Downtown Santa Ana has been trying to re-define their area the last few years. This time around it’s been more of a hipster vibe with plenty of new restaurants opening still. But the start of it all was with The Playground, which truly lives up to its name. The food is fresh, with constant new and exciting ingredients being used daily. The menu is often changed out weekly depending on the season and what ingredients they are able to get their hands on. Also known for their crafted beers and cocktails as well, Jared Doodley is their head Cicerone which is basically a beer expert. The vibe is very mellow, dim lighting; the restaurant itself is always busy regardless if it’s a Monday night, or a Saturday.
Tonight we started with their Dungeness Crab & Apple Rolls. Imagine thinly sliced apples, filled with a delicious crab filling, rolled up and finished with some avocado, and frisee. Such a wonderful light dish to start it as everything was very refreshing, the avocado gave it that richness, the frisee gave it nice texture, as the apple had the hint of sweetness. This was also paired with yuzu koshu with is a Japanese Citrus fruit. The next dish we went with was the Cornbread Waffle, which came with a brown butter, topped with prosciutto, and drizzle with honey. This dish was delicious, the cornbread waffle was cooked perfect with the right crisp texture, the prosciutto added that salty bite I needed, but not overpowering at all. The brown better gave it that next depth as the honey balanced out all the flavors really nicely without being overly sweet. The honey was dark and a bit thick, however tasted great regardless. Playground is known for making delicious Brussel sprout dishes so we had to go with their Brussel Sprouts Caesar. Deep fried, and then tossed with some house-made Cesar dressing, you can’t complain. The only thing was I wished it were dressed a little less as the sauce was a bit drowning and made things overly salty. Since I live spicy food, I wish there were more jalapenos in this, but this is just based on a bias opinion as I love jalapenos. My go to dish every time I visit Playground is their Uncle Lou’s Fried Chicken, this dish takes a little bit longer but is well worth the wait. Generous portion in my opinion for the price, which comes with two drumsticks and two thighs. The taste is different, it’s not your average crispy fried chicken but the spices and vinegary taste is amazing while still being extremely juicy. Honestly I would probably just eat the plate to myself and I probably will the next time I visit. Again this is not your average fried chicken but nothing from The Playground is average. The last dish we went with was the Thai Style Charcoal grilled Pork Collar which came with a sweet sesame sauce what tasted like to me, pickled cucumbers, and puffed rice. The pork was very tender and melted in my mouth, the charred tasted adding that extra complexity, while the sauce was very addicting, maybe a little too sweet for some but I enjoyed it. I just wish this dish came with more of those pickled cucumbers as it really helped freshen the dish. We also enjoyed that extra crunch the puffed rice provided. Lucky for you it’s still on the menu and a definite must try. Although this seems like a lot of food you have to remember that this is considered shared plating, so the portions a bit smaller, but I’m also in partial denial because I can eat quite the storm. Lastly we finished our dish with their Citrus Pavlova which consisted of Greek Yogurt Panna Cotta, Winter Citrus, and a pistachio brittle. If you don’t know what a Pavlova is, it’s basically a meringue that’s soft, light, with a crisp crust on the outside. I’m usually a huge fan of their head pastry chef’s desserts, but this time around I really didn’t care for the winter citrus being paired with the meringue, I also didn’t think it was actually sweet enough since the blood oranges have that little bitterness to them. This is definitely not biased either as I love blood oranges. Overall I always have wonderful experiences are The Playground, every dish was delicious and my friend and I enjoyed our time there. A highly recommended restaurant to try.
Restaurant – Playground
Location – 220 East 4th Street #102, Santa Ana, CA 92701
Contact – 714.560.4444
Cuisine – Small Plates, Tapas, New American, Fusion