Last summer, I was invited to a luncheon on the Edwards Ranch Estates, owned by Andrew Edwards, the man behind The Ranch Restaurant & Saloon in Anaheim. It was the media event of the year and I couldn’t stop talking about it. Several months later, I celebrated my birthday at the restaurant and soon after, it was no surprise they made it onto my top 10 pick of 2012.
Since then, I have been patiently anticipating this annual farm-to-table event, and a couple of weekends ago, that day arrived! The weather cooperated this year. Instead of the unbearable heat of last year, we were graced with cool conditions and an overcast sky, perfect for a tour around the farm before sitting down for the incredible meal ahead.
Master sommelier Michael Jordan led us on an exclusive tour, around the grounds, featuring a host of tomato varietals as well as other fruits and vegetables customers dine on every night at the restaurant.
As we made our way back to take our seats at the table, I sneaked back to catch a glimpse of the behind-the-scenes magical prowess of Executive Chef Michael Rossi and his team. This setup is nothing like the state-of-the-art kitchen they cook in every night at the restaurant. It is no easy feat to create an exquisite feast for 40 people around familiar surroundings, but here, they are only equipped with the basics — some burners and fryers under a makeshift tent.
The first dish to grace our table was Grilled Peaches, something I recall from last year’s spectacular meal. La Quercia Speck, Di Stefano Burrata, wild arugula and lemon verbena honey shared space with the intense sweetness of the peaches.
I had to mentally remind myself not to take a second helping because I knew there would be tons of food coming. When the second dish arrived, there were oooos and ahhhs across the table. Home Made Charcuterie consisted of everything house-made. The beautiful pickled farm vegetables are all — you guessed it — fresh from the farm and are still crunchy with the perfect balance of acidity.
The charcuterie included Andouille Sausage, Garden Vegetable Terrine, Applewood Smoked Ham, Country Pate, Truffled Chicken Liver Mousse, Rabbit Rillette, Duck Pastrami, and although everything was delicious, my favorites were the latter three. The richness of the mousse was undeniably addicting, while rabbit rillette was simply sublime.
The second course was a Chilled Cucumber Soup which I also remember from last year. A tender piece of hot smoked Skuna Bay salmon sits in a bath of the delicate soup, never overpowering the simple nuances of the other.
The beauty of fresh tomatoes can only be rivaled by its taste. What better way to showcase Heirloom Tomatoes than to allow them to shine on their own? A touch of Maldon sea salt with a drizzle of Napa Valley olive oil were all these lovelies needed. Each variety has its own distinctive aromas and textures which you have to experience on your own. No description can do this justice.
I’m a huge fan of beets and Farm Beets was right up my alley. There were several different types of beets, tossed with Lola Rosa lettuce, watercress, red flame grapes, Marcona almonds, Manchego cheese and farm Valencia oranges. The different textures melded together for that perfect mouthful of sweet, tart and salty.
I love the restaurant’s Muscovy duck confit and when I saw this on the menu, my eyes lit up. Tempura Squash Blossom Filled with Muscovy Duck Confit was a different take on the duck I’m used to. The meat is shredded and stuffed into tender squash blossoms and lightly fried. If the blossoms were meant as a vehicle to hold the confit, then it served its purpose. As two equal accompaniments, the fragile flower was overpowered by the robust nature of the duck.
But that was not all. Under these was a concoction of garbanzo beans, zucchini, eggplant, spring onions in the form of a ragu. How could vegetables be this tantalizing? I couldn’t stop eating it! The little pods of vegetables were braised in a rich duck reduction and decadent enough as a meal of its own. It blew me away and you know it takes a lot to impress me!
One of my all-time favorites is Country Fried Petaluma Quail and Chef Rossi admits it is one he is not able to take off the menu for fear of customer riots. Once you have a taste, you will understand why. Boneless quail pieces are lightly battered with bits of farm dried sage for a heady and tasty finish. The fowl is oh so juicy and tender making it difficult for me to stop at just one piece. The accompanying fingerling potatoes with home made agave mustard and warm BBQ bacon dressing are good accoutrements, but I didn’t need any of it since the quail is always my shining star.
A new addition this year was Asparagus Cavatelli, (found on the restaurant’s tasting menu) with a home-made pork sausage with Calabrian chile, yellow squash and ricotta salata in a light broth packed with umami. The cavatelli pasta made in-house is perfectly al-dente and with the flavor-filled broth, I didn’t even need any of the other accompaniments to make this one of my new favorites.
It is hard to believe that after all that we’ve eaten, we’re only a little over half way done. At this point, Executive Pastry Chef David Rossi graces us with a palate cleanser of Compressed Farm Melons in a Valencia orange soup. Refreshing citrus and nectar-sweet melons meld together resulting in a creation I am happy to end my meal with, but wait….. there’s more!
My stomach is whispering “no more”, but my mouth salivates at the sight of Certified Sustainable Chilean Sea Bass. Michael Jordan, announces we do not have to finish this entree size portion of melt-in-your-mouth sea bass, but seriously? The Maine lobster risotto it was resting on proved to be my weakness. Dotted with farm English peas and farm spinach, I took a deep breath and managed to savor most of it. Unfortunately, I was only able to put away a third of the fish before reluctantly letting it go. It was a sad moment indeed.
The Farm Panzanella, served as one of the remaining side dishes was vibrant and rustic in both presentation and taste. Generous chunks of jalapeno cornbread from Dean Kim’s OC Baking Company is tossed with picholine olives, heirloom tomatoes, yellow corn and purple basil is respectable enough as a vegetarian meal.
If you had room for the other sides, there was a delightful Peas N’ Carrots bowl filled with snow peas, sugar snap peas, Lincoln peas, purple dragon carrots and, sweet treat carrots.
Or, just a simple sauteed Swiss chard.
However, everyone was eagerly anticipating the Cowboy Ribeye and when Chef Michael brought it out in its entirety, the crowd jumped up to capture this on camera. One of my friends, who saw the photos, exclaimed “damn! that could have been from one of Andrew Edwards’ horses” — yes it was THAT big!
In all honesty, I should have stopped eating, but I didn’t. I even had three bites to accompany each of the three sauces it was served with: horseradish cream, bordelaise, oregano chimichurri.
Looking around the table, I knew everyone was floored by the almost four hours of unrivaled hospitality they had just experienced. When Andrew and Morgan Edwards host a party, you can be sure they are going ALL out from beginning to end. Last year, I hadn’t left a spot of room to even nibble on the desserts by master David Rossi, so this year, I promised to leave a speck in my belly for it.
Black Mission Figs with California almond cake and Drake Family Farms goat cheese was light and luckily, a small portion. I took a bite and waited for the next.
A huge smile came to my face when I saw Hand Crafted Macaron Ice Cream Sandwiches. As much as I don’t have much of a sweet palate, I definitely AM an ice cream fiend. Caramel popcorn, strawberry and mint n chip adorned the platter, but there was no denying my choice! My favorite ice cream flavor was screaming at me and yes, I ate the entire thing, and even a bite of my neighbor’s strawberry.
My ‘glorious glutton’ moniker was pushed to its limits that day and even I had to admit defeat. For the next 36 hours, I consumed barely anything other than fruit and water, but it was well worth it! The 2013 debauchery might be over, but just like last year, I relish with glee counting down to what 2014 has in store for us. In the meantime, don’t you think it’s time you paid The Ranch Restaurant & Saloon a visit?
The Ranch Restaurant & Saloon
1025 E Ball Road
Anaheim, CA 92805