1500 South Raymond Ave.
Fullerton, CA 92831
I always feel sorry for chefs that operate restaurants in hotels. Yes, they have a captive audience of ever-changing guests, but it has got to be a challenge getting locals to find out about your restaurant. With tourists, you never really get the loyal following that other restaurants require to survive. For travelers you also have to kind of dumb down the menu, or should I say make food that appeals to the masses. Executive Chef Zach Geerson is attempting to break that mold.
For those of you that are not aware, Citizen Kitchen is located in the Hotel Fullerton, which can be seen as you crawl along the 91 Freeway going westbound. For the past two-plus years it has been home to Chef Zach Geerson, a Florida native who left the Sunshine State to pursue a degree from the Culinary Insitute of America. OC diners might remember him as the Executive Chef at Tempo Urban Kitchen in Brea, a position he attained after just two months at that restaurant.
Now firmly entrenched at Citizen Kitchen, Chef Zach is pretty much the man in charge of everything here. He, of course, oversees the menu and the food but also has taken charge of the cocktail menu and handling the rest of the staff. As if there's not enough on his plate already, he's also got another restaurant opening up on the other side of the hotel, but more on that later.
For this media dinner, I had the wonderful opportunity to invite my sister along. I always enjoy sharing with my friends and family a little of what I am lucky enough to experience on a semi-regular basis. We met in the spacious parking lot and found Citizen Kitchen by walking through the lobby and listening to the other guests already enjoying their plates. Chef Zach's menu can best be described as global, with many influences from around the world. Even if something looks like it's pretty pedestrian, there's a pretty good bet that there's a twist in there somewhere. Let's see what Chef Zach had in store for us on this evening.
Since it was a trek coming to Fullerton from South OC, a drink was definitely in order. The first of my two cocktails was the Canned Heat ($10). I'm always drawn to a spicy cocktail and this one did not disappoint. It uses Ancho Reyes Chile Liqueur and some Illegal Mezcal as its base and then is softened just a bit with some orange and lime, and then finished off with some chili powder streaked across the rim of the glass. A very smooth beverage, which had a good balance between spice, sweetness, and the alcohol in it.
The Bread Service at Citizen Kitchen had us food people raving, and not just because we were hungry. The bread is made in-house, and it was light and airy. I overheard that the butter is left out for an extended amount of time, but I'm not sure for how long. It was some of the creamiest I have had, and it spread very nicely over the bread. I had more than my fair share of it on this evening.
The plates started coming out of the kitchen at a furious pace now, starting with these Kimchi Crab Rolls ($9). For kimchi lovers, this starter is a must order. These rolls were filled with kimchi crab, a light touch of cream cheese, and topped with yuzu teriyaki and green onions. I liked these, even though I'm not really a big kimchi fan. The crab was kind of overpowered by the kimchi, but the yuzu kind of balanced things out for me.
I really enjoyed the Truffle'd Fries ($6) at Citizen Kitchen. They were smashed fingerling potatoes dusted with parmesan Reggiano and parsley and then served with a house ketchup and one of the better chile pesto aiolis I have had the pleasure of consuming. The potatoes were fried perfectly with a nice crunch to the outer shell and a fluffy potato underneath. The parmesan was a nice touch that helped the truffle to not overpower.
When this hit the table I did not really know what to make of it. My immediate thought was how we were going to cut it in fifths so we could all try it. We somehow managed, This Stuffed Crepe ($10) was filled with sweet potato and served on top of a lemongrass and grapefruit salad. Not something that I would normally order, but I'm pretty glad I got to try it.
Much more to my liking was this Short Rib Agnolotti ($14). Short ribs are one of those things that you see on a menu and you just know it's going to be good. That was the case with this short rib and noodle dish. Very comforting, and accentuated with some fennel and garlic to round it out. I could definitely see some hotel guests eating this after a long day of sightseeing.
Chef Zach put a different spin on the usual mac and cheese dish with his creation, the Sweet Potato Gnocchi ($11). The gnocchi was bathed in a parmesan fondue sauce and then seasoned with some lemon and rosemary with breadcrumbs added for texture. I thought the sweet potato was going to be odd, but to tell the truth, I think he could have put an old shoe in there with that excellent cheese sauce and it would have tasted great. He could have had a lighter touch with the breadcrumbs to allow the fondue to shine even more.
Shrimp is always a favorite of mine, so I was pretty excited to see this Shrimp Escabeche ($15) make its way out to us. The shrimp was done simply with some fennel and thyme and accompanied by a grilled piece of bread that was excellent for dipping into the sauce after devouring the shrimp.
A first for my sister, this was her first time having boar, which she was not too excited about trying, but we finally got her to give it a whirl. With this Wild Boar Pipian Rojo ($13) Chef Zach takes us south of the border with this Mexican inspired dish. The boar was coated in a red mole sauce made with what I believed to be pumpkin seeds. Also thrown into the mix were some red onion, roasted grapes, and coriander. I liked the multi-layered flavors of this dish. The boar was fine, but I could not really get a good handle on it with everything else going on here. It just kind of tasted like pork to me.
Octopus, in my opinion, is one of the most underused items on menus in OC. Chef Zach has tried to rectify this with his Grilled Spanish Octopus ($14). This was presented wonderfully and the octopus came with a very well done black garlic barbecue sauce, some chile, and some pressed fingerling potatoes. The octopus reminded me of one I had at Splashes in Laguna a few years back but at half the price.
With all this food coming out, it was definitely time for another cocktail. This time I went for the Sour Skittle ($12). This one used a mixture of Spirit Works Gin and 329 Lager and was then finished with some pomegranate and lemon. Usually, when something on a menu says spicy, sweet, or sour it's kind of muted. That was not the case with this beverage, it was sour. The only thing that broke up the sour was the candy coating the rim. This might be more for those people that enjoy really sour things, so I'll stick with my Canned Heat cocktail that I had earlier on future visits to Citizen Kitchen.
Pizza was next on our agenda. The Ham and Cheese Pizza ($13) was the better of the two. A mellow parmesan cream and burrata teamed up with some thinly sliced serrano ham to top this good quality pizza crust. I liked the creaminess of the cheeses and of course the saltiness of the ham, but what made this pizza for me was the pizza dough. It was crisp and light but still added to the pizza, instead of detracting from it. I'm definitely biased against fruit on pizza, so I already had dismissed the Orchard Pizza ($10) when it was sat in front of us. Sliced apples, a fig jam, and hazelnuts made this feel more like a dessert pizza than an entree. It was fine, but I still stand by my thoughts that fruit does not belong on pizza. I'm looking at you pineapple.
I really enjoyed the look of this Citizen Burger ($17). It kind of reminded me of a fancier version of a Big Mac. Chef Zach has two burgers on his menu, this Citizen Burger ($17) and his base model, which he calls a boring burger. This burger is kimchi focused with kimchi mayo and house-made kimchi included, and then it's topped with a fried egg. I liked the burger but found the kimchi overwhelmed here. The fries were of course still outstanding, especially with the provided pesto aioli. Good stuff.
The last entree of the evening for us was the Braised Beef Short Rib ($29). The short rib was predictably tender and flavorful and bathed in a very good sauce. It was ringed around a moat of polenta which went well with the beef. A nice finish to our evening.
As I mentioned earlier, Chef Zach has a new passion project in the works, and it is also going to be located at the Hotel Fullerton. His new restaurant is going to be called Journeyman and it's taking over where a Chinese restaurant was located a few years back. The owner of the Hotel Fullerton has given Chef Zach full range on what to do with this restaurant. While we were there a couple weeks ago it was still going through the construction phase, but we were told it was going to be ready for opening in December. They were pouring the flooring the next day we were there, and so far everything looked great.
Chef Zach gave us a little taste of what to expect from his Journeyman menu. I'd describe what we tried as very daring and a little out of the box. Guests are in for a very interesting evening at Journeyman. The food here is not like anything else we have had in the area, and it will be exciting to see how it is received once it is open. It kind of reminds me of how Tempo Urban Kitchen used to be when they first opened. They had a menu that changed daily, so you never knew what was going to be on it next. I'm very eager to see how Journeyman evolves once they are open for business.
We'd like to thank Chef Zach Geerson and the rest of his team at Citizen Kitchen for this wonderful opportunity to experience their food and get a special sneak peek at the new Journeyman Restaurant, which will be opening in December. We loved your passion and it was a real pleasure getting the chance to meet you and see you in your element. I'd also like to thank my tablemates, who are some of the best food influencers around, and live up to the saying that food people are some of the best people around. Very true with this group. Also thanks to my sister for joining me on this food adventure, it's always a blast to hang out with you.
For more information about Citizen Kitchen, head to their website here: http://ckfullerton.com/