Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Another Emerging Restaurant in Dana Point

Craft House
34094 Pacific Coast Highway
Dana Point, CA 92629

When I first started this food blog seven years ago, I thought that Dana Point had some of the worst restaurants of any OC city. I'm sure there were some good ones back then, but the Jolly Roger, Wind and Sea, and Harpoon Henry's were some of the first ones that I reviewed, and they were all pretty much awful. Then, as I started to delve deeper into the restaurants of this seaside city, I began to find some good eats.

Stack's Pancake House is one of my favorite breakfast spots, Harbor House is always a great option for late night grub, and then other restaurants began moving in to liven up the dining scene in this beautiful city. The Shwack is a great option for burgers, Jimmy's Famous Tavern livened up the harbor area, and Waterman's Harbor was a definite upgrade to the former Jolly Roger spot. Now a new wave of restaurants has hit Dana Point, and we had heard some good things about Craft House, so that's where we headed the night before Thanksgiving.

Traditionally, the night before Thanksgiving is a pretty slow time for restaurants, but the full tables of customers at Craft House evidently did not get that memo. Luckily I had made reservations, and we got seated at our table, right at 6 pm. This address used to be a carpet store a few years back, but you wouldn't know it by being in here now. The high ceilings, dark toned woods, and partially enclosed patio overlooking PCH really made this restaurant pretty comfortable, although a bit loud.

The Owner/Chef of this joint is Blake Mellgren, an OC native, who started in the restaurant business at an early age, graduated from Loyola Marymount, and then after graduation, moved to New York to work as a line cook at a famous NYC restaurant, while also completing courses in restaurant management at the International Culinary Center. He moved back to OC in 2014, and two years later, opened up Craft House.

Chef Blake was very active on this evening, running food and chatting with guests. The menu at Craft House has a good array of items for your dining pleasure. They have ten appetizers, along with 11 entrees for people to choose from. I had seen earlier on this evening that their local fisherman purveyor had brought them an 85-pound bluefin tuna, and they offered it three ways on a special menu, which you will see Katie took advantage of. Let's check out all the other food and beverages we took advantage of.

I had a hard week at work leading up to Thanksgiving this year, so an adult cocktail was definitely in order. The Moscow Mule ($11) would be my choice on this evening. This version was pretty good at first, with quite a bit of bite to it, but as it got watered down as time went on, it kind of lost a little of that bite. I probably just should have drunk this quicker. I forgot to take a picture of the drink menu, so I am not quite sure what set this apart from other mules I have had, but it did provide a nice spice in the first couple of sips, and I'd still get it again.

None of the appetizers really piqued my interest too much on this evening, so I let Katie pick, and she went with these Hush Puppies ($13). This was one of the lighter hush puppies I have had. It was not as dense as most tend to be, which I liked. The menu said these came with crab and chive inside of them, and then was served with an Old Bay aioli. The crab was really not that prominent, as the inside of each hush puppy had just a few wisps of crab included. I was also not too big of a fan of the Old Bay seasoning, as it was a tad too salty, and I wished for a softer sauce.

As hinted about earlier, Katie opted to try part of the 85-pound bluefin tuna that Craft House got earlier in the week from the waters off of Dana Point. This Bluefin Poke ($18) is just the light meal that Katie needed on this night before Thanksgiving. The tuna was mixed with some avocado and some other seasonings, but still, let the fish be the star of the show. It's easy to try to do too much with this, but Katie was happy that they kept the natural integrity of the tuna here. The wonton chips that were served with this were a very good vessel for scooping up the fresh tuna. She was very content with this meal.

I went for a more substantial meal on this evening, as I ordered up the Grilled Meatloaf ($24). This meatloaf is made up of the holy trinity of meats, ground beef, pork, and bacon. I thought it was going to be too greasy, but it was firm and full of flavor. I also had some reservations about the use of tomatoes as a gravy, but I warmed to the idea as I ate this. The hominy puree was a lighter alternative to mashed potatoes, that actually worked here, Even the greens were done correctly. This entree had a southern slant to it but was done in a much lighter way.

As if we did not have enough food already, we also got two sides at Craft House. The Mac and Cheese ($8) was a favorite of Katie's. No macaroni was used here, as they instead used ear-shaped, orecchiette pasta, with a cheese sauce made up of Gouda and cheddar, and then topped with bread crumbs. The orecchiette was cooked perfectly, and the cheese sauce was a little sharp, but still manageable. They were a little heavy handed when it came to the breadcrumbs, as they overwhelmed a bit here. The Roasted Cauliflower ($8) was much more to my liking. It was grilled just enough to give it a pleasing crunch when bitten into and was sprinkled with cotija and slivered almonds. I would have liked this even better if it had come with a dipping sauce, but still worth getting.

When I had read Brad Johnson's restaurant review of Craft House in the OC Register, he raved about the chocolate bread pudding, but unfortunately, that is no longer on their dessert menu. So, both Katie and I picked one dessert off of their four item dessert menu. I went with the Apple Tart ($8). Not sickeningly sweet, this puff pastry was filled with granny smith apples and then topped with vanilla ice cream and a drizzle of caramel. I liked this but was not in love with it. The apples tasted very fresh, and there was plenty of ice cream included with this, but it was missing something that I could not put my finger on. Katie on the other hand really enjoyed her dessert, the Pumpkin Spiced Latte ($8). This was not like any latte you could get at Starbucks. They took a pumpkin chocolate chip cookie, and then put coffee flavored ice cream over that, and finished it off with a maple gastrique. I'm not a fan of coffee, so this was all Katie's, and she seemed fine with that.

I left Craft House liking it, but thinking that this restaurant is still a work in progress. I don't mean this in a negative way because I really enjoyed my entree here, but I think that the future is when this restaurant is going to hit its stride. Not unusual for a restaurant that has only been open for a mere ten months. The management team here is first rate, and very hands-on, which is great in this day and age. They really did a great job making sure everyone was comfortable, and making sure that every table was well taken care of. I did not think that the prices were too out of whack for this area, and they seemed to be right in line with other restaurants around Dana Point. It's restaurants like these that have changed my attitude about dining in Dana Point.

Out of five lanterns, (because several street names in this city are named after different colored lanterns), five being best to zero being worst, Craft House gets 3 lanterns.

For more information about Craft House, head to their website here:

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