One of the restaurants that I have been tracking over the past year is Harlow’s Kitchen and Craft Bar, located in San Juan Capistrano. Being all the way in San Juan Capistrano, it is easy to visit “one day.” After dining there this past weekend, I would argue that Harlow’s is a destination restaurant. Good food is worth the drive.
Living Up to High Standards
Harlow’s menu is Modern American Cuisine, but with a serious homage to classic European dishes. Harlow’s menu is farm to table, seasonal, scratch, only uses environmentally conscious purveyors, GMO/ Antibiotic / Hormone Free. I know it sounds like a lot of buzzwords, but I think Chef Aaron Anderson nailed it. You can taste the difference in the food, from the house baked bread to the pure beef flavor in the steak.
Ambiance and Decor
The Interior of Harlow’s is dark, romantic in a brooding old-school Paris feel with deep burgundy colors and intimate spaces. You feel like a participant in Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris film.
Although Harlow’s has all the trappings of a stuffy white tablecloth restaurant, the mood of the dining room is upbeat and relaxed. All the tables around us were having a good time, with sounds of laughter and merriment popping throughout the dinning room.
What we ate at Harlow’s
We visited Harlow’s with some friends and decided to “order the menu” to share. I don’t gorge myself for simple pleasure; I sacrifice my waistline for you my readers. It was a glorious feast of Kings and debauchery at its finest.
This was a delicious flat bread, with amazing toppings, but the dough stole the show. The house made flatbread dough is brushed with olive oil and is baked to a slightly chewy consistency. The mozzarella, tomatoes and ground herbs were a fantastic accompaniment. The freshness of the tomatoes made the flavor pop. $12
Harlow’s Kitchen had one of the better preparations of foie gras that I have tasted. The foie was scored and pan seared. The toast was then put in the same pan to soak up the juices and gain some crispiness, on both sides :). The result was magical, the bread had a soft creaminess and slight crunch, which complimented the creamy foie. The dish is served with a blueberry compote. $12
We order a dozen fresh oysters, I believe they were Fanny Bay. They were fresh and briny and tasted great with the cocktail sauce, which was spiked with horseradish. Dozen $19
Calamari steak strips are breaded and fried to a soft crisp. The texture is crisp on the tongue, but not overly crunchy. The calamari is served with thin slices of spicy Fresno chili and a honey-miso aioli. This dish tasted best when you eat all three components together, giving the dish a very complex flavor profile. $12
Classic Caesar Salad
The Caesar salad is made in the classic preparation. It is made with romaine hearts, anchovies, pecorino & fried croutons. The sauce was light on the salad and was garnished with the classic anchovies on top. The flavor is creamy, tangy and a subtle presence of anchovy. This is a half-portion, as I split it with Daniele. $9
Colorado Rib Eye Cap
Perhaps the best dish of the night was the Colorado rib eye cap. If you are not familiar with the rib eye cap, it has the high density flavor of a rib eye and the tenderness of the filet mignon. Rib eye cap is perhaps the best cut of steak.
This steak was cooked to a perfect medium-rare. It tasted like it was grilled and then finished in a hot buttery pan. The rib eye cap is topped with pan demi-glace and served with house cut fries, charred tomatoes, and spinach. This steak is worth every penny of the $38 price tag.
The house made pumpkin ravioli was delicious. The pasta was soft and the pumpkin puree was fluffy. The cooked pasta was tossed in brown butter, sage, and sab spice. This is a great dish if you are in the mood for fresh pasta, but not my personal favorite. Then again, I rarely order pasta.
The night we visited Harlow’s, halibut was the white fish of the day. It was simply grilled and served atop tempura cauliflower. The dish was garnished with a sweet pea purée and a radish-arugula salad. The fish tasted very fresh and well-seasoned; although, my portion was just slightly over-cooked. This slight misstep did not stop me from eating everything on the plate. $26
This was perhaps one of the best Brussels sprout preparations that I have tasted. The Brussels sprouts tasted like they were roasted and then pan tossed with Harlow’s house cured lardons. The lardons were large and meaty, a perfect compliment to the nutty Brussels sprouts. $8
Mac ‘N Cheese
Although there is no comparison, Harlow’s Mac N Cheese evoked memories of my favorite childhood preparation of macaroni and cheese. The Harlow’s version is made with orecchiette pasta and a cheese sauce made with tellegio, fontina, and cheddar cheese. The texture was warm and creamy, perfect to the very last bite. Folks at our table where scraping their spoon along the dish to get the last bite. $8
Three types of mushrooms were sautéed in a butter and liquer mixture, providing a rich flavor layering to the woody and nutty flavor of the mushrooms. The mushrooms are good, but my least favorite of the sides. I recommend you go with the Brussels sprouts /Mac N Cheese as sides. $8
Harlow’s rendition of the classic New Orleans fried yeast doughnuts was delicious. It is served with house made hazelnut ice cream & espresso mocha dipping chocolate. The beignets were fluffy and the flavor takes you to Café du Monde. $9
Homemade PB&J Cheesecake
This was the second best dish of the night. A house made cheesecake is served with a peanut butter crust and two types of house made fruit jelly. It really tasted like you were eating a creamy peanut butter and jelly sandwich! If they have this item on the desert menu, it is a must order. $9
Harlow’s Cocktails and Wine
Harlow’s Kitchen cocktail program focuses on classic cocktails, hand crafted ingredients and even some barrel aged cocktails. They also have a great selection of beer, wine by the glass, and reasonably priced bottles.
This cocktail was surprisingly light on the palate, but still packed a sneak punch. My wife will not normally drink rye, bourbon or whiskey, but she loved this cocktail. It is made with Templeton Rye whiskey, orange & grapefruit juice, grapefruit bitter, organic simple syrup & soda. The cocktail had a nice fizz, slightly tart and was refreshing. The citrus and floral notes played nicely with the rye. This is a very well-crafted cocktail. $9
This is a classic gin cocktail with a foamy egg white head. It is made with Nolets Gin, mint, cucumber, lemon/lime, and soda. The cool cucumber was balanced with the citrus and floral notes in the gin. $9
My Final Thoughts About Harlow’s Kitchen
Overall, Harlow’s Kitchen was a great dining experience. I really appreciated the quality of the food and the thoughtfulness of the presentation. Perhaps next time I visit Harlow’s Kitchen and Craft Cocktail, I will order less food and drink. There is nothing worse then running five miles the next day to burn off the previous night’s indiscretions. Tom’s Foodie Blog recommends Harlow’s Kitchen; great food is worth the drive.
Harlow’s Kitchen Address: 31111 Rancho Viejo Road, San Juan Capistrano, CA 92675
Telephone: (949) 240-8100
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