OC Review: Early Bird, Fullerton

Early Bird in Fullerton (photos by Paul Rodriguez and Brad A. Johnson)

It’s hard to make out exactly what I’m eating. I know the dish in front of me is supposed to be octopus, but the presentation is unfamiliar, a colorful Rorschach test of lumps, wisps and splashes. I jab my fork into the puzzle and bring a jumble of pieces to my mouth. It takes a moment for everything to register, but even then I’m not quite sure what’s rolling around on my tongue. I reach for another bite and focus. There’s a faint, vinegary brightness playing against something else that’s rich and creamy, a splash of brine. It has the familiar chew of octopus, but it feels like a salad. Before I can put my finger on precisely what I’m eating, I find myself cheating and reaching for the menu. Ah, yes, that’s it: “grilled octopus, white anchovy salsa, romaine, potato, egg yolk.”

These are not ingredients anyone has tried putting together before. Truth be told, that’s probably one ingredient too many. But somehow I love it. Not everyone at my table is as easily swayed, however. For the moment, at least. “I don’t get it,” says one. “There’s a lot going on here,” says another.

I can’t argue with either of their sentiments. And that’s what I find so exciting about chef Frank DeLoach’s dinner menu at Early Bird. Not everybody will get it. Not everybody will like it. But I’m pretty sure that no one will fail to have an opinion about it. And they will probably be talking about their dinner for days. “Remember that weird octopus we had the other night,” asks my dining companion several days later. “Yes, why?” I ask. “The more I think about it,” she says, “the more I think I liked it.”

IMG_000276 Sweetbreads with buffalo seasoning and ranch dressing (photo by Brad A. Johnson)IMG_000275Street corn (photo by Brad A. Johnson)

DeLoach is fearless in the kitchen, something I greatly admire. He’s not boxed in by the latest trends or sure-fire best-sellers. He draws inspiration from just about everywhere and lets his imagination run wild. Sometimes it gets away from him, like the time he decides it’s a good idea to take veal sweetbreads (the thymus gland, a gourmet delicacy) and coat them with bright orange Buffalo wing sauce. He sautés the offal rather expertly, but then he drizzles ranch dressing over the top. That’s when I balk. What could have been a glamorous dish is instantly transformed into stoner food…

Dining here is never boring…

This is obviously just a synopsis. Want more? You can read my full review and see the star rating along an extensive slide show by photographer Paul Rodriguez in this week’s OC Register. Subscriptions are required. We don’t give away our work for free at the newsstand, nor do we don’t give it away for free online. Everyone gets one week of complimentary trial access, but after that you’ll need to become a subscriber. Or, if you don’t want to subscribe, you can simply buy a Day Pass — cheaper than a cup of coffee — for 24-hour access to the entire OC Register archive. 

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