The Recess Room, recently voted as Orange County’s 4th Best New Restaurant by Orange Coast Magazine, welcomes a new chef, and an updated menu. Chef Nikko Marquez, a high school friend of one of the owners, comes with an impressive resume including Chef de Cuisine at Portland’s Superbite under James Beard Award-winning chefs Greg Denton and Gabrielle Quiñónez Denton; and Chef de Cuisine at LA’s Pizzeria Mozza.
I’ve been a fan of The Recess Room since the very beginning, and now, with its third chef, the restaurant has taken yet another turn with a menu that sees growth and maturation.
When dining at The Recess Room, it is vital you partake in one of their myriad of house-created craft cocktails. Try (from left:) Mary Poppins ($12) a Cana Brava rum-based libation with sweetness from pineapple, grenadine and Luxardo cherries. One of my favorites is Blackberry Bramble ($12) a light and refreshing concoction with your choice of vodka or gin. If you’re looking for a whimsical twist, then Froze ($10) might just the one for you. This beautifully hued presentation comprises Absolut vodka, Lillet rose, Campo Viejo sparkling rose, lemon and strawberry and is way too easy to drink.
One of the first things I recommend is Fried Chicken Skins ($12) to pair with your drinks. These crispy chicken chicharron are sprinkled with Shin cup seasoning, a flavor most of us who grew up eating Shin brand instant noodles are rather familiar with. Served with yuzu kosho ranch dressing — and more Shin cup seasoning — these addicting morsels are extremely hard to resist with a combination of umami-filled flavors to whet any appetite.
Another highly recommended dish is Spanish Octopus ($18) served over a bed of crispy matcha quinoa, miso butter, chunks of Okinawan potato, pickled ginger, Vietnamese coriander, and Thai basil. The culmination of flavors in this dish evokes nostalgia, with familiar aromas that bring back memories of childhood.
While I’m not a huge fan of pork in general, the Pork Cheek Confit ($18) using Beller pork cheek, is another dish that brings back memories of childhood. This braised pork dish is reminiscent of Filipino adobo, as well as any braised pork dish in Asian cuisine. Here, the meat is fork tender, enveloped in a demi-glace, and served with rice chips. The vibrant allium salad is a combination of green onions and cilantro, adding a delightful burst of freshness on the palate.
Mulita ($14) is a plate comprising layers of tortillas sandwiched with braised brisket, Oaxaca cheese, tomatillo, avocado crema, and charred scallion crema. Its components may be Mexican, but this is one hundred percent Californian.
I’ve always loved the pastas at The Recess Room, such as the dungeness crab dish from its earlier menu. Right now, Scallop Pasta ($32) is featured. This preparation sees perfectly executed noodles immersed in a coconut broth, kissed with fragrant lemongrass and coriander. If that’s not enticing enough, the most exquisite scallops are served alongside, and finished with crispy garlic and fish sauce caramel shallots. This is perhaps my favorite dish of the meal.
Another stand out is Seared Duck Breast ($28). I believe the wonderful Asian flavors are what draws me to this dish. The duck is well seasoned and works in unison with the buckwheat soba, and the accoutrements of yam leaves, pea tendrils, scorched rice tea, and smoked shoyu. I am especially pleased to see Asian ingredients used in many of the dishes here which allow the plate to pop with bursts of incredible flavors.
If you’re looking to go all out, might I suggest ordering the Tomahawk ($110), a 40oz prime Angus steak, which is best shared with the table. The sides are absolutely insane, and quite honestly, what I gravitate towards after I’ve had my taste of the beef — I only need a slice! Crispy smashed potatoes, grilled red cabbage, tart charred red onion, and ponzu butter, all come together in creating an entree big enough to feed an army.
If you’re looking for a vegetable dish to round off the meal, please order the Spicy Cauliflower ($12). Rainbow cauliflower is roasted, then tossed in a red chile glaze, with Fresno chile, and onion creme fraiche. It is so freaking good I could not stop eating it!
I walked in with slight skepticism and left completely satiated and extremely happy. I love that the menu is ever evolving and better than it’s ever been. If you haven’t experienced The Recess Room, it’s definitely time to go!
The Recess Room
18380 Brookhurst Street
Fountain Valley, CA 92708