Review of Ways and Means Oyster House
Despite changes, Ways and Means Impresses
It was October of 2013 and the Orange County foodie community was buzzing with the news of Ways and Means Oyster House opening near Old Town Orange. Why the buzz? The owners had hired Chef Conrad Gallagher, a famous Michelin Star Chef from Ireland. Early this year the rumor mill was again buzzing, with news that Chef Gallagher parted ways with Ways and Means. His consultancy contract expired and moved on to other ventures. During his consultancy at Ways and Means, he trained two Chefs De Cuisine, Chefs Benjamin Wallenbeck and Justin Odegard. These two Chefs have taken on the role of C0-Chefs De Cuisine.
With a change to leadership in the kitchen, the first obvious question is “Is the food at the same levels?” My second question was if Ways and Means is past it’s growing pains, as highlighted in some Yelp reviews and OC Weekly. I visited Ways and Means twice since since the departure of Chef Gallagher. I can report that the food was pretty amazing and service was spotless. I ate and drank myself silly both times and had one of my best meals , so far, of 2014. Ways and Means appears to be maturing, even with the changes.
When you pull up to the restaurant, the first thing you notice is that Ways and Means occupies a former Coco’s building. The interior has been refurbished to a nautical theme and the dinning room is comfortably appointed with overstuffed red sofas.
Although Ways and Means did not spend a couple million dollars to retrofit the restaurant to the level of Red O or Lark Creek, the ambiance is charming and welcoming.
The staff is experienced and very friendly. Like the restaurant, they didn’t hire young eye candy; rather, we were tended to by old hands from the restaurant industry who ensured our visit was pleasant. For me, this was a welcome change. I am sick of hyper-trained 21 year-olds reciting ingredients that they probably never tasted prior to getting their job. From our Maitre D to our lovely waitress Kathleen, our dishes were explained like they personally cooked the dish. I asked each of the staff members, “what would you order from this menu, if it was your last meal.” I ordered dishes based on their responses; below are my reactions to the food.
Food at Ways and Means Oyster House
Bread, an oracle to the meal
I have always judged a restaurant by the quality of their bread, especially at a restaurant with an average entree cost of $34+. Ways and Means did not disappoint. Although I do not remember all the bread types, I do remember really enjoying the dark Guinness bread, and the apricot curry bread. The rich butter of course made it all better. Variety and high quality are key for a great bread service.
The amuse bouche was a Brussels sprout leaf stuffed with a bunch of ingredients I missed. Although I cant remember the ingredients, the result was a fantastic starting point to the rest of my meal
Creamy Lobster Bisque
The lobster bisque soup was very delicate in texture, but loaded with flavors. Like most fine dining restaurants , they presented the soup deconstructed and then poured over the lobster. The bisque was deep in lobster flavor; although, it was light on the palate because it was slightly frothy. This is a very nicely executed lobster bisque. ($8)
Fresh Naked Cowgirl Oysters
Oysters are Ways and Mean’s namesake, so I was prepared to be very critical of the quality and selection of oysters. The selection of oysters was impressive with 10 different oyster species from both the West and East Coast.
We tried the Naked Cowgirl oyster and it was meaty and delicious. It tasted like it slept in the ocean the night before and served on a bed of ice with Mignonette, lemon and Tabasco. I could see myself coming in just for wine and oysters. (market price ~ $3.40-3.90 /each)
Rillette, if you are not familiar with the term, is a French technique that renders down meat to a paste, similar to pâté. Ways and means version uses fresh salmon that is rendered so that the meat and fat combine to form a spread. It is perfect spread on their buttery toast! The Salmon Rillette is served with red onions, watercress and a nice lemon aioli that made the dish pop. ($12)
Hot Naked Oyster
This was a fun baked oyster dish made with a watercress leaf on the bottom, oyster , bread crumb, chorizo , hot sauce and a hit of creamy Hollandaise sauce and a sweet tomato. I really liked the multiple flavor and texture layers in this dish. The flavor shifted from salty, sweet, spicy to savory in one bite. ($24)
You could eat these baked oysters using a warm oyster fork, although these babies are meant to be slurped straight from the shell. Don’t worry about manners, with oysters, slurping is encouraged.
Smoked Salmon Deviled Eggs
Ways and Means version of deviled eggs a departure from the typical preparation. Whipped smoked salmon is piped into egg white shells and sprinkled with egg yolks. I love both smoked salmon and deviled eggs, so this dish was a big win for me.
I liked the creamy smoothness of the whipped salmon against the egg white. The one minor change that I would have made to this dish would be to include more yolk sprinkles over the eggs and a little more aioli on the side. ($6)
Cocktails at Ways and Means Oyster House
W &M Moscow Mule
The W&M Moscow Mule is made with Tito’s Vodka, Regatta ginger beer and fresh lime. This cocktail was light and refreshing, a perfect cocktail to clear your palate. The W &M Moscow Mule is served in the traditional copper cup.
Maid in Mexico
This is a nice version of a margarita that had elements of a mojito. It is made with tequila, cucumber mint and fresh lime.
My favorite cocktail at Ways and Means is the Winward, which is made with Mount Gay Rum, Cola reduction, citrus zest. The dark rum has aromatics that might remind you of a bourbon, but drinks smooth like a rum. The cola reduction added the right amount of sweet orange flavor to the mix to create a near perfect cocktail in my book. Notice that they used the proper large ice cube to prevent the cocktail from being watered down.
Main Courses at Ways and Means Oyster House
Roasted Duck Breast
The roasted duck breast was perhaps my favorite dish that we ordered. The duck is pan seared, skin side down. The result of this technique is juicy meat and a nice crunchy skin.
The duck is topped with a sunny side up quail egg and greens. The savory flavors of the duck and quail egg yolk together was magical. The duck was served atop creamy butternut puree, puy lentils and a deconstructed apple walnut salad for garnish. This is a very well constructed dish that provided multiple flavors layers. ($33)
This dish had an Asian flare, so it did not match with the rest of the menu. With that said, the Tuna was prepared very nicely and it holds it’s own against the European influenced menu. The Tuna is seared with a wasabi black sesame crust, providing a nice contrast with the smooth tuna meat.
The tuna is served atop wok-fried shitake, bean sprouts and bok choy. On top of the tuna was lightly crisped tofu wonton. ($34)
Sides at Ways and Means Oyster House
Like many fine dining restaurants, the main course is serve mostly a la carte. Although main dishes include generous garnishments, such as the butternut puree and lentils with the duck breast, some folks may want extra sides. Depending on if you ordered appetizers, I recommend one side per two people to share.
Lobster Mac and Cheese
The Lobster Mac and Cheese is very rich and decadent with chunks of lobster integrated into the cheesy pile of macaroni. I could taste a slight flavor of lobster infused into the white cheese sauce. It looks like they then added a “racelette” cheese layer on top and added bread crumbs and chives.
A racelette is typically a blog of cheese melted directly off a block or wheel of cheese and served on a plate with bread and garnishment. In this dish, they added the racelette as an extra layer of cheese ($16) The Mac is an expensive appetizer, but worth it.
Colcannon Creamy Mash
Colcannon is a classic Irish dish that is similar to mashed potatoes and typically integrated with kale or cabbage. Ways and Means version reminded me of very creamy and velvety mashed potatoes. The arrugula and scallions were deconstructed on top. This was an extremely delicious dish, my only wish is that they would serve more of it. ($6)
Desserts at Ways and Means Oyster House
Raspberry Eat and Mess Meringue (Eaton Mess)
My first experience with Eaton Mess was while I was working in England. This dish is constructed by layering Chantilly cream and crispy meringue with fresh raspberry and raspberry coulis. The dessert is topped with a rich vanilla bean ice cream. This dish is very similar to the version I tried in the English countryside. ($8)
Warm Valhrona Chocolate Cake
Ways and Means version of the lava cake is made with Valhrona chocolate. Valhrona is a very fine chocolate made in a small town near Lyon, in the wine growing region. It is accompanied by a chocolate brownie, which is topped with pistachio ice cream. ($10)
My Final Thoughts of Ways and Means Oyster House
I honestly did not know what to expect when I walked into Ways and Means the first time. I did not visit the restaurant while Chef Galagher was still in charge of the kitchen. So my visit came without the baggage and burden of comparison. What did I discover? In my humble opinion, I found Ways and Means to be one of the better restaurants in Orange County. I have even recommended it several times.
I found that the food was delicious and artfully prepared and worthy of the price point. This is a key point, as a dinner ticket can reach $150 (before tax and tip) for two, especially if you go full hog and order cocktails, wine, appetizers, main courses and desserts. For me, Ways and Means delivered a high quality meal and experience to earn this price point. If you want a cheap food, for cheap prices then go to Coco’s. I have read the Yelp reviews for Ways and Means and they can be bi-polar with very high or very low ratings. Based on my two experiences, I am giving Ways and Means a high rating.
Ways and Means Oyster House Address
513 E Chapman