Tuesday, April 03, 2018

Hatch, Irvine

Irvine (ok, Tustin) is not exactly a destination city (except for that whole Disney place of course).  And it is certainly not a culinary mecca.  But, it was my destination, as my company has an office there, and I was in town for a week for work.  And, I needed to find a place for my small group (4 of us total) to go for dinner.

I selected Hatch, known for a few random things: sliders of all varieties, tiki cocktails, craft beer, and great side dishes.
"Why have one dish when you can have three? At Hatch, choose from Moo, Oink, Flap, Swim, or Sprout and have your sliders done two ways with a plethora of lip smacking sides and appetizers!"
Yup, potentially very gimmicky (sliders, so often dried out because they are so small, right?) and please, tiki drinks, yet, it got great reviews.  So, we went.
A Fried Feast.
Our group of 4 arrived around 6pm on a weeknight, and got the last seats.  We sampled a large variety of the menu, including appetizers, sliders, sides, and of course, dessert.

It was good.  Fried, comfort food, casual setting, but, I was pleasantly surprised.

And, uh, the dessert?  Epically good.  More on that soon.

The Setting

Hatch is located inside of Union Market at The District, Tustin, a collection of food stalls, restaurants, and small shops, but, it isn't in the central area with the other food choices, rather, it is over on the side, and has its own distinct seating space.
I was shocked by how small Hatch was inside.  A not very large bar, only 2-3 small tables, and a single couch.  There was also a few tables outside.

If it was warmer, the outside tables would have been nice, located alongside a fish pool, but, it was kinda chilly for outside dining (although they had heat lamps), so we opted to take the couch, the only available option.

The couch was rather awkward to eat any sort of meal on, with a small low table not really big enough for all our food, and, uh, this was a particularly messy meal, but, we did the best we could, and didn't make nearly as big of a mess as I thought we would.  The couch was great for sinking into in complete food coma after the meal, but also meant it was very hard to peel ourselves out of it at the end.  I think I'd opt to wait next time for a real table, but, it worked out better than I expected.
"Grass" Wall.
I failed to get many interior shots, but, the decor was fascinating, including things like a wall with turf panels.

Food & Drinks

As I said, Hatch is known for both the food and the drinks.  On the drinks side, it is the craft beer (20 on tap) and the tiki drinks (yes, served in tiki glasses if you want).  On the food side, its all about sliders and fried things.
Madison Ave. $10.
"Creativity is fueled by rittenhouse rye whiskey, a little carpano artica formula sweet vermouth, along with a touch of sherry, a smidge of vanilla bitters, takes you to teh heart of downtown manhattan."

I didn't opt for a tiki drink, as fun as they sounded, as, well, I just never pick rum when there are other options.  Plus, sweet rum tiki drinks didn't seem like the right pairing for sliders and fried food.

I went for the single whiskey drink, the Madison Ave.  It was basically a Manhattan, garnished with cherries and orange peel.  A strong drink, decently balanced, but, strong.  Good for sipping, certainly not for gulping.  Fine for what it was.
The Hatch menu is primarily sliders, broken down into categories based on the protein, 3 in each category ("Moo", "Oink", "Flap", "Sprout", and "Swim").  Sliders come 2 to a set, mix and match, with a 1/2 portion side (fries, rings, or salad).  They don't seem to be available a la carte.  The only other entree on the menu is a loco moco bowl with your choice of protein.

The rest of the menu is dipping sauces (12 of them!), things you can add to sliders (e.g. bacon, cheese, fried egg, etc), and appetizers.  The appetizers are the same as many of the sides (fries/parmesan garlic fries/sweet potato fries, onion rings, chopped or caesar salad), plus wings, and two varieties of loaded fries.

Basically, sliders, sauces, and fried things.  Mmm, comfort food.
In addition to the regular menu, there were a few specials - 4 starters, 4 types of sliders.  Starters were another type of fries (chili cheese), a "vegetable" (brussels sprouts with sausage), another crispy fried thing (chicharones), and wings.  Sliders were pastrami, lamb, and two beef additions (southwest and chili).

Nothing on here really called out.
Hatch Fries. $8.
"Braised pork over fries topped with gravy, kabayaki, cilantro, cole slaw."

The Hatch fries are considered an appetizer, but really, are a meal on their own.  A huge pile of fries, smothered with toppings, including a generous serving of braised pork.  Like I said, really, a meal.  And I treated them that way, sorta having the Hatch fries as my main, just with, uh, onion rings and salad on the side.  I skipped the sliders.

The Hatch fries were pretty awesome.

The base was a mountain of fries, thin, crispy, nicely seasoned.  They know how to do fries at Hatch.

On top of that was a pile of braised pork (very, uh, porky?), a smothering of gravy (salty, flavorful, excellent, pountine-esque), a drizzle of kabayaki (which I didn't know when we ordered, but turns out to be the sweet soy sauce that Japanese eel is often coated in, which was amazing, adding a sweet undertone to everything), and garnished with slaw (which added a bit of freshness and crunch).

It all came together very well.  Near perfect crispy fries, crunchy slaw, super flavorful savory gravy and sweet kabayaki.  It was like Canada meets Japan, in a way that totally worked.  The combination of sweet and savory was addicting.

I couldn't stop eating these, long after they ceased being fresh.  Honestly, even as they cooled down, they barely degraded, the gravy just soaked in more.  I didn't really love the pork, and might ask to have that left off actually, but, just the fries and other toppings were a home run.  My favorite of the savory dishes.
Onion Rings. $6.
I was craving onion rings since having some great ones in London, and, having read such good things about Hatch rings, I decided to order a full portion, rather than the half portion that would come with sliders.

The onion rings were very good.

Super crispy, well coated in crunchy batter, clearly freshly fried.  No slimy onions, no breading that fell off.

Very good execution of onion rings, and I'm glad I tried them, although, the half portion would have been fine.  My second favorite of the savories.
Hatch Sauce, Buffalo Sauce, Togarashi Sauce ($0.50 each, 1 included with each side).
Each order of fries/rings/etc comes with a single dipping sauce, from an extensive list.

Since I love sauces, I couldn't pick just one.  One of my fellow diners just wanted ketchup with his fries, so, I also took his extra sauce slot, ordering 3 in total just for myself.

I opted for the hatch sauce (bottom right), because I felt like I should try their house sauce, and, creamy sauces are great with rings right?  It was basically thousand island, fairly tangy, good pickle flavor.  Likely better on a burger than with the rings though.

Next, I went for the togarashi.  I love togarashi seasoning in general, and when the server described it as togarashi mayo, I knew I had to try it.  Me and my mayo sauces ...  It was spicy, flavorful, creamy.  My favorite of the sauces I tried, but still not entirely what I wanted with my rings.

My final selection was the buffalo sauce, just to have something that wasn't all mayo.  It was spicy buffalo sauce, about what you'd expect.  Fine, but again, not quite what I wanted with my rings.

In retrospect, I probably should have just gone for ranch, bbq ranch, or  perhaps the roasted garlic aioli (that I was planning to order before I saw the togarashi).  Or maybe the sweet chili?

Still, I loved the selection of sauces, and I'm glad I got to try so many.
Garlic Shrimp Slider, Garlic Parmesan Fries, Sriracha Ketchup, Tonkatsu Slider,  $14 + $1 +$1.
Every member of my group got entirely different selections.

This diner went for one "Swim", garlic shrimp, and one "Oink", tonkatsu.

The garlic shrimp was a rather awkward slider, with shrimp stacked up with bacon, corn salsa that came spilling out, and chipotle aioli, but he enjoyed it, his favorite of the pair.

The tonkatsu was a sight to behold.  Hard to see here, but a long thin cutlet that extended far outside the edges of the bun, with lots of sauce, and, um, a sunny side up egg.  Of course that yielded both 1) egg porn and 2) a mess.  I was impressed with how well he did actually at confining the disaster.

This diner opted to upgrade his regular fries to garlic parmesan, a wise move.  The fries were covered in grated parmesan, super flavorful (of course I tried them!), and really well (generously) coated.

He also went for the sriracha ketchup, which was, well, spicy ketchup.  It had a nice zing to it.  It was very tasty, and perhaps it too would have been a better match for my onion rings.

I'm glad I got a chance to try both these fries and the ketchup, they were both winners.

Seafood sliders all incur a $1 extra charge, as did the garlic parmesan upgrade.
Fried Soft Shell Crab Slider, Chopped Salad with BBQ Ranch, Pork Belly Slider. $14 + $1.
The next diner also went for a Swim and a Oink option, but she went for the fried soft shell crab and the pork belly (both options I would have selected if I was getting sliders).

The pork belly was a huge, thick piece, totally not shaped to fit within the confines of the bun at all.  The bun was a mere suggestion of where to hold the thing, not a proper container for it.

She also didn't want a side, so, I volunteered to take hers, and selected the salad (a very boring move, and not like me at all, but, we were already getting loaded fries and rings, and, reviews for the salad were all really strong).

"Mixed greens, tomato, fried onions, corn salsa, bbq ranch."

The salad was ... um, a salad?  I really don't know why people rave about it.

Mixed greens, some cubes of tomato, corn and black beans, crispy onions on top.  I wish I had known it had black beans in the "salsa", as I don't like beans, and would have left that off.  The crispy onions were good, but, we had so much other fried food, I didn't need them.  It was all fine, but, um, just salad.

I did really like the bbq ranch, great bbq flavor, but the salad was just barely drizzled with it.  Interestingly, I asked to have the bbq ranch on the side, because I wanted to use it as yet another dipper, and I was assured it was always served that way.  It was served dressed, way too lightly, and none on the side.  I didn't bother ask about it, but, it was sad, because it was my favorite of the sauces.

The salad is also available in a full portion, for $7, or with chicken, steak, or salmon added for additional fee.
Soft Shell Crab Slider.
The soft shell crab slider was by far the best looker.

While the tonkatsu and pork belly extended past the confines of the bun, the soft shell crab was far more dramatic.  A full softie, fried, and stuffed into the bun with tomato, greens, and the togarashi aioli that I had.  She preferred this to the pork belly, and I think we were all amused watching her navigate it.
Grilled Caesar Slider, Regular Fries,The Hatch Slider.
The final dinner went for the classics, a "Moo" and a "Cluck: regular beef burger, grilled chicken, plain fries.

He did ask for no tomatoes on either, and they came with.  He asked for ketchup, and it never came.

The chicken grilled ceasar slider looked pretty simple, grilled chicken, greens, tomato, and some caesar dressing.  But the "Hatch", the signature basic beef slider, had a fun element: a "cheddar hat", a slice of fried cheddar, rather than just melted on.  Fun!  He preferred the caesar though.
Aloha. $6.
"Fried bread pudding with ice cream and caramel drizzle."

Hatch has only a single item on the dessert menu.  And it is fried.

After such a heavy meal, we were all stuffed.  Really stuffed.  But I had read such great things about the fried bread pudding (also, um, I love bread pudding, and this was fried!), that I really wanted to try it.  I asked if others would split it, and everyone basically concluded that they were too full.

Undeterred, I ordered it anyway.  I'm a dessert girl, and always order dessert, unless I really, really don't like the options, and this one sounded too good to pass up.

I'm both glad, and not glad, I did.

Glad, because it was crazy good.  Like, amazingly good.  Not glad, because, well, the others were all stuffed and actually have restraint when full.  Myself?  Not so much.  I have no idea how they managed to just have a single bite, and then let it sit there.  I couldn't.  No way.  It was too good.

So, what was it?  I guess, "fried bread pudding", but to me, it was like an even more crispy apple fritter, just with a different shape.  The exterior was crazy crispy, the interior soft, doughy, and moist.  I'm pretty sure it had chunks of apple.  It had plenty of cinnamon spicing.  It reminded another diner of a churro.

The ice cream was standard vanilla ice cream, not particularly exciting.  I do love warm desserts paired with ice cream, but for this, I found myself just wanting some whipped cream, or perhaps a custard (sorry, recently back from London, got used to custard with all my puddings).  I mostly choose to eat it without ice cream, but, I think I would have enjoyed it slightly more with whip.

I think it would make an excellent breakfast as well, paired with a coffee ...

Overall, I really loved this thing.  It was hot, fresh, crispy, doughy, sweet, spiced ... and huge.  The portion of two large chunks was far, far too much for a person to take down.  Even just one of the chunks was bigger than an regular apple fritter.  Massive.  But delicious.

The $6 price was incredibly reasonable for such a large fresh dessert.  I'd gladly have this again, just, likely, I'd skip the main meal, and come just for dessert.
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