|Ways & Means is located at
513 E. Chapman Ave. in Orange.
714.516.1800 :: wmoysters.com
What appeared to be a party bus carrying a group of middle-age revelers was parked behind Ways & Means Oyster House in Old Towne Orange. Through the fogged windows, wine could be seen flowing into glasses, and the muffled sounds of upbeat music carried through the chilly air on a recent Friday night. I hadn’t been expecting a crowd like this.
Then again, I’m not sure what I was expecting. Since its incorporation in 1871, the city of Orange has undergone a cultural evolution, the likes of which have seen the Old Towne area transform from the small nucleus of a farming community to a buzzing town center lined with avant-garde restaurants and trendy boutiques. Even still, the history remains (many of Old Towne Orange’s buildings are listed on the National Register of Historic Places), giving the area a lived-in feel without the sense that it’s dated. Young hipster crowds have invaded the area, and nearby Chapman University ensures a steady supply of college kids looking for a social scene – both of which are why the aforementioned party bus scenario was initially puzzling. But Old Towne Orange isn’t just a destination for the bar-hopping youngsters among us; it’s also home to a sophisticated community of foodies whose patronage supports a growing body of thoughtful, creative restaurants intent on bringing world-class dining to Orange County. Among these is Ways & Means Oyster House.
Housed in a former Coco’s location on a downtown corner in Orange, Ways & Means has an ambiance that is modern and upscale, with a touch of the old-fashioned. Hand-blown glass chandeliers with hundreds of translucent spheres hang from the ceiling, and booths of tufted red leather contrast luxuriously with white tablecloths and sparkling stemware. Exposed air ducts add an industrial, edgy feel to the space, as if to say: “Yes, this is a martini crowd, but we also smile upon cocktails with umbrellas.”
The menu is the best place to look for the story behind Ways & Means. It speaks of pedigree, and indeed, that’s what it is. Run by partners Parnell and Jennifer Delham, who have been involved in various projects nationwide in the hospitality industry, the restaurant appears to have its act together even a few short months after opening. Initially designed and overseen by Conrad Gallagher (he is no longer with the restaurant), a chef of Irish origin who earned a Michelin star in Dublin before bringing his culinary talents to the United States, the menu is oozing with class – oysters, seafood towers, classic salads, prime meats. There are, however, sparks of creativity that prevent it from becoming just another steak-and-seafood house. An amuse- bouche of clam ceviche is made new again with the addition of spice, and the cocktails go far beyond the ubiquitous shrimp cocktail. Our crab meat cocktail was accompanied by wild baby arugula, beetroot, avocado, and a trio of sauces, including marie rose (a tangy pink sauce), lemon aioli and classic cocktail.
Many of the classics hit all the right notes as well. Seafood chowder from the appetizer menu was overflowing with delicious chunks of seafood bathed in a creamy potato-leek base; housemade bacon oyster crackers took the experience from delicious to sublime. And the oysters (we tried the plump Naked Cowgirls and the sleek Kumamotos) served with mignonette, lemon and Tabasco were about as traditional – and fantastic – as it gets.
Not all was as noteworthy. The fish pie lacked seasoning and flavor despite its leek sauce and basil mash covering, and the seared Mary’s organic chicken was on the dry side, though its profile was boosted by smooth-as-honey charred carrot purée. Similarly, the prime ribeye was overcooked and thin, with the béarnaise sauce doing little to remedy lackluster beef.
The sides compensated. Spicy barbecued corn with cilantro and chipotle aioli matched well with everything we threw at it; crispy skinny French fries with parmesan-truffle aioli were all that was advertised; butternut purée achieved a supernatural silky butteriness; and lobster mac and cheese made with melt-friendly Swiss raclette cheese was heaven in a bowl.
The class didn’t stop there. Dessert, a simple creme brûlée with shortbread biscuits and fresh raspberries, lived up to its classic name in smooth texture and subtle vanilla flavor, while cilantro and chili mango cheesecake lived up to its name for a different reason: its ability to capture tradition while not mimicking it, a Ways & Means specialty.
By All Means
A charming tradition from dining eras past, Ways & Means spoils guests with a greeting in the form of food – a small bite that primes the palate for what’s to come. From tangy and refreshing ceviches to fish tartars in chili-spiked vinegar or a dollop of seasonal soup, the amuse is a throwback we’re glad to see has made a comeback.
If hitting the late-night martini-sipping, oyster-slurping crowds isn’t your thing, you can still enjoy the Ways & Means experience at Sunday brunch. All the greatest hits are there – oysters, clams, cocktails, and towers – plus a few you can’t find at dinner. The burger alone is worth foregoing evening dining altogether, with a hefty Angus beef patty dripping with raclette cheese, a fried egg and bacon on a brioche bun.
In the Kitchen
While Conrad Gallagher laid the groundwork for the cuisine at Ways & Means, the reins have since been handed over to chefs de cuisine Benjamin Wallenbeck and Justin Odegard, who proudly carry on in Gallagher’s footsteps. While the reverence for their forebear is palpable, the two have wasted no time putting their stamp on the restaurant’s culinary reputation.
Dollars and Cents
Cocktails: $15-$24; Oysters: $2.95-$3.90 each, or market price; Towers: $65-$85, or market price for custom towers; Appetizers: $6-$16; Mains: $26-$52; Sides: $6-$16; Dessert: $8-$10.