50 Forks is a student-run restaurant at the Art Institute of California, and each semester, a new group of culinary students prepares a menu in a restaurant environment catering to the public. Last semester, I visited for the first time and found myself impressed and blown away by the quality of the dishes gracing our table.
My group of six ate the entire menu, consisting of a number of appetizers ($7), entrees ($14) and desserts ($5), but before we delved into that, we were given some freshly baked bread still warm, with butter to slather on and enjoy.
Roasted Kabocha Squash & Fennel Soup — although I couldn’t detect a lot of fennel, the squash was delightful and creamy. Candied pumpkin seeds added a textural component while creme fraiche provided a boost of silkiness to each mouthful.
When students make their own Smoked Salmon & Pickled Vegetables you know you MUST order it. When it arrives, there is also ciabatta baked on the premises served with French butter, pickled egg and yukon chips.
A plate of greens is something I can leave or take. Roquette Salad of arugula, blood orange, dates and toasted almonds tossed in a house-made vinaigrette suffices for those who want something light or…. are vegetarians.
The Stracci di Pasta was one of my favorites of the night. Hand-made pasta carbonara topped with a runny fried duck egg was devoured by the six of us in record time. The rich, creamy sauce with the soft pasta combined with the unctuousness of the duck egg was heavenly! I still dream about this today.
I’m a big fan of Pissalidiere, but the one here wasn’t my favorite. The puff pastry topped with caramelized onions, anchovy, olives, and creme fraiche was difficult to eat as the puff pastry was ‘inserted’ with the acoutrements and not really served flat with the ingredients laid on top. I also wasn’t sure I liked the creme fraiche either.
Moving on to the entrees, I was shocked I enjoyed the Braised Pot Roast so much — I’m normally not a fan. Everything accompanying was delicious — -potato hash, Brussels sprouts, dijon sauce and the incredible tomato jam which added some tartness to the mix.
Miso Marinated Cod ($14) was a little grating on the tongue although the cod was cooked perfectly. The use of white miso was too strong on its own. I felt it was lacking some sweetness ordinarily provided by adding mirin, or using a mix of red and white miso.
My least favorite entree of the night was Coq au Vin. The chicken leg and thigh was braised too long making it fork tender but stringy and dry on the palate. The glazed onions and flageolet were fantastic though which really made up for the chicken.
I was so full by now but couldn’t resist a taste of the Chili Grilled Skirt Steak. Sauteed mushrooms and onion marmalade olive aioli made for a great meat dish. Served with french fries.
I wasn’t all that excited about eating dessert and we had all of them. Let me just say, once again, the students surprised me.
Bishops Cake — orange syrup with blood orange sorbet and vanilla ice cream.
Housemade Rootbeer Float — not a fan of root beer, but the brown butter ice cream and hot chocolate chip cookies were delicious.
Apple Mille Feuille — not my favorite — expected the mille feuille to be crispier than it was. Served with pistachio baklava, rum raisins, caramel and whipped cream.
But here’s the piece de resistance. Butterscotch Pudding with vanilla sables and whipped cream just knocked my socks off and I don’t even like butterscotch. This was THE best butterscotch pudding I’ve ever eaten…… so nutty and not too sweet.
So there ya have it. The students are just incredible. The food that came out of that kitchen was better than some ‘real’ restaurants I’ve eaten at. If you haven’t tried them yet, please do. The new semester started last week and the dining room is now open to the public.
Dining room opens Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays and reservations are HIGHLY recommended as the dining room is small. Please call 714-429-0918 to reserve your table.
I have an opportunity for two lucky readers to win a chance to break bread with us at 50 Forks this semester. Leave me a comment with your FULL name, telling me why you would like to win a seat at the table. The meal should be no more than $40/person before tip — you will be responsible for your portion of the check. We share everything and divvy up the check equally among us.
3601 W Sunflower Ave
Santa Ana, CA 92704