The Recess Room
18380 Brookhurst St.
Fountain Valley, CA 92708
When you are a kid, it seems like the world is so small. Most of your life revolves around a two or three-mile radius. You go to school, or maybe the local store, but other than that, you stay pretty close to home. At least that's how it was for me, growing up in the late 70's and early 80's. You probably had a group of friends, and you thought that you would know these people forever, not just on Facebook. For most of us, this was not the case, but for the five owners of the Recess Room in Fountain Valley, they have remained friends since childhood, and have now even opened a restaurant together.
Recess Room is the culmination of five lifelong friends, who wanted to bring a different kind of restaurant to their hometown. Fountain Valley has a lot of noteworthy Asian restaurants, a very good Turkish place, (Istanbul Grill), and a smattering of Mexican restaurants, but they were lacking a place for modern American cuisine, until now. These five friends brought this restaurant to the city they grew up in, not only because there was nothing like it around, but they also wanted to give their fellow citizens a place where they could take a break from their lives, and experience a little recess, which is something we all daydream about.
Opened a few weeks ago, I was afraid that this restaurant was going to be kind of over the top with the elementary school theme, but thanks to restaurant designer, Kenneth Ussenko's tutelage, the restaurant has an understated nod towards a school yard, without being too in your face. The ceiling over the bar area is a replica of a redwood basketball court from the 60's, there are chain curtains, which are a slight nod to playground swings, and the tables are made from one-hundred-year-old wood. I also liked that the center bar area was separated from the dining area by a wall, but at the same time, you felt included in the bar action, due to the big windows that allowed for easy access to view one of their two TVs over the bar. With all these renovations, it's almost inconceivable that this used to be a Coco's just over a year ago.
The menu at Recess Room is also light years away from Coco's. A good many of the items here are intended for sharing, but there's also a varied selection of entrees for people who are not too keen on sharing their food, like me. Manning the kitchen is the very talented Chef Sergioivan Ortega, who has spent time at heavy hitters, ARC, Cucina Enoteca, and Social. As I mentioned before, this menu is probably best described as modern American, but most items offer a twist from the norm. I was definitely intrigued, and we hurriedly made our selections and waited for our food to hit the table.
A lot of my friends swear that I do not get enough veggies in my life, and that's not true. I sometimes get a stray piece of lettuce on a burger, and fries are made from potatoes, which is also a vegetable if I remember that from studying the food groups in second grade. Anyways, we started things out here with these Sprouts ($10). It seems like everyone is doing a sprout dish these days, and this one was pretty stellar. The sprouts are jazzed up with the inclusion of some brown butter, Meyer lemon, hazelnut, Parmesan, and a Chinese sausage, lap cheong. Their choice to use the milder Chinese sausage, instead of the more in your face bacon, really made the sprouts the star of the show here. This was a cleaner version of this dish, than most other restaurants showcase. Each tasting note, whether from the lemon, the hazelnut, or the brown butter, came through in short bursts. A great start to our night at Recess Room.
Just our second item, but this was the star of the night for me. These Blue Crab Beignets ($15) are definitely a must order when dining at Recess Room. These little balls are filled with Maryland blue crab, a little mascarpone, and then served with a very good guajillo aioli for dipping. No filler inside of these, you just get the delicious crab through and through, and I was surprised that the outer shell was grease free and lighter than expected. The aioli had a little kick to it, but was very manageable, even for a spice lightweight, like Katie. Don't miss your chance to try these when you are here.
Probably my least favorite thing that we tried on this evening were these Deboned Wings ($12). I think I was just expecting more of a boneless chicken wing kind of feel, and what I got was like no boneless wing I have ever had. They had a great spicy gochujong sauce covering them, which was both spicy and sweet at the same time, but there was very little meat on these. I did like the crispy skin on the outside, but I'd probably forgo these in favor trying another one of their appetizers, like their avocado toast or bone marrow mac and cheese, on my next visit.
Entree time was next for us at the Recess Room, and both Katie and I contemplated what to order for awhile. She finally decided on this Hue Dip ($14), which she enjoyed very much. This sandwich was inspired by the "other" Vietnamese soup, bun bo hue. This sandwich was filled with thinly sliced brisket, spicy lemongrass, a jalapeno slaw, and seasoned with some coriander, all included on a very solid ciabatta, which held up to the au jus admirably. This was like two sandwiches in one. Without dipping the sandwich, you could really get a good feel for the contents of the sandwich, and Katie was impressed with the crunchy texture of this. Dipping the sandwich was like giving this a flavor boost, even though it did not need any help in that department. This sandwich came with plenty of their beer battered fries, that we had a hard time finishing, even though they were so addicting.
I was torn between the skirt steak, short rib, and the burger, and I guess you can see that I ended up with the Bone Marrow Burger ($16) on this evening. This was a stellar burger, made with some pretty high-quality beef. Even though this burger featured bone marrow and a bacon jam, it was still a subtle burger, which let the natural flavor of the beef to shine through. Don't get me wrong, this was rich but not heavy, due to the lack of greasiness. Again, the bun here deserves some credit for keeping its integrity throughout the life of this burger. I enjoyed the generous serving of fries here, and the beer batter gave these fresh fries a great crunch.
The decisions at Recess Room are not easy, as I really wanted to try their cereal inspired creme brulee, which is made with Frosted Flakes and Cinnamon Toast Crunch, but the call of this Fluffer Nutter ($9) was too great to overcome. Their take on this east coast favorite includes the predictable peanut butter and marshmallow fluff, and then they add bananas and vanilla ice cream on the side. The bread is battered and fried to a very crisp french toast-like feel to it. I liked this dessert, but feel the inclusion of a little chocolate sauce could have elevated this to even greater heights. Of course, I'm a big peanut butter and chocolate guy, so I always feel these two items belong together. Good finish to our meal here.
Recess Room has been getting lots of love from the OC food community. I read lots of restaurant review blogs, and the consensus among everyone is that these five lifelong friends have a winner on their hands. The future looks promising as well since they are expected to get their craft cocktail program up and running, once they get their liquor license, which should be any day now. Liquor license or not, this restaurant was packed with people on this Saturday night, and they were just here for the food, so that's a promising sign that this area was starving for a restaurant like this. Everyone we encountered here, from two of the owners that we chatted with, to our waiter, Roy, and to all the food runners and bussers we interacted with, they all shared a pride in the food and were excited to hear our thoughts as well. I'm happy that these five friends have remained so close for so long, but I'm most happy for all of us, that they opened this restaurant.
We'd like to thank everyone at Recess Room for their hospitality, and for the chance to experience their food on this evening. We did not get a chance to meet Chef Ortega on this initial visit, due to the packed restaurant, but we were really impressed with everything we consumed here. Special thanks also go out to our waiter Roy, who shared his thoughts on the food and gave us some great suggestions. He knew this menu inside and out and was at our table frequently to fill their rather small water glasses. Thanks for that Roy, and we promise not to be so thirsty on out next visit. Lastly, we'd also like to thank the great PR powerhouse, Nerissa Silao for the invite to come and try Recess Room. Thank for thinking of us Nerissa, we had a great time.
For more information about Recess Room, head to their website here: http://therecessroom.com/