My son isn’t exactly your typical teenager. His foray into fine dining began with his first Michelin meal at the age of seven, and plenty more through the years while dining his way across continents. Several weeks ago, we visited Journeyman’s and my son was smiling throughout the entire meal, thrilled to find dishes on par with those he experienced last summer in Hong Kong.
Although the restaurant itself isn’t one of pomp and circumstance, and you definitely don’t need a dinner jacket to eat there, the experience is one that’ll make you sit up and take notice. It is a fine dining experience without having to don your Sunday best, or get completely dolled up for.
Journeyman’s is located at Hotel Fullerton, right off the freeway for easy access. On the night of our visit, it was a little quiet, but to be fair, the restaurant has only been open for a short time. Their dinner menu is a four-course prix fixe ($75) with four choices in each course. At first glance, the menu looks rather straightforward, but once each dish is placed before you, the revelation that this is something out of the ordinary slowly starts to sink in.
I started off with a cocktail — Legally Hot ($14) — with Illegal mezcal, Ancho Reyes liqueur, lime, agave, Fresno peppers, ginger beer and egg white. The flavor was well balanced and a little too easy to drink. Of course, there is also an extensive wine list to select from if you would like some with your meal.
A bread basket is brought out with freshly baked crusty whole wheat bread, as well as a generous quenelle of house-churned butter. I’m a big fan of crust, and tend to prefer it over the main bulk of a loaf, so the exceptional crust on this house-made bread made it difficult to stop nodding every time the basket came around. The butter is also stellar, with the right amount of savoriness, although a tad too soft for my liking, but it didn’t stop me from slathering it on the bread nonetheless.
Our meal begins with an Amuse Bouche of vanilla and rose compressed watermelon, a dot of house made crème fraiche, garnished with a tiny sprig of micro basil. It looks pretty basic, but the sensation in your mouth is anything but that. I love how the initial hints of vanilla hits your tongue, but then, finishes with a waft of rose at the very end.
For our first course, we choose:
Cucumber, White Nectarine, Fennel, Burrata
This dish sees a medley of cucumber preparations from compressed and fermented; fresh cucumber; and cucumber fluid gel, paired with fresh burrata, organic white nectarines, shaved fennel, and finished with a sprinkling of fennel pollen, fennel flowers, and fennel fronds. My skeptical mind wasn’t sure about the nectarines, but the hints of sweetness worked perfectly in bringing the dish full circle in tying the dish together.
Smoked Salmon Roe, Asparagus, Mushroom, Lemon
Texturally a mind-blowing dish! The mushroom crumble on the bottom of the plate provides a savory, umami-filled crunchy texture, layered with salty salmon roe, then a duo asparagus preparation: ice cream, and discs. Add to that preserved lemon jam for a hint of tartness, mint, and white pepper, and the result is a melange of textures and flavors which literally makes my mouth sing in delight. The only component on this dish I didn’t care for was the dehydrated mushroom meringue as it was a bit too sweet for me.
For the second course, we choose:
Veal Sweetbreads, Sunflower, Green Onion, Tonnato
Actually, this was my son’s choice as he loves sweetbreads. I’m assuming you’re familiar with tonnato, a cold veal dish that’s served with a tantalizing piquant sauce. Chef Zach has taken this to another level by serving the sweetbreads tonnato style, but adding texture by frying it, creating a crispy exterior, while the inside remains tender. The capers add a beautiful salty burst, while the sunchoke chip lends a gorgeous crunch. Even after we had polished off the plate, I was trying to scrape off what remaining sauce remains.
Hamachi, Stonefruit, Burnt Onion
Raw, marinated hamachi slices are coated with lime, sea salt and burnt onion-miso powder, then fanned over umeboshi compote. Fresh white donut peaches and green strawberry umeshu (made in-house!), are amalgamated with scallion crème fraiche, finger lime, and fennel flowers. It is indescribable how this dish formulates the various sensations in my mouth.
For the third course, we choose:
Lamb, Cucumber, Garlic, Oregano
Succulent lamb top sirloin is first sous-vide and then cast iron roasted until a perfect medium rare temperature. There are so many ingredients which goes into this one dish, including black garlic vinaigrette, confit garlic oil, garlic chips, and cucumber ribbons.
Little pockets of fagottini pasta are stuffed with braised lamb neck, goat’s milk yogurt, cumin, coriander, white pepper, garlic, cayenne, house dried oregano, cinnamon and rose water, then finished with a lamb reduction served tableside. We were surprised at how flavorful the lamb is — most lamb in the US is extremely mild and doesn’t taste much of anything — without being gamey.
Chicken “Tom Kha Gai,” Mushroom, Coconut, Coriander
Perhaps my favorite item of the evening, this item consists of many elements including sous-vide poached chicken breast, and a chicken pave reminiscent of Laotian-style sausage. The pave was incredible with lemongrass braised chicken leg meat folded in to create varying textures in one bite. The heady aromas of morel mushrooms add another level of extravagance to every bite. The hints of tom kha gai are there, but never overpowers. The subtlety lies in the elevated composition of something which is Laotian comfort food, but re-imagined on a plate that screams fine dining.
**This dish was inspired by Zach’s wife who is of Thai-Laotian descent.
For the fourth course:
Blackberry & Herbs de Provence
When I first saw herbs de Provence in the description, I was determined to skip it, but of course, luck would have it that my son orders it for his final course. I’m so glad he did. Blackberry “cloud” is blackberry pureed with juniper and coriander, then whipped with gelatin until cool, resulting in a “marshmallow” effect. Pair that with blackberry coulis, fresh blackberries marinated in herbs de Provence syrup, dehydrated blackberry meringue kisses, lavender flower and micro thyme, and the result is a stunning composition that is playful but at the same time, sophisticated — and by the way, the herbs de Provence completely worked!
Cocoa, Sweet Corn, Lavender
I had an earlier version of this dish a couple of years ago when Chef Zach was in the planning stages for Journeyman’s. He explained he had changed up a few things and wanted my opinion on it.
The cocoa panna cotta is solid on its own, as is the sweet corn mousse. I found the chocolate overpowered the sweet corn mousse when eaten together, and would prefer the corn mousse on its own — like a big portion of it! The cocoa panna cotta is great, don’t get me wrong, but the sweet corn mousse is so much better!
Just like every other dish, Chef Zach’s ability to marry different textures on one plate is impressive. Chocolate cookie crumble, caramel popcorn, popcorn shoot, chocolate ganache, are all components you’ll find in this final dish. If you’re a staunch chocolate fan, I say definitely go for it! For me, all I want is a huge bowl of the sweet corn mousse, maybe with a few caramel popcorn kernels thrown in.
Journeyman’s is a complete dining experience that is widely embraced in other parts of the world, but still remains somewhat alien in Orange County. The creativity, and the focus in which Chef Zach composes his ingredients is simply astonishing. I love when I am challenged by flavors which — in my mind — do not seem like a good idea on paper, but then, completely quashes that thought the minute I put it into my mouth.
Get ready for the shake-up because at Journeyman’s, Chef Zach is taking OC’s dining scene to a whole ‘nother level.
at Hotel Fullerton
1500 S Raymond Ave
Fullerton, CA 92831