was good, but I really enjoyed the charred rice.  Smokey!
Short Rib pomme puree, red chimichurri, crispy red onions
Pretty standard, meaning falling off the bone tender, of course.  The pomme puree and crispy red onions were traditional accompaniments, while the chimichurri was a unique twist.
Housemade Fusili pesto, mozzarella, arugula 
I follow the making of The Playground's fresh pasta on Instagram, but I can't say I have ever been impressed with any of the pasta dishes here.  The dish wasn't bad, but it could be that I'm not a fan of pesto.  I didn't like the big hunks of mozzarella dotted throughout.
Chicken Albondigas chipotle crema, escabeche, zucchini, carrot
Not sure why chicken was the meat of choice.  They were not the most moist meatballs.  Pretty presentation, but many of us were getting stuffed by this point and this didn't impress us enough to demolish the dish.
Maple Glazed Pork Chop
I'm sure every Sunday Supper includes this behemoth.  It is probably The Playground's signature dish that they do amazingly well.  For such a giant cut of meat. it is always juicy and perfectly cooked.  It is just the right amount of sweet and savory.  This is a must have!
Uncle Lou's Fried Chicken
The first time I had the fried chicken, I was really off put by the tanginess from the vinegar based seasoning.  This time, I quite appreciated it.  This style is probably not my first choice, but I liked that tangy sweet kick.  Potty Pie is a fan of Uncle Lou.
Caramel Panna Cotta walnut and chocolate cookie crumble, coffee whipped cream

Seriously, that was soo much food, even for our large party of 10.  But there was still room for dessert.  I never had such a concoction of panna cotta with large pieces of chocolate chip walnut cookies, but it really worked.  The coffee whipped cream was a nice complement against the caramel flavor.  I loved how the dessert was not overly sweet.
Black Mission Fig Sticky Toffee Pudding

This was another dish I had before, which I totally did not like.  This time, I was really in love.  I found the bread pudding to be more moist and the sticky toffee part to be less sweet.  Overall, I can see why this is their signature dessert.  Mama-Cracks-That-Whip was mmmm-ing every bite of this dish.  She took many many bites.  She even took home the leftovers.  Not sure if she shared it with her husband and kids.  I would not be surprised if she didn't.
I was quite pleased by my first Sunday Supper at The Playground.  I love it for many reasons.  The food is great, maybe not all Yums-worthy, but tasty for the most part.  It is a great value.  You get to try such a large variety of dishes.  It is a fun way to eat great food, family style.  Some downsides, though minor.  It can be hard to get a reservation, and when you do, you are booking the month prior to the month you're trying to dine.  Man, who can plan that far ahead with so many people?  The timing of the courses is at lightening speed.  Food was piling up and sometimes that is a stressful or unpleasant feeling.   I would come back for Sunday Supper anytime.  The dishes are always changing so there's always something to look forward t.


10 - You NEED to eat here
9 - Awesome! (because Sunday Supper is special and fun)
8 - Very good (food alone)
7 - Good 
6 - OK 
5 - Average
4 - Not bad
3 - Not good
2 - Terrible
1 - Do NOT eat here

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