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The Crosby

This Santa Ana restaurant balances skill with imagination.

Chef Aron Habiger

It looked as if The Crosby could have been the quietest restaurant in Orange County on a recent Friday night. A single pair of men lingered over a beer near the entrance, and shortly after, another pair arrived wearing suits and overcoats, having migrated, we imagined, from the nearby Santa Ana Courthouse after a long week of work. After exchanging a few familiar words, the red-lipsticked bartender served their regular drinks. A faint odor of mop water lingered in the air. Decoration in the small, dimly lit dining room was sparse, the one exception an area wallpapered in a pattern of black and white, which, upon closer inspection and some eye-squinting, revealed what appeared to be thousands of interconnected skulls.

Our 7:30 p.m. reservation was, apparently, early for The Crosby. A glance around the restaurant showed that, although we were presently among cozy company, the rest of the tables had been marked as reserved. But until that influx of life arrived, our server, who displayed a sunny disposition and a helpful, enthusiastic manner, suggested we try the Marsellus Wallace, a cocktail of rum, habañero-infused syrup, lime, and mint. A twist on the classic mojito, the addition of spice from the habañero was tempered to a slight tingling sensation, which suggested it was there but wasn’t meant to take center stage.

It turns out that Aron Habiger, The Crosby’s executive chef, is a master of this high-flying balancing act. Our first dish, garlic truffle fries, exhibited a preference for the shoestring style, with hints of truffle aroma and the essence of garlic – no big pieces to leave one feeling as if they’ve been involuntarily enlisted to fight vampires. Sides of ketchup and aioli were pleasant additions, but weren’t necessary to bring out the best in the fries. Wild mushrooms from the Chef’s Menu were tender and meaty, and the creamy thyme-lemon beurre blanc complemented the fungi’s earthiness perfectly, while chunks of prosciutto lent texture and additional flavor. Another small plate, lamb lollipops, which were pumpkin seed-encrusted and served with Luxardo cherry-balsamic glaze and parsley salad, were the perfect juxtaposition of flavor – medium-rare lamb chop was texturized with nutty pumpkin seeds and complemented by a drizzle of tart-sweet cherry-infused sauce, and the distinctive herbaceousness of parsley rounded out what amounted to a superb dish.

We had arrived at the chimichurri torta before the restaurant started filling up – and filling up fast. Our island table in a sea of empty floor had turned into an island table in a sea of people in a matter of minutes, and a crowd glanced anxiously from outside the window, willing us with their pleading eyes to inhale our food and get out as quickly as possible, freeing a sought-after spot in the small restaurant. But eating such perfected examples of cooking as Habiger’s torta required concentration – and a great deal of pleasure time. The braised pork shoulder, smothered in jalapeño aioli, chimichurri salsa and pickled onions was the finest specimen of its ilk I’ve had. Taking the best from the typical Mexican torta (in essence a meat-filled sandwich) Habiger improved – a lot – on the original, with moist, shredded pork and some spicy richness from the aioli. Salsa added freshness while pickled onions added the last bit of crunch and acidity. Soft, chewy bread didn’t hurt either, although the sight of us enjoying this torta so much may have inflamed the nerves of desperate-looking waiting patrons. But they were going to have to be patient – venison osso bucco was next. A large chunk of meat, topped with Port-braised leeks and served with pomegranate demi glace and Brussels sprouts, this dish was flavorful, but not one of our standouts from the evening. A bit on the dry side, it missed the mark by about two millimeters.

And we went on, much to the dismay of the crowd. Warm apple turnovers were like little empanadas stuffed with smoky, soft pieces of apple (yes, smoky – it was delightful) set against a bracing lemon-caramel sauce. Vanilla ice cream completed the gorgeous-tasting, flaky-pastried trifecta. But it was the coffee-dusted chocolate curd with orange zest that captured our imagination. Quite literally rounds of chocolate-flavored gelatinous material, it was a revelation in both taste and texture.

The best revelation, however, was the consistency and imagination coming from the kitchen. We expect promising things to come from The Crosby, and from Chef Habiger.

714.543.3543  ::  thisisthecrosby.com

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