5 Long-Shuttered OC Restaurants That I Miss

Categories: Five Great...
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Chad Sengstock

It's been exactly five years since I was given the honor of writing restaurant reviews for this fine paper. In that time, I've been to what I estimate is about 300 restaurants. I'm not going to start rattling of my favorites, because, well, I and your other humble Forkers already do that with our weekly "10 Great", yearly Best Ofs, and other lists. 

What I've not talked about are those restaurants that have closed since I reviewed them, but I still sorely miss. Herewith are just five of the dearly departed but not forgotten.

5. The Retreat at The Spa.

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In the time that The Retreat was in business, rock-star-by-night, sushi-chef-by-day Cody Requejo produced Japanese food worthy of Iron Chef while his buddy Dave Mau put out BBQ lunches and whatever else he thought was tasty that day. But when The Spa went belly up, so did The Retreat. These days Requejo is reportedly working for Bear Flag Fish Company while Dave Mau still does his Dinners with Dave events at Memphis at the Santora.

4. Mariscos Puerta Esperanza.

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Being the darling of Chowhounds and serving great Mexican seafood wasn't enough to save Mariscos Puerta Esperanza. It was situated in a strip mall as most things in Orange are, but in a particularly bad location that wasn't street facing and was notoriously buried from view. The best dish was pescado zarandeado robalo--a whole striped bass, gutted, butterflied and splayed open, the width of an atlas, imprisoned inside a metal rack, placed above a grill, and flipped over and over with a technique that suggested a beach-bonfire cookout.

3. Blanca.

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Jonathan Ho

Blanca was one of the restaurants caught up in the ill-fated, ambitious mess of the Mor Project (read here for the full sordid story on what happened). Chef Nicholas Weber and his amazing crudo creations were the casualty. It was one of the first and so far the only restaurant in OC that focused on the Italian version of sashimi, which included one that had thin-as-a-filament wafers of crispy Serrano ham, spicy Espelette pepper sauce, gazpacho vinaigrette and parsley sprouts topping bite-sized slices of raw fish.

2. May Garden.

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Known to most as an old school chow-mein and sweet-and-sour chicken joint, Chef Eric Shin quietly prepared faithfully authentic Taiwanese dishes on a secret menu to those who knew to ask for it. May Garden has now been replaced with a Chinese vegetarian restaurant, but I'm still looking for a worthy substitute to his "Queen's chicken", which was served cold, bone-in, with its floppy skin jellied and meat tasting of the sweet and alcoholic marinade that permeates down to the bone. 

1. Hidden Kitchen.


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Chad Sengstock

Hidden Kitchen was just a temporary experiment by four friends (none with much restaurant experience) at operating an eatery for two nights a week at the Rooster Cafe. It was, for all intents and purposes, one of OC's first pop-ups. But since all the principals had day jobs (two were medical doctors) plans for a more permanent restaurant never materialized. But I still remember the moist, pan-roasted Atlantic cod they served me as it sat on a bright, chunky tomato sauce with white wine, chile, pine nuts, currants and olives. There was sincerity in each bite as if it were also an ingredient.



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5 comments
Jzgut9110024
Jzgut9110024

My fav hole in the wall. Luigi's in Santa Ana. They had the best meatball sandwich. They also had their salad in a little Chinese food box. It came with cheese and creamy dressing. The bread on the sandwich was awesome. It was owned by an older Asian couple. Not sure why it closed but I miss it.

DanGarion
DanGarion

The title to this article doesn't really match the content. Four of these restaurants (I'm unsure about May Garden) were only around for at most a couple years, and none of them have really been long shuttered. Missing restaurants of recent is one thing, but I'd much more like to see an actual historic piece on restaurants of yore such as Belisle's, etc.

Kristen Hyland
Kristen Hyland

I can't remember the name, but it was on Harbor Blvd near the 22, and was famous for their HUGE Cinnamon rolls

Dreambones
Dreambones

Sounds like Belisle's - it was famed for its gigantic portions; I still remember seeing their "Dagwoodie" sandwich - had to be 6 to 8 inches tall!

And the breakfast for several - pound of bacon, dozen eggs, dozen biscuits, etc. etc.

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