I have been hanging out near the Artists’ District in Santa Ana and have been awaiting the opening of Chapter One: the modern local. The had their soft opening only a few days ago and it appears they will be hosting a full menu starting on Monday, March 21.
They are located on the corner of Broadway and Third in Downtown Santa Ana. You might be wondering why they decided to name the restaurant “Chapter One” and why the decor is decidedly book related. The building was known as the Pacific Building and was built in 1925. At some point in its history, that corner location used to be home to a bookstore for many years. The owners of Chapter One wanted to pay homage to that. The interior is warm and inviting, contemporary colors mixed in with dark woods for that cozy den feeling.
Tim and I had some drinks to start of the night. He had the Lost Coast Downtown Brown and I had the Druid Davination. Druid Davination you ask? Yes, a combination of muddled strawberries, thyme and basil in with Irish Whiskey, Barsol Pisco (a type of brandy), 25 year old Balsamic Vinegar and a dash of lemon juice. Oh my god…this drink is awesome! My first sip had my eyes squinting, but my mouth was bursting with flavor! I couldn’t figure out if the kick was from the whiskey or from the Balsamic. The waitperson said it was probably the Pisco. When you go to Chapter One, this has to be one for you to try!
Tim and I decided to try a few dishes off their menu. Since they weren’t offering their full menu yet, our choices were limited, but we had a good variety. When we arrived, we came in thru the “front” corner doors, but there were no handles on the door. It seems the main entrance is actually to the left of the space. The restaurant was about 70% full, a good thing to see. We were seated at the bistro tables that lined up along the windows. We were handed an extensive beer list and their menu. We were told by our attentive waitperson that they had a limited menu and informed us of our choices. One thing we noticed is that there weren’t any prices on the menu. Oddly, I didn’t really notice this until we were waiting for the check. Tim and I had ordered without any concern of pricing. It wasn’t until we got our check that we found out our prices.
From the Starters we had the Potato Pear with a mushroom duxelle in the center and surrounded with a saute of wild mushroom in a cream sauce and the Ginger Red Miso soup. The potato pear is riced potatoes with the duxelle formed into the shape of a “pear” then rolled in panko and fried till golden brown. The presentation is actually very cute. Cutting into the “pear” we found our mushroom duxelle. The wild mushroom cream sauce complemented the potato very well. The potato was soft and pillowy, not dense by any means. The crunch of the crust was a nice contrast.
The soup. Yes the soup. Tim and I didn’t like it so much. The vegetables were fresh and not soggy, but it didn’t taste like anything. I really was expecting something, but it was really flat. For a Ginger Miso, I couldn’t taste the ginger at all. We ate about half of the bowl before we were distracted with the next dish. Sorry, but for the footnotes of this page, the soup needed a little somethin-somethin.
Next we had the Ahi Tuna Salad. Seared Tuna with a mixed greens/frisée salad in a raspberry vinaigrette. I have to say there was alot of tuna for this salad. Now, seeing the bill at the end and seeing that it was a $12 salad, I guess it was a good serving for the price. The proportion of greens to the tuna seemed off to me. I was yearning for more salad, though I totally enjoyed the tuna. One thing did catch my attention during the salad. It needs salt. In fact thinking back, the potato pear could have used some salt as well in the potato. The wild mushroom sauce was very well seasoned and made up for the loss of salt in the potato. The tuna had a good sear on it, but I was expecting a bit of seasoning in that crust, it just wasn’t there. Sliding my tuna thru the vinaigrette helped.
For our main course we decided on the Skirt Steak with a Chimichurri Sauce. Our other choice was the house burger or a pork tenderloin if I remember correctly. I will have to come back later this week and try the burgers as well as the fish and chips that were listed on the menu. They also had Mac and Cheese and you know I could never turn my head away from that! Our server asked how we wanted our Skirt Steak, which was appreciated, and asked for it medium-rare. You’d be surprised how many servers won’t ask you that question. If beef is concerned, you should be asked how you want it cooked. Don’t be afraid to ever ask your server how you like your meat. When the Skirt Steak arrived at the table my eyes were devouring the dish before I even had the fork and knife in my mouth. I’m a very big fan of simple. These were 4 or 5 small portions of skirt steak, seared on the outside with great color, atop of what I thought were fries with a couple of streaks of chimichurri on both sides of the plate.
So the “fries” weren’t your typical fries. From what I could tell, these were extruded Yukon gold potatoes that were then dusted in flour then fried. Tim and I took turns at the pieces of skirt steak and I have to say that once again, my eyes saw crust and color, but it needed salt again. Now let me say that I don’t cook with a lot of sodium. I season my food with salt because it brings out the natural flavors of the food – not to mask it. The chimichurri sauce was quite flavorful and in combination with it, the skirt steak was actually pretty good. So why do I have anything to say about the salt? To me, each component on the plate should be able to stand on its own, everything else on the plate is made to complement each other. So while the steak and chimichurri were awesome, I still wanted some seasoning on the steak. So, why didn’t i just throw some salt on the food? Oddly, I’m not a fan of salting food after it has been cooked. To me, salt has to added during the cooking process for it to reach it full potential. Will I have this dish again? Oh yes. I’m chalking up the lack of salt to opening week jitters.
Now, let’s talk about those fries. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but something about the density of the potato along with it being unseasoned didn’t do a thing for me. Even in the juices of the skirt teak that seeped into it, it just didn’t have any flavor. This didn’t have the same consistency of the Potato Pear, these were definitely more dense. I asked for a side of that wild mushroom cream sauce to help eat those fries – it helped. But then again it was wild mushrooms and cream after all! :)
We ended our meal with coffee and decided on the Yuzu Tart. The way it was described I had pictured an actual “tart”, but what arrived was more like a deconstructed melange of ingredients on a blank canvas. Now, let me say that I eat with my eyes first, then with my mouth. Somehow my eyes wanted to look the other way when I stared at this plate. This was a large plate with ingredients strewn throughout. I can totally appreciate a small dish with strategically placed ingredients on the plate. Immediately, my mind started coming up with different ways that I would plate this dessert, rather than what I had in front of me. So how did it taste? I like it it actually. The only thing on the plate that I didn’t care for was the green tea meringues. It just seemed out of place. Now, I understand the connection between Yuzu (Japanese citrus) and the Green Tea. I just think it could have been used in a different way here. There were slices of grapefruit on the plate which I totally gobbled up.
Will I come back to Chapter One? Oh yes! Most definitely. Despite my experience tonight, I’m putting it aside as the potential for some great meals in the future are definitely on the horizon. Like I said, I’m chalking up the lack of salt to opening week jitters. If you are in the area and contemplating a bite to eat at Lola Gaspar, The Crosby or Memphis, walk a couple of blocks to Broadway and Third and enjoy a meal at Chapter One. They have a great menu on tap and they have a very nice list of beers on their list. They offer tasting glasses so you can have a sampling of beers off their list.
They are open late and last call for food is like at 1:30am. It’s a great place to catch a bite after being at the bars or a great place to hang out for the night with friends, some beer and good food.
The vibe in there tonight was very happy and everyone in the place had big smiles on their faces, including mine!
Another “footnote”, if you have a chance to have the coffee, please do, I thoroughly enjoyed my cup.
Congrats Chapter One, I look forward to eating there later this week!
Chapter One: the modern local
227 N. Broadway Avenue
(Corner of Broadway and Third)
Santa Ana, CA 92701