For the past two years I had been hearing a steady buzz about a restaurant called Chapter One: The Modern Local. This restaurant is located in the hipster chic Downtown Santa Ana, just down the street from The Playground. When we walked into the dining room, the mood was humming like a bee hive with the sounds of merriment over food and cocktails. The decor of Chapter One looks like a Victorian era library that has been converted to a speakeasy, with dark woods, book shelves, and retro-modern red stained pendulum lights. Chapter One is one of the new wave of modern gatropubs taking over the Orange County dining scene, offering premium beer, craft cocktails and high-end gastropub fare over the steady pulse of deep house music.
The menu of Chapter One: The Modern Local is based on local and seasonal ingredients, so you can expect many items on the menu to change regularly. The menu places a and has a heavy focus on Modern American Gastropub fare that pushes the limits on ingredient and preparations styles. Some more interesting items on the snacks menu includes things like Calamari with Black Squid in vinaigrette, tempera frog legs and Bourbon Scallops. The snacks also featured a salute to local produce with an “Organic O.C. Vegetable Basket” ,featuring vegetables from local O.C. farms. Here is what we ordered:
Belly of the Beast:
A bourbon based cocktail made with house made bacon Bourbon. Yes I did just say bacon infused bourbon! Chapter One has a machine that extracts oils and flavors from botanicals (and bacon) to make their own infused liquors. Very cool process, but I digress. The Belly of the Beast cocktail also contains Luxardo cherry liqueur Dolin vermouth, and Kampot tincture. Although this drink sounds like a mad scientist drink, I assure you that it tasted like a classic cocktail with a modern spin. This cocktail had an overall bourbon driven flavors, but had a wonderful medley of flavor layers. The flavor notes included a hint of saltiness from the bacon, sweet from the cherry liqueur botanicals from the vermouth and a slight spice from the Kampot Peppercorn tincture. An engaging cocktail, just like your favorite murder mystery novel. I am a huge fan of Prohibition era bourbon cocktails, see my other review of “Broadway’s Fall Cocktails”
A gin based cocktail made from City of London dry gin, Midnight Moon moonshine, Perucci white vermouth, Littet Aperiff Wine, Chase Elderflower liqueur fresh blueberry and basil infused soda. There were many different things happening in this cocktail; although, the consummation of blueberry and floral bouquets is the common flavor thread that carries the drink. The cocktail has a balanced sweet flavor and a gentle effervescence delivering a pleasant flora bouquet to the nose.
An interesting and savory dish that got my attention. This dish is comprised of a Culotte cut of the beef tenderloin that is dry rubbed with a coffee and coco powder and then wrapped in thick cut bacon. The bacon wrapped beef loin is then pan seared and cooked to my specified medium rare. The Chef then deglazed the pan with a red wine to create the demi-glaze sauce to garnish the plate. The Beef Culotte was served atop a Dijon infused smashed potato. The natural beef and bacon flavors were dominant on the palate, but the coffee and coco dry rubs added subtle notes. I really liked how the tangy flavor of the Dijon potatoes mellowed out the rich proteins in the dish. I would have licked the plate if that was socially acceptable.
Aside:culotte steak = top sirloin cap steak This is a small, boneless steak cut from the sirloin. This cut of steak has amazing flavors, although tends to be a little tougher than other loin cuts. It is best cooked with a fatty medium like Bacon or a slow cooking method. Curious where rib-eye comes from?
The Italian Burger
The Italian Burger is made with a “Special Beef Blend”, roasted tomato relish, provolone cheese, a large Parmesan cheese crisp, portobello mushroom, basil aioli and served with duck fat fries. This burger had a very impressive ingredient list that provided many layers of flavor and texture. When I bit into the burger’s outer edge I had the most wonderful flavor and texture profile. Although as I chewed the meat, it was not as juicy as expected. Upon examination, the meat with cooked medium-well/almost well-done. The Italian burger was standing in the shadow of its own glory; this burger really could have knocked my socks off if it was cooked medium to medium –rare. I would normally have sent the burger back, but we were running late to an ugly sweater party. Fortunately the flavor made up for the overcooked meat; it was a bitter-sweet experience.
The Duck fat fries
Duck fat fries came as a compliment to the burger and was prepared flawlessly. The fries are deep-fried in Duck Fat! As a result, you get a pleasant rich flavor and a crispy exterior. The duck fat fries were served with a house made ketchup that has a sweet flavor profile, perfect accompaniment to the fries. If you are a French fry aficionado, you should try these once.
Red Velvet Doughnut
We ordered dessert, because we are adults and there were no parents telling us no :). We selected the Red Velvet doughnut because it just sounded awesome. Two moist and rich strawberry red-velvet doughnuts sandwiched a healthy dollop of Kampo Pepper Ginger infused cream cheese frosting. This dish was very close to being awesome, although we both found that there was way too much pepper ginger mixed into the cream cheese frosting. As a result of the over application of pepper ginger, we were distracted by the zing and had a hard time tasting the red-velvet doughnut. We still ended up eating the entire dessert, although we would have enjoyed it more if they throttled back on the ginger.
My Final Thoughts
Overall an amazing dinner experience, with some minor hiccups. Chapter One: The Modern Local is pretty impressive restaurant that is helping to shape the modernization of the Down Town Santa Ana district into a dinning destination. I really liked the creativity of the dishes at this restaurant and strong focus on craft cocktails and beers. I will be back to experience their delicious cocktails and meals. I am sure that the troubling sub-plots were an anomaly to the otherwise wonderful dinning experience. I will be visiting again soon for their brunch and will be reporting back with an update.
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