Behold: the county’s first gastropub
By EDWIN GOEI
Thursday, December 13, 2007 – 2:00 pm
The Crow Bar and Kitchen is the kind of place OC’s been missing. Sure, we’ve got fine dining up and down our coasts, and great Vietnamese, Korean, Japanese and Mexican inland. But there’s never been anything like chef Brendan Scott’s new venture—a down-to-earth eatery that eschews Newport Beach glitz for fun, brews and really good food.
Just a few weeks after opening, reservations are being plucked up quicker than worms at sunrise. You can drop in unannounced for communal seating or sidle up to the bar. But as night progresses, it’s a standing-room-only
crowd, with the overflow inevitably creeping into the dining room.
Tall pints of draft beer flow freely, as do loud conversations, which can be carried out as long as you have strong lungs and a hand cupped to your ear. But you won’t want it any other way. This is a pub, after all, a neighborhood watering hole that just happens to cook grub that would satisfy Homer Simpson as much as impress Alice Waters.
Although the Crow Bar’s website quotes our favorite cartoon buffoon, this ain’t Moe’s: The Crow Bar preaches and supports sustainable agriculture. Their fried chicken is free-range from Shelton Farms; the salumi is crafted by Fra’ Mani; and produce is sourced locally whenever possible.
But never mind all that. Just grip your chilled glass of ale and nosh on small bites designed to complement alcohol. Start with the blue crab deviled eggs—three halves to an order, filled with crab meat confetti, crumbled egg yolk and mayo.
Three also seems to be the magic number for the Serrano ham-wrapped dates, but after tasting one, nothing less than a half dozen will do. Each oversized capsule eats like a giant, addictive jellybean with a thin, porky crust and a mushy goat cheese center.
Continue grazing with the “pot of pickles” (actually a bowl packed with a crunchy assortment of green beans, asparagus, carrots, turnips, pearl onions and cucumbers. Scott brines it himself with wine vinegar. Use it as a weapon against anything greasy. The wince-inducing sourness asserts itself particularly well against the Panko-breaded Vidalia onion rings and the salt and vinegar chips (the latter are crispy wisps lighter than parchment).
A block of lettuce called the “ice cube” is the Crow Bar’s version of the wedge salad, showing off Scott’s eagerness to defy the norm, if only by the way he cuts the iceberg. Bacon bits, wafers of oven-dried tomato and dribbles of bleu cheese dressing complete a salad as brisk as it sounds.
Thimbles of musky truffle aioli and a smoky, sun-dried tomato paste comes with an order of duck-fat fries, but skip it if you’re going to get the fish and chips. You’ll get plenty of fries with the dish, along with three pieces of seasonal fish encased in beer batter. Whatever the catch of the day, it will be as succulent as sashimi, as crunchy as tempura. You can ask for ketchup for dipping, but why? An Indian-curry tartar sauce is supplied in a nod to England’s proudest ethnic minority.
Bangers and mash carries on the homage, but I bet no Briton has ever seen it this refined. The potato is creamed to the perfect consistency (smooth but not runny, lumpy but not coarse), and the sausage has a gourmet pedigree (courtesy of Fra’ Mani again).
Of course, they have to serve Scotch eggs, though quail eggs play surrogate to decrease the girth to golf-ball size. Generous dollops of spicy brown mustard and more pickles appear beneath, as if to apologize for the fact that, yes, you are consuming a deep-fried sausage with a hard-boiled egg nucleus.
The desserts find Scott at his most playful. There are freshly fried churros (served with a shot of horchata slush) and a Ding-Dong clone complete with piped-in cream. But nothing is more fun than his Sub-Pop Tart, featuring a thick, crumbly crust and in-season fruit filling. It’s an almost too-faithful reimagining of the all-American junk food, right down to the confectioner’s sugar glaze and the rainbow sprinkles. You can’t have one without smiling, especially if you think about what Homer would say: “Mmmmm . . . beer and Pop-Tarts . . .”