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“Great experience”
Review of The Playground

The Playground
Ranked #1 of 695 Restaurants in Santa Ana
Certificate of Excellence
Price range: $30 - $50
Cuisines: American, International, Gastropub
More restaurant details
Restaurant details
Dining options: Late Night, Breakfast, Reservations
Dining style: Casual Dining
Cross street: Spurgeon
Description: NOTE: We're doing major renovations that will require us to close the restaurant from July 18 through July 29. We're sorry if this causes you any convenience. Chef driven, ingredient driven affordable small plates and craft cocktails and beers. A young and creative team of chefs led by Executive Chef, Jason Quinn, change up the menu daily to keep the dining experience fresh and exciting. Orange County's "Best Bartender" making exciting craft cocktails and Santa Ana's best beer program, with 15 craft beers on tap and approximately 60 bottled beers, including many rarities. The dining experience is different at Playground: You're expected to share, so don't think in terms of my dish or your dish, and we're stubborn about our no-modification rule. If you're adventurous you'll probably love it; if you need control over your dish preparation, you probably won't.
Reviewed July 1, 2013

We had the Playground Sunday evening clean-out-the-kitchen meal and enjoyed it thoroughly. We had 13 or 14 courses (including three desserts). Each was very good and several were phenomenal. The pacing was very quick, but I think we were the last table seated. The staff was friendly and responsive.

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Thank too_few_trips_1
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
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143 - 147 of 189 reviews

Reviewed June 29, 2013

Being a huge fan of the Great Food Truck Race, I very much looked forward to trying out Chef Jason Quinn's food. The restaurant is located is a new hip area called East End Santa Ana. It has quite a bit of shaded outdoor seating underneath some mature trees. Made reservations for early dinner on a Friday night and was immediately given their rules over the phone (reserved tables could be held no longer than 10 minutes beyond rsvp time, meal must be done within 2 hours), which I respect and have no problems with.

Upon arrival, we got seated immediately. Servers and host were very nice and friendly. Server explained how everything works - family style so everyone gets to try more variety, entree will arrive immediately upon completion, ever-changing menu with no substitution. I wouldn't have it any other way. Sort of reminds me of 1 of my fave movies, The Last Holiday.

Here's the food:

Kurobuta Pork Belly Steam Bun with Guacamole: This was the highlight of the entire meal. Imagine peking duck-style bun wrapped around a moist perfectly cooked thick slice of pork belly with creamy yet bit spicy guac topped with a slice of radish. It was so good that we ordered a 2nd round. Clean flavors, perfectly cooked pork belly, simply delish!

I Trust 15 sashimi freestyle/endless possibilities: This is where the mis-communication is. Based on the server's description, it sounded like a concoction of different sashimis determined by the chef. Further the item description reads, "15 sashimi." What came out was an order of sea urchin sliced up and sitting on a bed of sweet corn and cubed watermelon soup. Being a sea urchin connoisseur, I have tasted fresher and sweeter sea urchin. The sweet corn and cubed watermelon was tasty but I'm not sure this item was worth $15. So, the "15" refers to the price, not 15 pieces of sashimis.

Wagyu Tri Tip, Crispy Potatoes, Chayote, Charred Corn, Chipotle Crema, Pasilla Pepper: This dish was overall tasty, but there were some areas on the plate that had overwhelmingly more salt than another area on the plate. This could be a result of a final hand sprinkling of salt over the dish after everything was put together, instead of the salt being incorporated during the food preparation. Would I order this again? Probably not.

Black Mission Fig Sticky Toffee Pudding: Everyone raved about this, so I had to order and try. This reminds me of a miniature moist bundt cake (without the hole in the center) sitting in a bed of gooey caramel sauce topped with salted creme fraiche. The seeds from the figs gave it a nice texture. The cake was yummy, but the caramel sauce was too sweet for my taste buds. However, the salted creme fraiche gave a good contrast to the overall sweetness of the dessert.

I would definitely go back for special occasions to try other culinary creations not found anywhere else.

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1  Thank TravelWithRiley
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Reviewed June 26, 2013

I'm wondering if the chef is back there in the kitchen naked, as he is most definitely the emperor in his new clothes.

The sad thing is, apparently it is only the manager and the waitstaff (and a few hundred seriously disillusioned sheep masquerading as patrons) who cannot see that he is naked. This is why he gets away with being a truly pretentious jerk, ruling his little fiefdom of a kitchen from on high. The rest of us sadly shake our heads as we pay our bill, after dining there once (and only once), and go home to see what new scathing response the chef has written to respond to justifiably bad reviews online, throwing a fit and calling his customers d*cks, among other things. You catch more flies with honey than vinegar, but since he already drenches his fried chicken in vinegar, what's a little more to spread the wealth? A pretentious toddler, this one is.

Onward. The service, while completely stilted due to the many, many rules (seriously, more rules than dining in Portland - THAT is saying something), is still very good. I feel horrible for them though, as they are certainly suffering with meager tips as they carry out his highness's rules and regulations. Our host was wonderful. Our server was friendly at first, then as the meal progressed, at least remained professional. Both the manager and the waitstaff are hamstrung by this young chef's hubris, and you can tell they are tired of dealing with justifiably irate customers by the automatic tone and verbiage they use to explain, yet again, the rules and regulations involved with being a patron of this overpriced and over-hyped joke of a dining establishment.

It's Sunday brunch and we made a reservation. They let you know, upfront, that you can only have the table for two hours as they are very busy and very important. I must say, they are VERY good about informing you on the rules. VEE HAFF RULES!!! But I digress. I also puzzled a bit when they called to confirm my reservation and let me know that they would be charging my credit card on file that afternoon (it was 2 days in advance) - I had no idea what that even meant but since I never gave them credit card info, I didn't think much of it. Oh boy, the red flags were flying and I didn't even see them right in front of my face.

We arrived and took a look around, seeing all the rules written all over the chalkboards and on the menu. I am guessing the chef has unresolved childhood issues as he definitely has a thing for rules. His way or the highway, baby. And don't let the door hit you in the rear on your way out. We ordered coffee to start, and that's where the trouble started. Coffee comes black, as that is how they like it - and forget what you, the patron, want. Just give us your money and shut the heck up. No cream, no sugar. The kitchen contains both, but due to the need to be a pretentious, uh, individual, you cannot have either. No matter how much you ask nicely. Or snarl. Really brings out the best in people, these pretentious (and stupid) rules. I get it - the chef wants you to have a certain experience and is crafting such. But no cream or sugar for your coffee? For Pete's sake, the coffee shop they get the coffee from offers both to their patrons! What is this chef's problem? Other than his Montana-sized ego, of course.

The food? For what it is, it is okay. Not stellar, nor phenomenal, nor anything I would need to come back for (bad policies aside). The chicken was too vinegary. The biscuit was good. The chilaquiles were fine, if a bit spicy. I picked off my onions and almost felt afraid that I'd get thrown out for doing so. The cornbread was a bit brickish but the butter was good. The nectarine doughnut was fine, but it was the nectarine glaze that made it so. An okay meal, but nothing amazing and definitely overpriced.

The coffee? Well, the person in our group who wanted sugar ended up going out to the car for some contraband sugar. Glad we didn't get booted for bringing in illegal sugar. I take my coffee black, so I didn't need to buck the rules. BUT, that said, the coffee was just fine. Again, no angels singing when I tasted it, nor unicorns flying overhead. Regular coffee. What a joke. After the hype, NOTHING will be as good as you think it should.

The moral of the story? Don't believe your own hype and publicity. Young chef, you'll learn this lesson soon enough, so enjoy your gig while it lasts.

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10  Thank thetripchick
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Robert Q, Owner at The Playground, responded to this reviewResponded June 28, 2013

One might ask why Playground has rules. It is not because we think we know better or because we want to impose our will on others. In fact, it is to encourage people such as this reviewer not to come to our restaurant. Why is that? Because, contrary to the heading of this review, we care very deeply about our customers and their experience and we will never make people like this reviewer happy.

If you read this review closely, you'll see that the service was excellent, until the customer started "snarling." Even then the server remained professional. You'll also see that the food was good, although not remarkable for this customer's palate. Our great sin was having rules, the only one of which that seemed to affect a friend of this reviewer related to coffee. (We serve freshly ground, single-cup brewed artisan coffee from Portola Coffee Lab; experience has taught us that it doesn't work well with cream or sugar. We know you're not going to like it if you add cream or sugar, so we only serve it black. But when enjoyed black it highlights characteristics of coffee that few of us in the Starbucks generation knew was possible.)

We do not think we are necessarily the greatest restaurant in the world, but every day we wake up and try to be. That means we have to serve things we believe in, prepared in a way believe will show them at their best. Anyone is welcome to disagree with our interpretation, but we're not going to sacrifice our vision to modify a dish so that it becomes something we don't believe in. So we are stubborn and we know that will infuriate some subset of the dining population. We unapologetically invite them to dine elsewhere because they won't be happy here. We're not right and they're not wrong. We're just not well suited to each other. Those red flags this reviewer ignored were our way of saying, please don't dine here if you want to dictate how your meal is prepared; come here if you want to try what we think is great food. And if you don't like it, don't pay for it. (It says that right on the menu, and we mean it.)

I truly wish this reviewer had not come to Playground. We're not right for her, and we'll lose sleep over the fact that someone came to dine with us and left thinking we are horrible and do not care. There is little more painful than being misunderstood. But the fact is, we'll never make her happy and we'll never try, because trying to make everyone happy makes one generic and by necessity strips away those special characteristics that make some people very happy. There are plenty of generic restaurants out there. We ask ourselves, why would anyone want to be one of those? We'll stay true to our vision and continue to do everything in our power to try to make our guests happy ... because we care deeply about everyone who comes into our restaurant and we want them to leave feeling as if they'd just experienced something very unique and special.

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Reviewed June 7, 2013

This is a fun place to eat! The food is always changing and always great! The menu can be hard to figure out but just ask a waiter or randomly pick something. It's alway fantastic. We have been here at least 6 times and have brought several friends with us. Food is served family style and brought out as soon as it's ready. This is one of the best restaurants I've ever eaten at!

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Thank lovetotravelca02
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Reviewed June 6, 2013

While driving to the restaurant last night my daughter's friend asked what type of food we were going to have for dinner. "Playful" I responded. "Playful? I don't understand." "Playful, I responded again with a smile while she looked bewildered. Midway through dinner I asked her if she understood what I meant. "Yes- it is quite playful" she beamed.
Think of eating here as a playful tapas restaurant and you won't be disappointed. The menu changes every day by what is available. The three of us shared 4 small appetizers/entrees and each of us loved every dish. And we really loved the Black Mission Fig Sticky Toffee Pudding- it was so good (perhaps the best dessert I have ever had) we ordered a 2nd to share.
4 apps/entrees shared + 2 desserts + wine for me + several Maine Root Beers for my daughter and nonalcoholic drinks for our guest = under $100 before tip. Plus tremendous service that was beyond friendly and almost... playful.

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Thank MountainHealthNut
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.

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