The Wild Artichoke
4973 Yorba Ranch Road
Yorba Linda, CA 92887
When I saw that we were nearing a milestone on the blog, I was wondering how I could commemorate it. I figured I could do a top ten list of all the restaurants we have been to, or even maybe a ten worst list. Then I started to think that this milestone was really just a number. A 500th post of our journey together, experiencing restaurants. It suddenly hit me how I could pay homage to this momentous occasion. I went to my now five pages of restaurants that we want to visit, and looked at the restaurant that was on the top of the list. The eatery that has been perched there for four years now, waiting patiently for us to visit. So we made plans to visit The Wild Artichoke.
I can remember when I put this restaurant on my list. I had just gotten a copy of Zagat's Restaurant Guide from Katie's sister and brother in law. Still one of my favorite presents that they have gotten me, besides my autographed Jaguars football helmet that is now proudly displayed in our bathroom. Some might say that is the most fitting place for it, but we are getting off topic. For being relegated to a remote corner of OC, The Wild Artichoke has had some glowing reviews from lots of OC's best food writers. OC Weekly, Westways Magazine, the Orange County Register, Orange Coast Magazine, and the aforementioned Zagat Guide have made the trek up to Yorba Linda to experience what the Wild Artichoke has to offer. Now it's our turn.
This restaurant has been around for 14 years now. Owner/Chef James D'Aquila is the man in charge. James has been in the restaurant business since the age of 17, and opened this place in Yorba Linda, because the city reminded him of his hometown in Connecticut. James is a true Renaissance man, as he not only is an accomplished chef, but has also dabbled in music. I was hoping that our long awaited trip here was going to be music to my taste buds.
The Wild Artichoke is in a very sleepy shopping center, not too far from my parents house. This center is now home to Julie Lim's OC Wine Mart, along with a Yorba Linda favorite, The Ranch Enchilada. The Wild Artichoke is pretty small, maybe ten tables, so you might want to call for reservations on weekends. We arrived at 5PM on a recent Sunday, and there were about five tables occupied during our visit. The dining room is very quaint, with some artichoke paintings on the walls, darkened lighting, and some adult contemporary lightly playing over the speakers. The menu here was more diverse than I was expecting, for such a small place. Lots of pasta dishes, and a good selection of entrees to choose from. Let's see what we ended up getting.
The love of artichokes is definitely apparent as soon as you sit down here. Accompanying the customary bread basket is a warm artichoke spread. This kind of had the consistency of a dip, and was pretty solid flavor wise. The focaccia bread was soft, with enough sturdiness to support the artichoke spread. The four of us made quick work of both the focaccia and dip.
The artichoke theme continued with our choice of appetizer, the Artichoke Beignets ($8). Lucky for the four of us, these come four to an order, so we didn't have to count on my Dad to share. These beignets are filled with artichoke hearts and herb cream cheese, then coated with a lightly fried crust that I believe contained oats. They are then placed on top of a marinara and a beurre blanc sauce. These were a big hit at our table. I'm not the worlds biggest fan of cream cheese, but the cream cheese did not overpower here. Maybe the two well made sauces helped to cut the cream cheese taste. These were very delicate, and as soon as the fork broke the crust, they fell apart, thus making them hard to eat. Well worth the trouble though.
It's hard to snap a good picture of soup, and this Turkey Soup ($4) proves that point perfectly. This was the soup of the day while we were here, and my Dad's choice before his dinner arrived. This soup was packed with real hunks of turkey, elbow macaroni, and other assorted vegetables. Both my Dad and I agreed that this soup was not overly flavorful, but was more in line of being a hearty soup. He was pretty pleased with this.
Katie selected their namesake salad, the Wild Artichoke Salad ($5.25) to start off with. Their version of a house salad starts with mixed greens, with baby artichokes, tomatoes, mushrooms, and carrots added. Topping the salad are some real good croutons, and a Modena balsamic vinaigrette. Katie really liked the inclusion of the mushrooms and the artichokes, but was not too fond of the dressing, calling it, "a touch too vinegary, which led to it overpowering the produce in the salad".
I did not want to be left out, while both Katie and my Dad were eating, so of course I had to try a salad as well. I went with the Hearts of Romaine and Blue Cheese Salad ($7). This simple salad included about four hearts of romaine, with diced tomatoes, blue cheese crumbles, and a blue cheese dressing. I have to remember to always ask for this type of salad to be chopped. It was a lot of work cutting and slicing the romaine into bite size pieces. When this was sat in front of me, I was afraid it was not going to have enough dressing, but it ended up being just the right amount. The produce was fresh, and the dressing was very well made. Had a nice tang to it.
Since my Mom did not have either a salad or soup to start with, let's begin our entree portion of the meal with her pick, the Barbara's Bolognese ($17.50). This recipe comes from Chef James own Mom. You choose the kind of pasta that you like, then it is covered in a tomato sauce that uses pork, veal, and beef in it. My mom could not be happier with this. The meats added a nice heartiness to this, the sauce was definitely on point, and the fresh, hand made pasta made this a lighter than you would expect dish, without sacrificing flavor. The serving size was more than enough for my Mom, who boxed up half of it, and allowed my Dad to take the rest of it to work the next day.
My Dad did a little research on the menu before we showed up, and I pretty sure that he had his mind made up that he would get the Davey D's Jambalaya Pasta ($22) before he even sat down. Here again, you choose the style of pasta you want, my Dad went with angel hair. This version of jambalaya comes with sausage, bacon, shrimp, roasted red peppers, tomatoes, shallots, garlic, and okra, in a Cajun cream sauce. My Dad called this pasta dish, "excellent". He liked that this jambalaya did not try to overpower with spiciness, like so many other versions tend to do. There were enough meats used here, and when I pressed him for one bad thing to say about this, he only said that he wished the peppers would have been cut smaller. I would say the big guy would get this jambalaya again on future visits.
It seemed like the pasta section of the menu was very enticing with my dining partners, and Katie did not want to be left out. She ordered the Jack's Mediterranean Chicken Pasta ($18.50). This big mound of food starts with a sauteed chicken breast, served in a marinara sauce, with white wine, mushrooms, capers, basil, and cream, then topped off with some grated cheese. Katie felt that the chicken was tender, the portion size was more than generous, and the flavors blended well with each other. A very comforting dish.
Yes, I made sure I did not order a pasta dish like the rest of them. I was torn between two items, but eventually went with the Yogi's Crispy Buttermilk Battered Fried Chicken ($22.50). This good sized plate contained four pieces of fried chicken, vegetables, mashed potatoes, and a bacon dripped gravy. The chicken was pretty moist, with a very crumbly breading. I was surprised at the lack of grease here, which lended to a lighter version of fried chicken. The mashed potatoes were good, but a little too runny for my taste. I expected a little more from the bacon gravy, but it was passable. The veggies were cut very small, which was a plus in my book.
We decided on having two desserts to share between the four of us. I knew that one would be this Buddy's Brownie Sundae ($8). This was a very solid start to our dessert course. The well made brownie was topped with ice cream, powdered sugar, and a caramel sauce, then garnished with whipped cream, strawberry, and a cookie shaped like a dog. Maybe Buddy is the chef's dog, I am guessing. What made this better than most brownie sundaes was that the brownie was cooked all the way through, there was more than enough ice cream for the four of us, and the caramel sauce was a nice departure from the usual chocolate or hot fudge that is used on brownie sundaes. The only negative was the dog cookie, that really tasted dry and was devoid of flavor. Even with this one setback, we would definitely get this dessert again.
To say that my parents liked the Janice Michelle's Creme Brulee ($7) would be an understatement. They almost came to blows while jockeying for positions with their spoonfuls of this dessert. This creme brulee was not over the top sweet, while it maintained its very smooth texture. The crystallized, sugary crust on top was nicely done. My Dad practically licked the bowl to get the very last drops of this.
My parents and Katie enjoyed Wild Artichoke more than I did. I liked it well enough, and I would definitely go back, but the items I had did not wow me, like theirs did. My parents are already planning on having some special occasions at Wild Artichoke, and I would be totally fine going back. Maybe I just got the wrong thing, I maybe should have gone with the meatloaf, or maybe even the filet. The service on the night we were here was very personable, but with just one waitress for six tables, she seemed to be spread a little thin, and our food took a little longer to come out of the kitchen because of it. I thought the prices here were pretty fair for the amount of food you get, along with the quality of it. In the end, I am glad that we could finally cross this restaurant off of our list. Sorry it took 500 posts to make it here.
Out of five globes, (which is the most popular variety of artichokes, and our great state of California cultivates nearly 100 percent of artichokes in the US), five being best to zero being worst, The Wild Artichoke gets 3.5 globes.
For more information about The wild Artichoke, go to their website here: http://www.thewildartichoke.com/default.asp