Gallivanting Gourmet: A Gastropub to Crow About
By Elle Harrow and Terry Markowitz
Thursday, January 3, 2008
Although most of us occasionally
enjoy getting all dressed up and
going out for a fancy dinner, who
wouldn’t really rather have a great
meal right in the neighborhood while
still dressed in our jeans?
Now, you can do just that at the new
Crow Bar and Kitchen on East Coast
Highway in Corona del Mar. It’s the
hot place to be for a casual
atmosphere and excellent but
It’s subtitled “an American
gastropub.” In London, where people
primarily socialize in their local bar,
food was something to soak up the
booze. But in recent years we have
seen the emergence of the
gastropub, where food is as
important as drink.
Chef Brandon has taken traditional
pub grub, like bangers and mash,
Scotch eggs and fish ’n’ chips, to a
new level. But he also serves duck
confit, an ahi niçoise burger and fava
bean black truffle crostini, dishes that
are definitely on the “gastro” side.
The Crow Bar’s stated mission is to “establish
a new category of neighborhood restaurant that will
maintain the classic attributes of
comfort and affordability while
delivering superior food and service
to its guests.” They “ aim to bring
people closer to the production of
their food, both by incorporating
local, regional and sustainably grown
ingredients whenever possible.”
When you first enter, you are struck
by the fact that people seem to be
having a very good time, as
evidenced by the decibel level and
the impression that everyone is
busily engaged in the tasting and
sharing of food.
The attractive, contemporary room is
dominated by the bar area with its
two tall, long, communal tables. A
brown leather banquette stretches
along one wall and an open kitchen
provides a view of Chef Brandon and
his busy crew.
As you begin to make your choices,
be sure to check out the specials
written on one of the larger
gold-framed mirrors over the
The menu has an original format: listing a large variety of
small appetizers and
cheese plates, then salads, brick-oven flat breads, plates
both small and large,
burgers, sides and fanciful sweets.
You can begin with nibbles such as duck fat fries, blue crab
deviled eggs, blue
cheese-stuffed piquillo peppers, Spanish-cured meats or Serrano
dates with goat cheese and port syrup. We put ourselves in
the hands of our
delightful waiter, R.J., who suggested the fava bean black
truffle crostini with
reggiano parmigiano. The fava bean puree, spread on crunchy
toasts, had a gentle
hint of garlic and the lingering, subtle flavor of black truffle
oil punctuated by the
salty, buttery cheese.
The Crow bistro salad is the classic French frisée aux
lardons, with frisée lettuce,
bacon and poached egg (here a quail egg) tossed in vinaigrette.
The so-called “ice
cube” salad refers to a cube shape rather than a wedge
of iceberg lettuce with blue
cheese dressing, bacon bits and dried tomatoes.
Out of the brick oven come a selection of flatbreads, ranging
from the simple roma tomato, basil and burrata cheese to the
one topped with pancetta, caramelized onion, fig jam and gorgonzola
dolce. R.J. suggested the special of the evening:
roasted grilled asparagus, ricotta and roasted garlic.
Unfortunately, the topping was too skimpy to give it much taste.
was shaved into tiny little pieces adding color but not much
else and the thin smear
of ricotta left us longing for more. The best thing about it
was the crust — thin and
cracker-like with the flavor of good olive oil.
More substantial fare is listed under “plates” and “burgers.” Stout
ribs, brick oven-roasted wild bass with forest mushrooms or
Italian sausages with
Tuscan white beans and escarole all sounded tempting.
We couldn’t resist that pub classic of fish and chips,
but this rendition is definitely of
a higher caliber. It was served in a cone with two pieces of
fish on top of the fries,
and one more piece cleverly nestled under them so it would
stay warm until you
worked your way down. The moist fish was encased in a very
light, very crisp, very
delicious beer batter and the thin fries were equally irresistible,
dipped in the accompanying curried tartar sauce.
Then there are the quarter-pounders, all made with a mixture
of natural Angus and
prime beef: the classic with lettuce, tomato, onions, pickles
and secret sauce; the
Crow burger, featuring tallegio, gorgonzola, roasted tomato
and rocket on a
ciabatta roll; and, for about $20 more, a Japanese wagyu beef
burger on a brioche
bun with truffle aioli. Now, if you really want to impress
your date, order the special — the burger
of your choice and a bottle of Screaming Eagle wine for a mere
$2,900 (no, that's not a typo).
Normally, niçoise refers to a salad but here it is a
clever take on a burger. It
contains all the ingredients of a tuna niçoise salad:
tuna, potatoes, tomatoes, eggs,
onions, olives and green beans — deconstructed. A rare
tuna filet rides on a potato
roll saddled with tomatoes, sliced eggs and red onion, then
slathered with olive
tapenade aioli and partnered with green bean fries (sautéed
green beans). The
whole thing made a mighty tasty mouthful.
Desserts represent Chef Brandon’s playful side with such
whimsical titles as “Not
Just a Ding Dong,” “Sub-Pop Tart with Seasonal
Fruit Filling,” and “Irish Car ‘Bombe’ with Jameson Whiskey Crème Anglaise.” The
latter is vanilla gelato with a
chocolate center encased in amaretto cookie crumbs and drizzled
with a touch of
whiskey-scented crème anglaise.
If you’re old enough to remember it, think of that Italian
standby, bisque tortoni. The
fresh, homemade gelato has a very creamy smooth texture and
rich taste accented
by the crunchy almond-flavored crumbs, in a word, yummy.
This is a bustling, noisy neighborhood spot for good food and
good fun, plus they
have one of the most impressive beer menus around.