Playground 2.0: Invite Only Dinner - Santa Ana, CA
An invite-only dining experience held at Playground’s 17-seat kitchen theater located next door to the general restaurant. Patrons are seated along the counter that encircles the kitchen arena allowing everyone to watch these skilled chefs perform. There was an energy of excitement and appreciation from both sides of the counter. There’s something thrilling about being in a room filled with fellow adventurous food lovers and not knowing what the next dish is going to be. Once seated, we were greeted with a nigiri welcome, I was told that it was time sensitive therefore it was to be eaten immediately and in one bite. Hence, no picture was taken. I guess there has to be some mystery left for the reader’s imagination.
Our dinner was titled, “I Got My First Real Six String”, and the theme of the evening was summer dishes around the world.
Nitro Pina Colada: Zaya 12 year, coconut water, dehydrated Pineapple. No summertime fun is complete without a refreshing tropical drink with a mini-umbrella. Smooth, fun, and playful.
Summer In Irvine (Phock You): Golden Oxtail pho consomme, Miyazaki ribeye, rice noodles, bean sprouts, jalapeño, & mint. The marebleization in the meat gives it a tenderness not to be forgotten. My tongue felt as if it was being swept over by a smooth velvety blanket of flavors.
You Put the Lime in the Coconut: Albacore poke, macadamia nuts, mango, red Fresno pepper, cilantro, toasted coconut, & Lime w/ thinly sliced taro chips. It drew me to a hammock on the beach in hawaii. I swear I heard the distant sounds of a ukelele, but it could have been the sound of my own humming as I took in all the flavors and textures of this dish.
Gazpacho Snow Cone: Pangrattato, Chive blossom, & Basil Syrup. Bread crumbs frozen & shaved for your dining pleasure. It left me pleasantly confused. I had to ask my fellow diner how to describe this dish, other than the usual “wow” and “yum”. Stolen from his mouth, Gazpacho flavored Dippin’ Dots.
Pimms Cup: Pimms no. 1, cucumber juice, ginger juice, on draught.
Ultimate Shrimp Cocktail Lovers Summer Roll: Spot prawn, iceberg lettuce, & lemon. A light dish and the spot prawns were sweet with a firm texture.
Citrusy Beets: Goat cheese panna cotta, citrus glaze, citrus supremes, pickled onion, pumpkin seed oil, and crumble. All the ingredients were infused with some beet flavor. A wonderfully pleasant array of colors to dazzle the eyes. Under the assorted goodies was a layer of goat cheese panna cotta.
Pei Mussels preserved with their liquor: Sherry vinegar, paprika, olive oil, chive, small veges. The mussels were sweet and soft with a very light chew which was perfectly sauced with hints of sour, salty, and spicy.
Halibut Ceviche: Tomato consomme & chimichurri.
Thai Green Mango Salad: Spicy beef, peanut, herbs, and crispy. I very much appreciated the lightness of the peanut dressing. Often times, when a dish is labeled “Thai”, it’s doused with thick peanut sauce which over powers everything on the plate. The dish provided here had hints of peanut flavor, similar to a peanut vinaigrette, and the mango had the right amount of crisp to it.
Noble Picnic Beer:American Saison
King Crab Hot Dog: Old Bay aoili, pickle relish. Who doesn’t love a good hot dog….especially when it’s made of king crab and buttered toast? Please sir, may I have another….plate full?
Blue Ribbon Slaw: Avocado, agave, jalapeno. Mama always said to eat your greens!
Playground Fried Chicken: Fried chicken in a light flakey batter with honey drizzle. A-MAZING. Juicy, crispy, & who knew something as heavy as fried chicken can be presented in such a light and delicate way. I made sure to treat it with care using gentle nimble fingers to guide it to my salivating food trap.
Wagyu Tri-Tip: Uncle Lou’s style. Seared at 850 degrees, this piece of meat was oh so ten-dah….
Hot potato to cold potato salad: Tyler’s ranch. Hot and cold potato mixed together while maintaining a crisp potato skin and flavors that burst.
Baby Back Ribs
Pan Roasted Corn: Chile lime butter. It’s always the seemingly simple dishes that win me over. Layered with flavors of sweet, salty, sour, buttery, with a kick of heat.
Kalimoxto: Red wine, cola, & lime. Sangria with a cali twist.
Cucumber: An Unexpected Hero: Farro, Tzatziki. Simple and scrumptious. A whipped cucumber tzaziki with airy crunchy faro grains. A great palate refresher, especially to prepare for the savory dishes to follow.
Whole Smoke Lamb Shoulder: Spicy mint. By far one of my most fave dishes. The aroma from the spiced lamb shoulder alone was enough for me to refuse to pass the plate along to the next person, but alas one must play nice. Melt-in-your-mouth lamb shoulder with a hint of gaminess, mint, and whatever else was used to spice up this heated up lamb shoulder.
Fruit Plate: Seasons best. Fruit plate with drizzled honey and topped with fresh made whip. How do I know it’s fresh? Chef Max, with a timer on the cutting board, hand whipped the cream into a light froth in front of us in less than 18 seconds. Such sweet skills.
Ashely in the form of cheese: cheese. The picture’s a little blurred, but at this point, it most accurately portrays my vertigo-ish tunnel vision starting to occur do to the lack of blood in my brain as every drop was needed to digest the great food that was had and more to come.
Caprese Amuse: Crutomat, mozzarella, cheesecake, balsamic, basil olive oil. Tastes like a Caprese salad super-powered by 10 and presented in such a unique fashion. That spoon left my plate looking like it had gone through a dishwasher. Yes, it was good.
When Asked About Summer Food everyone says watermelon: Watermelon infused dessert in 4 different forms presented in one bowl. Watermelon sorbet, with watermelon cream, sliced watermelon, and smokey watermelon balls, sitting in watermelon juice.
Morning, Noon, & Night: Averna, coffee, hanger 24 chocolate porter, bitters, and egg white. Every ingredient was discernible in this drink, yet mingled flawlessly together.
Buy Me Some Peanuts and Cracker Jacks: Peanut brittle, popcorn ice cream, warm caramel sauce. Creamy, crunchy, cool.
Funnel Cake, Bitch: Warm seasonal berry compote, paco vanilla. Each part alone was fantastically yummy, all together they are a power house.
Certificate of authenticity to show that the meat was A-5 grade. The overall quality of Wagyu meat is determined by the Japan Meat Grading Association with A-5 grade level being the highest. Because of it’s low melting point, Wagyu beef will melt when held in the hand. By the same reason, it’s also why it literally melts in your mouth when eaten.
At any point during the meal diners who wish to have a new plate to prevent cross contamination of flavors can simply push it forward and a new plate appears. That’s service.
A few of the talented chefs and general manager ((applause applause)). The masterminds behind an unforgettable dining experience.
I ran out of descriptive words for all the dishes. So overall, high quality food presented in a visually stunning manner coupled with energetic and skilled at their craft staff.
This meal proved that it is possible to fall in love over and over again…at least, 29 times in a single evening.
220 E 4th St
Santa Ana, CA 92701