There are a number of places in Orange County where the sight of boot spurs would cause second and third glances, and tops on the list would probably be the ground floor of a technology company. Pull into the parking lot of Extron Electronics on any night of the week, however, and prepare for a steady stream of cowboy boots, 10-gallon hats and Daisy Dukes, the likes of which OC is, to put it mildly, unaccustomed to seeing.
The Ranch is Extron owner and president Andrew Edwards’ pet project, a now-one-year-old restaurant built by the technology mogul in response to his fondness for OC’s former Crazy Horse Steakhouse and Saloon, where big steaks and line dancing could all be had in a night’s entertainment. Distraught by the Crazy Horse’s move to West Covina, Edwards took the concept and ramped it up to Texas-sized proportions, featuring a world-class steakhouse with similarly renowned staff (Michael Rossi, formerly of Ambrosia, is the executive chef, and Michael Jordan, Master Sommelier, formerly of Disneyland’s Napa Rose, is in charge of the wine program). And in an unusual level of commitment, Edwards parked the whole thing at the base of Extron’s Anaheim headquarters. It’s an unusual confluence; there are a number of obvious antagonistic forces here, not the least of which are the business park location and departure from OC’s coastal bent. But step one foot inside The Ranch’s Saloon, where an enormous concert stage hosts spirited country bands and a sea of line dancers perform the Boot Scootin’ Boogie in perfect unison, and you’ll feel the instant buzz we felt for the 15 seconds it took us to realize that the restaurant was not, in fact, in that raucous location.
We soon discovered, per the bouncer’s instructions, that the other set of double doors on the ground floor lead into the restaurant, where big leather chairs and steer heads signal the start of what Edwards must have envisioned as the aesthetic equivalent of the settling of the West, if it was on the luxury vacation of its life. Rustic opulence is everywhere, from the fragrant, engraved leather ottomans to the vast kitchen and the sparkling bar, from which cocktails such as the Sage Brush issue forth, tasting of a pleasant mixture of earthy hike and tangy Pez candy. Jordan’s wine list, as expected, is slightly less than tome-sized, with bottles of all origins and price ranges. You’ll need this level of enological dexterity when ordering from Rossi’s wide-ranging menu, which runs the gamut from Hawaiian Big Eye tuna crudo to pheasant pot pie, a variety of salads, and the showstoppers in which most diners have come to indulge: big, juicy cuts of meat.
The Ranch has also dedicated itself to an artisanal approach, sourcing much of its produce from Edwards Ranch Estates, a farm located in the foothills of Santa Ana and Orange. Dishes like hand-crafted sweet potato gnocchi, which are paired with maitake mushrooms, pieces of braised rabbit and a light tomato sauce, echo this sentiment, with deep, well-developed flavors and a chewy lightness that are the hallmarks of the notoriously difficult-to-get-right Italian dumpling. A simple steamed and grilled Globe artichoke, its leaves tender and seasoned, was the definition of simplicity, and reached new gustatory heights with both a green olive and pine nut salsa verde and a preserved Meyer lemon remoulade served on the side for dipping. Rossi’s new menu addition – the pheasant pot pie – was similarly uncomplicated, with large chunks of lean pheasant meat and toothy vegetables suspended in a just-thick-enough sauce, all covered with flaky, buttery pastry. Rossi’s style is a welcome departure from overly fussy and too tightly composed dishes that frequently fall flat.
In that vein, Colorado lamb chops with a ragout-like ensemble of pumpkin, Merguez sausage, olives, chickpeas, and harissa (a hot chili sauce from Tunisia) were tasty but a little bit overcooked. Their flavor, however, was notable – they tasted inimitably of lamb, intensely so, but without the gaminess that can be overwhelming. The reason: these lamb chops are grass-fed – a bold choice by Rossi, given that diners often aren’t prepared for the bolder, more pure flavors that are often the result of grass-fed meats, and an indication that this chef likes to push diners’ boundaries without alienating them. A New York steak with fingerling potatoes, homemade pancetta and bleu cheese was “Carolina” cut into thick strips before being neatly positioned on the plate, which detracted from the drama of cutting into the steak as a whole. But the meat was tasty, and, unlike the lamb chops, it was cooked to a perfect medium rare.
The fussiest part of dinner at The Ranch turned out to be dessert. The s’more with a twist – the twist being the American classic’s deconstructed form – had its components scattered along a rectangular plate: marshmallow fluff, honey graham cracker ice cream, chocolate, and hazelnut crunch all made appearances. And they were decidedly better together, just as Jack Johnson, a soft rock musician and surfer, says in his hit song – another contradiction with The Ranch’s cowboy flair that isn’t lost on us.
714.687.6336 :: theranch.com