2493 Park Avenue #41
Tustin, CA 92782
It finally seems like the Union Market in Tustin is getting on track. It's been a very slow process, but this much anticipated retail and restaurant space located in the old Borders Book's area of the District at Tustin Legacy is finally getting some life to it. We walked around the space earlier this year, and it was almost sad. There was lots of construction and empty booths, but little action happening. The few booths that were open, were not really drawing customers from what we could tell.
Flash forward to earlier this month, and the area seems much more alive. There are many more retail booths open, and what I was eagerly waiting for, more food places are now open. Taking up residency at the Union Market is Front Porch Pops, cookie shot vendors, The Dirty Cookie, Crepe Coop, Portola Coffee Lab, Hatch, a sliders and craft beer space, and a place that's moving up my list of restaurants to try, The Kroft. That place will have to wait for another time, as we were here meeting our good friends Alex and Jaszlyn, and having dinner at Kettlebar.
Kettlebar is a Cajun/Creole restaurant that uses steam kettle cookery to make their dishes. I'm not going to sit here and lie to you that I understand how they use steam to make these dishes, as I'm not an advanced cook or anything, but this kind of restaurant seems to be one of the hottest things right now. Okay, sorry for the bad pun. Anyways, this is our second time eating at a restaurant like this. Our first was a place called Ritter's Steam Kettle Cooking, and we really enjoyed the food there, and hoped Kettlebar would be just as good.
The menu is pretty much the same here as at Ritter's. They have some appetizers, a couple of salads, a shrimp or oyster po boy sandwich, and then the main event, the bowls. There are a couple of ways that you can go here. They have Cajun standards like etouffee, gumbo, cioppino, and probably their most popular dish, the pan roast. There also seems to be more emphasis on alcohol, than at Ritters. There are lots of craft cocktails, wines, and beer available at Kettlebar. Our waitress was kind of aloof when it came to what was on tap, as she had to keep making runs to the bar to find out about what they had available.
We got to Kettlebar at about 6pm on a Friday night. The restaurant was pretty busy, but they did a great job of keeping the tables turning over, so we got in right away. Not sure if it was from the steam cooking, or just the heat outside, but this restaurant was rather warm where we were sitting near the back of the place. No big deal, as I was definitely ready to see if this place was going to be as good as our first experience at a steam kettle joint. Let's see how it went.
I usually do not highlight the beers that I drink when we are out, but I really enjoyed this Mr. Pineapple from SanTan Brewing Company. I'm kind of partial to lighter beers, and Hefeweizens are right in my wheelhouse. I liked this beer because it was a little different, with the added fresh pineapple juice, and the wheaty aftertaste. Very refreshing, and it went well with what I hoped would be my spicy meal.
Not one to be swayed by what's popular, Alex did not go with a pan roast like the rest of us, but instead had this Cajun Garlic Noodle ($18 with clams added). He could not have been happier with his decision. This came out way before our meals, and he had almost already finished half of this before we had gotten our meals. Alex felt this dish had the perfect amount of garlic included, loved the clams, and would not say a bad thing about his dinner. For once the big guy was speechless, and we all enjoyed the silence, at least for the few minutes he was quietly eating.
Jaszlyn, Katie and I all got the pan roasts, which of course all look the same in the pictures, but each of these was different. Katie opted for the Chicken and Sausage Pan Roast ($16), Jaszlyn had the Shrimp Pan Roast ($19), and I had the Kettlebar Pan Roast ($23) which came with the same creamy tomato base as the others, but with snow crab, lobster, shrimp, chicken, and rice swimming in the bowl. Jaszlyn and I had asked for ours to be spicy, but the heat in these was very manageable. I liked the creaminess of the tomato base, the shrimp was prevalent, but the rest of the other proteins kind of got lost here. I also thought the rice to pan roast ratio was a little off. I had way more pan roast when I was all done with my rice. Not a big problem, and I could have just ordered a side of rice for another two dollars.
Pan roasts are filling, but we decided to try two desserts, the first of which was this Hummingbird Parfait ($8). This dessert is a variation of the southern dessert staple, the hummingbird cake. I had never heard of it until this night, but it is a banana pineapple spice cake. I did not really detect a banana or pineapple flavor in the one bite that Alex allowed me to have, but they loved this dessert. It even inspired Jaszlyn to claim that she was going to make this in the near future. I'm hoping to get invited over to give it a try when she does.
Mine and Katie's dessert was not as good as the hummingbird parfait. This Cinnamon Bread Pudding ($8) sounded a lot better when the waitress was describing it, but like with a lot of bread puddings I have had, it kind of fell flat. I liked that this had ice cream served on top of it, but the bread pudding itself was a little on the dry side, and could have been made better with the addition of more ice cream. There was a definite cinnamon tinge here, but even that could not save this dessert.
We all left Kettlebar liking it, and we'll be back, but I think I liked Ritter's a tad better. I liked Ritter's appetizer variety more, and they really did make their pan roasts with a little more of a kick to them. Kettlebar is definitely worth a visit, and it's a lot more convenient for us to to get to than Ritter's. The service on this evening was pretty good, as we did not really have too many problems, except that Alex's food came out a good five minutes before the rest of ours hit the table. Glad to see that Kettlebar has brought some much needed life to the Union Market.
Out of five walleye fish, (because the city of Kettle Falls, Washington hosts a couple of walleye fishing tournaments throughout the year), five being best to zero being worst, Kettlebar gets 3 walleye.
Kettlebar has a very limited website, and that's putting it mildly, but hopefully it will be updated soon. Click here to see it: http://www.kettlebar.com/