I received a call from Jason Quinn, a local chef that we first met when he was the chef on the popular gourmet food truck, The Lime Truck. Yes, the same Jason that helped take The Lime Truck to victory in the second season of Food Network’s Great Food Truck Race. Since then, he has opened a very successful restaurant called Playground in downtown Santa Ana.
The reason he called was to let us know that his next concept “invitation only” by the Playground was opening and he had two seats available. Invitation Only is a single seating per night, multi-course meal. It is an exhibition-style kitchen that accommodates up to 17 people. The inspiration for Invitation Only was about bringing people together that love food, want to try new things and willing to put their dining experience in the hands of Jason and his culinary team. Through this multi-course meal, Jason takes you on a journey with his hand-selected menu, exploring other cultures and broadening your pallet with items procured from around the world. During each course he shares the history behind the purchase as he and his team prepares the dish in front of you. The only thing he asks is that you keep an open mind. We jumped at the offer.
Kobe Beef has recently become legal to consume in the United States. There are a lot of places that said they had Kobe beef but what they really had was a Kobe-style beef known as Wagyu. One of our 23 courses was two slices of perfectly cooked Kobe ribeye. The marbling of the fat within this ribeye was incredible! It was cooked on top of a five-pound block of Himalayan salt. It was one of the most incredible things I’ve ever had. Along with it was some Yorkshire pudding made with the Kobe fat.
We also had the opportunity to try fresh geoduck, a very large, saltwater clam that was over 150 years old. We also enjoyed fresh diver scallops. The scallop, which was still alive when Jason prepared it for us, was the size of a baseball. He served it thinly sliced and topped with some beautiful shoyu. One of the surprising favorite dishes was the romanesco romesco salad made with romanesco broccoli, and roasted red walnuts. They were bright red, with a buttery finish and had no bitter after taste.
We were also introduced to Sumo Tangerines. They are the size of an orange, seedless and have a rough peel with a small mound on top, kind of like a “sumo” wrestler’s bun, hence the name. They were so fragrant and juicy. We liked them so much we went out the next day and purchased some to use in cocktails. These are just a few examples of some amazing new ingredients we were introduced to. They were simply prepared, to showcase the main ingredient.
While we may consider ourselves foodies, there is still so much to learn about food. And we gladly went back to school. And what a tasty school it was, with professor Quinn.
The dinner was served with several drinks including the most unique lemon drop I’ve ever seen. It was liquid that had been solidified and formed into the shape of a lemon slice. Another one was champagne gelatin served with caviar on an upside down champagne glass. There was also great wine pairings selected by Rhett Butler, a level II sommelier who plans to bring unique wines to both restaurants. Fort this evening, Rhett chose wines that were very accessible versus serving the flashy and expensive wines. One example was a wine from the Canary Islands. He selected it to compliment an octopus dish because the main ingredient was also sourced from the Canary Islands. Who knew that wine from the Canary Islands, which are volcanic islands full of strong winds in the middle of the ocean and near equator, would produce such a fine wine?
These were just some of the wonderful things we tasted and experienced at this dinner.
You are probably wondering, “how do I get ‘invited’ to Invitation Only?” Head to Playground and try new things from the menu. One thing you’ll find out about Playground, they truly care about the food, how it is prepared and your dining experience. If your server sees that you are enjoying the food, trying different menu items, wine or beer, and interacting with them, an invitation to IO might just come your way. And once you get an invitation, you’re on the list for life. Jason plans to change the menu often so you most likely will not have the same menu twice. I can’t wait until the next time I can leverage my lifetime invitation to try whatever he comes up with next.
The cost for dinner is $250 per person (tax, gratuity and alcohol included).