Jason's By the Circle
513 E. Chapman Ave.
Orange, CA 92866
I wasn't even sure that I was going to write this review. I used to have a rule that I would wait until a restaurant was around at least a year before visiting them. My reason for this was because I did not want a long list of restaurants featured on the blog that had gone out of business. The restaurant industry is a tough one, and it claimed another victim, Jason's By the Circle.
Last week it was reported that Jason's had closed for good, just a few weeks past their one year anniversary. From what I can gather, they are still doing catering and will hold special events at this space through the end of the year. This building, east of the Plaza in Orange is one of those cursed spots that almost every city has. It's been a Coco's, Spiros Greek Restaurant, Ways and Means, and finally Jason's.
I'd like to say that I didn't see this coming, but when we visited on a Wednesday, a month before their eventual closure, there were monstrous signs that something was amiss. The reservations I had made were not even close to being needed. The 4,700 square foot restaurant, with seating for up to 155 customers that they were so proud to trumpet on their website, was empty except for me and my friend, along with six other diners, and about a half dozen staff killing time until their shifts were mercilessly over. Even our waiter, after we commented on the lack of traffic here said, "I think the catering business is what keeps this place open." Guess he was right at that time.
The Jason behind this restaurant is Jason Kordas, who's had a very successful catering business for years. If you've been to a good number of weddings in OC, you probably have been to one catered by Jason's Catered Events. He's prepared food for events where President Clinton has attended, and done dinners for Depeche Mode and Van Halen. He's also dabbled in the restaurant business before, with Jason's Cafe in Tustin, and also Jason's Downtown in Santa Ana, which lasted over two years before the economy tanked, and people were not going out nearly enough. This was his latest attempt at the restaurant business, and we know how it eventually turned out for him but was it this supposed cursed location or the food? Let's find out.
The first of our two appetizers on this evening, this Spanish Tortilla ($8.50) was not what I was expecting when Ryan ordered it, but it ended up being delicious. I learned that a Spanish tortilla is a frittata layered with potato, caramelized onion, garlic, Fontina cheese, and rosemary. This version was then topped with a garlic aioli and garnished with a corn relish. I really enjoyed this unique item. It had a soft texture and was full of flavor. It could have been served a little warmer. I really liked the aioli topping this, which I felt brought this all together. The corn pepper relish was fine, but kind of an odd pairing for this appetizer.
If there was a trademark item at Jason's, it was probably these Monkey Bites ($7.50). A plantain wrapped in bacon and then drenched in a rum maple glaze. Kind of like the rumaki my mom used to make when we were kids, but she wrapped that bacon around a water chestnut. These were good, but I actually enjoyed the Spanish tortilla more. These were a little too sweet, and the bacon was not as prevalent as I would have liked. The sauce really overpowered here. I can see why these were popular, but I'd skip them.
Ryan went big here at Jason's, with the most expensive thing on their menu, the Dry Aged Rib Eye ($32). This sixteen-ounce hunk of meat had Ryan singing its praises. Very tender, the normal marbling which makes the ribeye the best steak of all, and the added bonus of having this steak topped with a tasty Gorgonzola pine butter, made this dish a winner. This also came with grilled asparagus and garlic mashed potatoes. A very impressive meal.
As is my usual, I was torn between a few things on this menu, but eventually went with the Anne Marie's Meatloaf ($18). This meatloaf, which is named after Chef Jason's mom, did her proud. Thick slices of tender meatloaf, which is made up of a trinity of meats; ground chuck, Italian sausage, and ground turkey. It's then covered in a tomato and basil sauce, which I kind of detected the tinge of maybe some curry, but I might be wrong about that. One of the better meatloaves I have had in recent memory. This was also served with some mixed veggies and garlic mashed potatoes. Both were pretty solid and contributed to this very comforting meal.
If the monkey bites were the most popular item at Jason's By the Circle, then this Sticky Pudding ($7) dessert is a close second. This toffee sponge cake was so good, that Ryan immediately ordered an extra one to go for his family at home. A very sweet dessert, which had a sharp richness to it. I would not hesitate to have this again.
I know that the sticky pudding gets a lot of love from people, but you should not overlook this underrated Carrot Cake ($7). This was a very solid piece of cake, with some good cinnamon spice flavor to it. The cream cheese frosting was a little thicker than I usually like but still added a nice sweetness here.
Both Ryan and I left Jason's By the Circle completely satisfied with our meals, but of course, they are no more. I can only assume that being this far from the busy OC Plaza is kind of a tough spot to operate from. I did not think that the prices were too outrageous, and the food was definitely not the reason this place closed. I really liked Chef Jason's kind of down home, globally inspired cuisine, and hope that he may give it a go again. Maybe this time in a better spot. For now, I'll just have to hope that he caters the next wedding I'm invited to.
Out of five skateboards, (because I learned that actor, Jason Lee, who was born in Orange, was a professional skateboarder before he made a name for himself in the TV show, "My Name Is Earl"), five being best to zero being worst, Jason's By the Circle gets 3.5 skateboards.
For more information about Jason's By the Circle, click here for their website: http://jasonsbythecircle.com/wordpress/