Scarlet Kitchen & Bar opened in Ladera Ranch less than two months ago. I was invited to a media dinner, and then returned with a friend shortly after that initial visit. While Scarlet is tucked away in the corner of a non-descript shopping center, it is apparent that the restaurant is anything but covert. Both nights we visited, Scarlet was bustling with energy, packed with diners both at the bar and the dining room. Even the patio was dotted with customers on a cold winter night.
The media night allowed us to taste a rather wide array from the menu, but it was the return visit which confirmed that Chef Paige Riordan is here for the long haul. The menu is a mix of comfort foods ranging from more casual offerings such as tacos and sandwiches, to entrees like fish, lamb chops and risotto. However, I use the word “casual” very lightly since even these seemingly simple dishes are elevated versions of what you may be accustomed to seeing.
If you’re a fan, then Deviled Eggs ($11) is the perfect shareable starter for the table. There is a kick from Sriracha, acid from the pickled onions, and the hints of smoked paprika kicks it up a notch. The result is a kicked-up version of a traditional deviled egg.
During the media tasting, we received a shot of Marty’s Clam Chowder ($11) and it was love at first sip. This New England-style recipe is from Chef Paige’s father, and positively, one of the best clam chowders I’ve ever had. First off, it wasn’t cloyingly thick like chowders tend to lean towards. The consistency is perfect, dotted with clams and chunks of potatoes, it was hard to stop eating. I was unapologetic, hogging the entire bowl on the second visit, leaving my dining companion with only a few spoonfuls.
I’ve never been big on salads, having grown up never eating raw vegetables, but after trying several of the salads on the menu, I was blown away by Scarlet Farm Salad ($15). This plate of red leaf lettuce, radicchio, tomato, basil, kalamata olives, pepperoncini, soppressata, and feta cheese may look simple, but it is anything but. Chef Paige’s creamy Italian dressing which the ingredients are tossed in, is a work of love. She confided that it took years to perfect, and you’ll understand why the moment you taste it.
There are several tacos on the menu, and vegetarians will relish in the Pulled Carrot Tacos ($18), Slow cooked BBQ carrots are enveloped in a flour tortilla, and finished with watermelon radish, avocado, herb slaw, and jalapeno cashew ranch crema. The combination of flavors meld together harmoniously with solid textures as well.
I was unsure of the Reuben Tacos ($24) not able to wrap my head over the idea, but the moment I bit into it, everything made sense. Slow cooked pulled pork is layered in flour tortillas, then topped with sauerkraut, Irish white cheddar, Romaine, and Scarlet sauce. The result is an astonishingly tasty taco that doesn’t feel the least bit out of place. Kudos to Chef Paige for conceptualizing this.
Another fantastic offering is Liquid Gold ($28) a pork and lamb ragout that has been passed down for generations in the Riordan family. Pappardelle pasta is generously tossed with this hearty, rich sauce, then topped with shaved parmesan. Both times, I’ve brought leftovers home planning to eat it the following day, but my son beat me to it both times. This is a dish that I will come back again for.
And last but not least, make sure you try one of the desserts. My favorite was the Raspberry Lemon Butter Bundt Cake ($9) a stunning mini bundt cake which is slightly crunchy on the outside and very moist on the inside. The gorgeous lemon butter glaze isn’t overly sweet, and the tartness level is perfectly balanced on the palate.
Scarlet is a wonderful addition to Orange County. The food is stellar and the service, friendly. It’s about time South County has a restaurant that those outside of the area will want to travel to.
Scarlet Kitchen and Lounge
30865 Gateway Pl
Ladera Ranch, CA 92694