For the past couple months the social media space has been abuzz about a restaurant opening in Orange County, ARC. Even TomsFoodieBlog.com posted a news story about their opening. Very little was known about this restaurant except that they would focus on locally sourced fresh ingredients, scratch cooking, and craft cocktails. The front men of this operation are veterans of the restaurant industry; Head Chef, Noah Blom, worked the high-end restaurant circuit in San Francisco for years and Head Barman, Koire Rogers, is perhaps one of the more talented “Mixologist” in Orange County.
This past week I visited ARC on their opening day and it can described with the following words Fresh, Craft, Minimalist, Flame, Libation.
ARC does Fresh +Craft
The ingredients used at ARC are sourced from local purveyors from the meat to the produce. The dishes are all crafted from artisanal ingredients that have had no or minimal value added processing.
The dish that best embodies this attribute is their beet salad. This was a very basic salad in presentation, but wonderful in natural flavors. Locally grown beets are house roasted to create a perfect combination of tender and snappy resistance. The red beets were accompanied with crumbled goat cheese and Italian parsley. The beets were prepared simply, letting the flavor of the beets take center stage. This price of this dish was $12 and had a enough food for a light meal or perfect for sharing.
Arc is Minimalist
All the dishes appear to be minimalist in preparation and technique. The dish used minimal ingredients, so that your taste buds focus on a select few flavors. The menu is laid out with basic description to imply the overall flavor of the dish, for example Pig, Duck, Steak. The menu does not mention of the cut of these proteins, rather the Chef appears to be inviting you to order based on the flavor of the central ingredient.
The dish that best displays this characteristic is the Calamari. Whole squid portions were cut into tentacle and spiral cut body segments. The squid is cooked with shishitto peppers and Yukon gold potatoes on a cast iron plate in the wood fired brick oven. The dish was finished table-side with fresh squeezed lemon juice, resulting in the classic sizzling plate presentation. The flavor of this dish was pleasant with the gentle flavors of the fresh squid being supported by the shishitto peppers and Yukon gold potatoes. It seemed like the only flavor enhancers was the lemon and perhaps salt. This was perhaps some of the best fire roasted calamari I have experienced since my trip to Santorini, Greece. The price for this dish is $16.
ARC dishes are born of FIRE
All the dishes (except perhaps the salads) are cooked over a wood fire grill or brick oven. Cooking food with a wood burning fire infuses the flavor of the wood smoke into the food, adding complexity to the flavor profile. Although, this technique is not without it’s issues.
For example, the steak was a case study on the positive and negatives of the open fire technique. A nice cut of flat sirloin was marinated minimally with citrus and cooked over the wood fired grill. The steak is then finished in the wood burning oven with Yukon gold potatoes. The dish is served table-side on the sizzling caste iron plate and topped with their yummy house made sour cream.
The flavor of the steak was a mix bag. In the areas where the steak was perfectly cooked, there was a wonderful exchange of natural beef flavors, smokiness, and citrus. Although the areas where the steak was heavily charred, the flavor was overwhelmingly carbon. The ARC does not appear to shy away from a little cheetah spots of char on their food; although, I think they will learn to perfect their wood fire technique to ensure a balance of flavors. This cost of this dish is $15.
Craft Libations stole the show
ARC places a special emphasis on their classic craft cocktails, made with natural ingredients.The cocktail exuded the same vintage cool as the decor. Many of their cocktails are prohibition era style or classic 50’s variation. The cocktails stole the show during our visit, as a result of their complexity of flavor and craft preparation. Here is what we ordered:
Fighting Chance is a complex Manhattan variation that brought a smile to my face. This bourbon based cocktail is mixed with Calisayan and creole bitters. The Calisayan and creole bitters complimented the bourbon by adding layers of herb, spice and bitterness. Noticed how they froze the vintage glassware, it was a classy touch.
Coffee and Cigarettes may sound intimidating, although this cocktail was liquid gold on my palate. This cocktail is made from Rye whiskey, amaro abano, gran classico bitter, arc house aromatic bitters( similar to angostura), smoky bitters, grated Portola coffee bean. This cocktails provides a unique blend of flavors that reminded me of drinking Italian roasted coffee with cream in a dimly lit cigar lounge. Ordering this drink is a must.
My Final Thoughts
The ARC has the potential to be an influential restaurant in Orange County. Even though they just opened, many of their key approaches are novel and well executed. I will be visiting again to see if they have perfected their techniques with the open fire cooking method. The portion sizes are smaller than a standard American restaurant, although much larger than small plates. The dishes are relatively inexpensive in price ($14-19) for this type of restaurant, so they are cheap enough to order several items for sharing. I am recommending this restaurant, as I know my readers will enjoy this new gem.