Monday, February 27, 2012

Hanging out on THE RANCH

There's a strategy folks over at THE RANCH Restaurant & Saloon have that gives them an edge: The element of surprise. Not only being the new kid, but situated by the train tracks (on the ground floor of an office building) your average diner would question its quality by this first impression alone. I don't blame them. But if it prevents visitors from ever kicking their heels up, I say you are missing out on a gold mine.

Once thru the heavy doors, one realizes that they're definitely not in an industrial neighborhood anymore. Where a patron might expect hokey, they receive handsome.  A welcoming warmth from our hostess, she leads us past expansive wine displays,  reminding us we are in a house Master Sommelier Michael Jordan helped build. Depending on your party, you could find yourself in the main dining area with a panoramic view of their expansive back of the house. Our corner booth is adjacent to the Carolina Room, an intimate space for formal meetings or special occasion. There's at least two other spaces, not including the banquet rooms they're completing on the sixth floor. This operation is a serious workhorse. 

Chef Michael Rossi's (wine) country cooking gives tribute to many a things lassoed and hung over a spit to roast, yet carefully incorporates thoughtful plates of seafood, greens and other fare. Our starter course includes their hand crafted sweet potato gnocchi. Lounging in a luxurious sauce of plump San Marzano tomatoes, braised Petaluma rabbit and Maitake mushrooms, my urge to lick the bowl was quelled only by my expert spoon scraping abilities. The rabbit was subtle, making the dish more approachable than it reads.

A generous portion of deviled eggs, which aren't easy to come by in these here parts, are tinged with sweet pickle relish and bacon made in-house, courtesy of pastry chef (and Michael's brother) David. Poufy popovers are slightly burnt on one side, but otherwise maintain their delicate texture and curious pockets of space within. Once dipped in berry preserves, they're almost dessert-like. Between this and their inspiring "wagon wheel" bread, I cut myself off before our next round. 

While the cowboy started on a platter of fish and chips, their house steakburger taunted me. You see, this was no ordinary patty. Four cuts of beef made their way under the bun: sirloin, brisket, short rib and hangar. Each chew felt like a Man vs. Food challenge. My medium-rare meal rendered me helpless around the half-way mark, but I wasn't complaining. There were still the sweet spoils of dessert to ponder.

Nicknamed s'more with a twist, our attentive server (who we recognized/confirmed came from Studio at Montage) told us it was his favorite. Resembling more Rorschach test than desirable masterpiece, silky Cordillera chocolate braids adorned the center of my platter, dotted with fluffy marshmallow. An icy, yet mild scoopage of honey graham cracker cream was an inventive neutrality in a sea of hazelnut crunch. Playing with our food involved dragging our utensil around like a Zen garden rake, crisscrossing textures until we were content. His trio of ice creams included dulce de leche, malted crunch (Whopper flashbacks!) and an unbelievable popcorn version. Just a taste was akin to cramming a mouthful of the real thing during a matinee, but without the crumbly mess.

Despite a lack of oceanfront property, THE RANCH Restaurant & Saloon embodies a certain nostalgia-- the old glory of Crazy Horse, a childhood of Hungry Hunter, even some college outings at In Cahoots. For a Texas 10 step (oh yes, I can) and draft, I'll go next door to The Saloon. When I'm done horsing around, THE RANCH ribeye and Cabernet will be waiting.

THE RANCH Restaurant & Saloon is located at 1025 East Ball Road in the city of Anaheim, located on the ground floor of the Extron building. 
(714) 817-4200

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