23962 Alicia Parkway
Mission Viejo, CA 92691
A lot of people kind of give South OC a bad rap for being the land of chain restaurants and fast food joints, but there's kind of been a renaissance of unique, once off restaurants hiding in the strip malls and shopping plazas of South OC. Yes, you might have to look a little harder to see them, but they are there. Hiding behind the Denny's, or in weird shopping plazas you drive right past all the time.
Restaurants like Dublin 4, South Coast Kitchen, Delize's, and Cocina de Ricardo have brought a credibility to south county. Yes, you might still have to drive up the 5 Freeway for a great meal, but the restaurants south of the El Toro Y are closing the gap in a hurry, so the northerly drive will become a little less frequent. We were hoping that our trip to Pub Thirty-Two in Mission Viejo would continue this trend. Let's see if it did.
Pub Thirty-Two has been opened for pretty close to a year now, in what was the former Tijuana Gillies spot, which just happened to be my second ever review on this blog. Oh the memories of the awful salsa, bland Mexican food, and empty tables all over the restaurant. We were not surprised when they closed, but were surprised at how long that spot sat vacant, nearly 5 years until Pub Thirty-Two moved in.
The place is almost unrecognizable from how it used to be. The restaurant has really opened up, and is not that dirty and dark Mexican restaurant it used to be. A wall of windows line one part of the dining room, with a skylight adding even more light to the space. Relaxing grey walls, along with bare floors do little to quell the chattering of other diners, which was actually quite loud at times. Not really a spot for a romantic evening, but Katie and I have been married for two months now, so all that mushiness is long past.
We arrived at Pub Thirty-Two with reservations at 7 on a recent Saturday night. The bar area was pretty full, with two large TVs showing hockey. This place is owned by Diarmuid Noone, who grew up in his parents pub in Ireland, and once he moved to Southern California, he opened up his own place, Molly Bloom's in San Clemente. From what I hear, Molly's is a little more casual than his latest venture. The chef here is Glen Tinsley, who has worked up in Northern California, Hawaii, and also a stint in Italy. His focus here is to put together a seasonal menu, with an emphasis on fork to table philosophy, and also finding the highest quality ingredients to cook with. Let's see if he hit his goals with the food that we ordered.
Katie is an ahi fiend, so I was not surprised when she zeroed in on these Spicy Ahi Tostadas ($12). Ahi is all the rage right now, and this version was pretty good. The tuna was tender, but chopped a little too fine for Katie's taste. She also felt the cilantro overpowered, but she's more sensitive to cilantro than most people. I liked the flavor of this, but wish the wasabi was a little more prevalent. The crunch of the tostada added a nice texture component to this appetizer.
Long time readers of this blog know my love of Caesar Salads ($9), and I had to try Pub Thirty-Two's version when I saw it on the menu. All the key elements are here; pecorino croutons, Parmesan cheese, romaine lettuce, and a very good house made Caesar dressing. The presentation of this salad looks good on the plate, but involves a lot of work cutting the lettuce up. Once it was all cut up I was surprised at the large serving size doled out here. I wish they were a little more heavy handed when it came to the dressing, but it's a very good version of my favorite salad.
The menu here is not overly huge, with only eight or so items offered, but Katie selected my first choice for an entree, but me being the gracious husband let her have the Grilled Flat Iron ($24). The moist and tender steak was flavored by blue cheese, and accompanied by potatoes, onion, and asparagus. Even though Katie is partial to steaks being well done, she had this one medium and loved it. There might be hope for her yet. Even though this plate was anchored by steak, it was not a heavy plate. The asparagus and the pearl onions were flavored nicely by the juice from the steak and the blue cheese. The potatoes were fork tender, and this plate left Katie completely satisfied.
Since Katie took my first choice, I went with my second, the Crispy Pork ($21). This plate came with four pieces of crispy pork, mac and cheese, and green beans. The pork was very tasty, and even though the sarsaparilla BBQ sauce did not add too much in the way of flavor, it did not need it with this well cooked pork. The mac and cheese was understated, but still a really good side dish, even though it was served lukewarm. The green beans were some of the freshest I have had, and I'm not even a big green bean fan. A very satisfying dinner.
There's always room for dessert, and we went with the Chocolate Molten Cake ($8) to finish things up at Pub Thirty-Two. This cake had a nice texture too it, not too mushy like a lot of these kind of desserts tend to be. Not overly sweet, the bourbon sauce did not overpower here either, and the smoked blueberries on top were a nice touch. My only complaint about this was that it could have been larger, but that's just because I selfishly wanted a few more bites of this.
I knew going into Pub Thirty-Two that this would definitely be an upgrade from the last time we ate at this address. That is an understatement though. The food here was great, and we loved the little twists that most items featured. Yes, a few things could be tweaked a bit, but the cuisine here is solid, and we look forward to coming back to this chef driven restaurant. Chef Tinsley nailed the farm to fork feel that he was going for. You could tell there was a freshness to his food that we appreciated. We also were pretty stoked with the service we received from our waiter, Jonathan. He took really good care of us, and gave us some excellent tips regarding his favorite menu items. Owner Diarmuid Noone was very hands on, running food and checking on tables. Good to see an owner take such an active role. I think it's safe to add Pub Thirty-Two to the list of very good South OC restaurants that have suddenly sprung up, but you still have to hunt for them.
Out of five hockey pucks, (because one of my favorite hockey player of all time was Stu Grimson, who once threw me a hockey puck during a game, and wore number 32), five being best to zero being worst, Pub Thirty-Two gets 3.5 hockey pucks.
For more information about Pub Thirty-Two, go to their website here: http://www.pubthirtytwo.com/