Event: Hopscotch Fall Menu Tasting

Still high off the buzz and excitement of Hopscotch taking home the Golden Foodie Award for Best Cocktails a few nights prior, we headed into Fullerton to check out the fall menu one night after having scheduled it a few weeks before. Ever since the chef position changed hands to Chef Cody Storts, the menu has been constantly improving as has the restaurant's involvement with the community. We knew that people loved coming by for the drinks, as the founders had intended, but in the beginning, the food was a hit or miss sometimes (even for our first visit). The cocktails and overall drink selection has been impressive since the start, and it only made sense that the food would eventually catch up. Now they not only feature an array of cleverly crafted food items that require a lot of patience and skill, they also host regular dinners and events for the food-loving community to attend and perhaps even be educated. It's a pretty sweet deal and without doubt, there's always an event in the wings on Facebook to look into.

"So Best Cocktails list you say huh?" That's what they won it for, yep. We had had their summer cocktails before which were very vibrant and befitting of the season. This cocktail menu for the fall was no less fitting for its season and featured quite a few ingredients that naturally make one think of autumn. Last time we were graced by the mixing skills of their Director of Libations James Wood but when we arrived for the fall tasting, he had recently departed from Hopscotch. The cocktail menu had been developed by him but for some of the drinks that we tasted, the departure was bit apparent as they weren't was refined as we'd seen before. To our surprise, we managed to have all seven of their fall menu cocktails. Perhaps it was all of the food we had alongside it all!

The start was with The Norrington (cachaca, lime, basil syrup, all spice dram, star anise) and Master at Arms (Famous Grouse, oatmeal honey scotch, creme yvette, lemon, grapefruit, cinnamon, aromatic bitters). The former was as much autumn as you could think to put into a glass. I called it a seasonal candle...in a good way. Blame the all spice dram and the star anise if you will but this certainly evoked plenty of the memories associated with the fall season as it was spice-heavy and, though cold in temperature, warm in feeling. We found it the poster child for the launch of the fall cocktail menu. The Master at Arms tasted like a segue from summer to fall, highlighting some more summery notes from the citrus but still calling on the start of fall with the use of cinnamon. I suppose you might also call it a Californian autumn which contains a sprinkling of the traditional spices but still has a light and bright enough influence on the tastebuds.

Then we went for our second round which consisted of The Pearl (Cocchi vermouth di torino, syrah quinine, wild honey shrub), The Buccaneer (saffron infused gin, St. Germaine, lemongrass syrup, lemon, angostura, sage), and Tortuga (tequila ocho plata, dry vermouth, cilantro, cucumber, black pepper, lime) respectively. The Pearl and Buccaneer are certainly for those who prefer sweeter cocktails than not. I'd say that the former requires a bit more getting used to due to the inherently bitter taste of quinine while the latter would please those who desire cocktails to coat their throats in liquid sweetness. We didn't find either of them structurally incorrect but rather, just not in our realms of preference. As for the Tortuga, this was certainly up my alley because I love fresh herbs. You better like cilantro if you want to drink the Tortuga; it is loaded with the stuff and the black pepper makes it all the better.

Our last two drinks for the night were the Press Gang (rock and rye, amaro doling rouge, peyschauds bitters, luxardo cherry) and Isla de Muerta (fernet branca, dolin rouge, honey syrup, orange bitters). The Press Gang was another that didn't fit our fancy but might for those wanting sweetness in their drink. The other drink was just a deathtrap. It became instantly apparent upon first sip as to why this was called the Isla de Muerta, aside from the floating circle of zest on top. There was a constantly refreshing, almost menthol-like component of the cocktail that masked just how alcoholic the drink was. You just wanted to keep on sipping because it seemed rejuvenating and an easy way to stay alert. I'm sure you'd only need two of these to knock yourself out. That being said, go for it if you want that type of mouth feel - clean and tingly!

The menu at Hopscotch consists of various sections now that are set apart by the types of food it is. For example, one area called "Bites" included House Made Pickles, Hand Cut Fries, PB&J, and Korean Short Rib Jerky. There were also "Smalls: which are great starters for sharing; we've had the Blue Crab "Tots" before but this time grabbed the Crispy Pig Ears (with red fresno coulis and lime) and had had the Rocky Mountain Oysters at Golden Foodie Awards. I am an utter fan of pig ears and wow is what I can say about theirs. They know their ears, and they know how to do them right. Crunchy, salty, savory - it hit all of the right spots, and it was a shame to have run out of them so quickly. Perhaps it was my fast stuffing of my mouth with the things that did it. Oh well. Bring on s'more please! Chef Cody then spoiled us with a hot cast iron of their Duck and Black Truffle Poutine, a decadent heap of everything umami you can imagine. There aren't too many places that will shave fresh black truffle onto your food like these but there was no holding back at Hopscotch. If you want this off-menu item and to add truffle to anything, just ask. They and the duck were quite heavnly.

The entrees were divided by meat type so we opted for one from each section. Seeing as I have always talked to Duc about shrimp and grits from my time living in North Carolina and indulging in Southern cuisine, we chose, from the "Swimmers" side of the menu, Chef Cody's Shrimp & Grits (grilled buttered Tiger shrimp, collard greens, and white Cheddar hominy grits). I asked him before opting to get these just how traditional and "real" these were - he claimed all the way. Having grown up in Texas, he seemed trustworthy on this front and having seen all of the Southern cuisine-inspired dishes on the menu, I had a feeling he knew what he was doing. For starters, I do have a penchant for lavishing time and saliva on Tiger shrimp so when these came out, I was ready. Buttered just enough to add some flavor, the shrimp stood well on their own but even better with help from the grits. These grits were some of the smoothest I've had before which truly pleased Duc; I, for one, am more a fan of the textured grits that have some, well, grit to them but these were phenomenal in their own right. From the "From the Ranch" side, we had the impressively large Pork & Beans (Kurobuta pork shank, cannellini & pinto beans, maple, cayenne, lime, cotija). The fried corn kernels (think Corn Nuts) added a nice touch to the meal, and the flavoring was heavy on rosemary. When asked, Chef Cody claimed it a conscious choice for the fall menu to load up on rosemary and thyme for its general recollective power of the season. The meat seemed a little dry in some areas to me oddly enough but Duc had a blast with the huge shank.

In the "Flappers" section, we had a dose of Fried Chicken (with dijon honey tarragon potato salad and pickled watermelon rind), a beast of a bird that included more than just a drumstick. Here was another one heavy on the fresh herbs but granted a nice acidic complement via pickled watermelon. There aren't many out there that adopt such a practice as pickling watermelon but Chef Cody definitely has fun with his food and uses all parts that he can. Duc was a big fan of this one as well, and I really enjoyed the whole/halved baby potatoes passed off as a "salad" of sorts (I jest but really, it was a large "salad" as a side!).

Next was my favorite which I predicted it would be. In fact, I even shook hands on a deal with Duc prior to receiving the dish that he could take all of the rest of the dishes home as long as I got to eat this one from the "Game" section - Lamb Belly Stroganoff (with wild mushrooms, buttermilk creme fraiche, and micro basil). Let me get a little more into detail here. This is a cured lamb belly that has undergone at least 24 hours of prep time before being rolled oh-so-tightly and cooked sous vide in rendered bacon fat for at least 48 hours before being roasted. This heart-stopping swirl of all the good stuff you really shouldn't be eating is then placed on top of whole, freshly made papperdelle that is uncut but cooked to a perfect al dente. Sheets of this pasta helped in sopping up the natural juices and fats from the meat but the au jus also served as part of the wild mushroom ragout underneath. Fried button mushrooms added to the texture of the lamb belly and eaten with aplomb. I dare to even say that this was one of the best dishes I have ever had in my life thus far, despite the fact that it would probably kill me if I had enough of it. Mushrooms are some of my favorite food items, and papperdelle is my favorite pasta; I was smitten before I had even bitten.

Though it seemed nearly overn, I noticed that there was a "Greens" section. I had never heard of anyone going to Hopscotch for a salad before but felt that it needed to be had to get a full view of the menu. Therefore, we had the Butter Leaf Salad (hibiscus vinaigrette, Bartlett pears, squaw croutons, and pomegranate gastrique) and were immensely glad we got it. Stacked on high, the salad came out in great presentation and tasted even better. The thinly sliced Squaw croutons with bread provided by OC Baking Company had previously been frozen, salted, and then fried were unique in shape and inclusion. The pears married the pieces together quite well in their natural crisp and sweetness that bridged crouton and gastrique. I don't see why you wouldn't order a salad here because sous chef Jeff Moore does not mess around when he pulls together the ingredients he wants to (and builds salads too)!

Now, what started our visit all off was when we heard about the newest addition to the Hopscotch team, Pastry Chef Mai Phan. That led to talks about trying out the fall menu but let's get our priorities straight here: we wanted to see what this talented chef could bring to the Hopscotch table. Bring it she did as her presented desserts matched the feel of the restaurant but also showcased her own talents. We got individual dessert boards to check out which had their own tasters of desserts. They were a Goat Cheese Chocolate Cheesecake, Miniature Ricotta Fritters, and Pumpkin Napoleon. The cheesecake was practically inhaled immediately by Duc who relished its likeness to a creamy peanut butter that just happened to be a cheesecake in reality. The strength of fresh goat cheese from Soledad in a dessert was offset by the crumble and compote accompaniments.

Our sugared ricotta fritters were akin to tiny donut holes but with more class. These came with huckleberries, a welcome and typically-unseen choice in fruit sides but one with a fun story. As sous chef Jeff told us (he is also the one who finds their produce), "the huckleberries came from Sierra Madre in the San Gabriels. There's a little commune of hippies that forages for mushrooms (legal kind, mostly) and along the way they find a few other things. One being huckleberries. So Josh Cruz from PSLA is calling them Hippie Harvest Huckleberries." Love it. Then my favorite of the trio and certainly befitting of the season was the pumpkin napoleon, a tower of pumpkin puff pastry flattened to layers and topped with pumpkin cream in an inside out-style of crisp pate choux topped with chocolate crunch and on top of a cinnamon Chantilly cream. Love love love this one for all of the textures playing in my mouth with each bite and the use of pumpkin. We were glad to see her on the team! Thanks to everyone for making our tasting experience an excellent one!

Photography by Duc Duong. More photos available on Facebook here.



  1. Thanks for the great review! These cocktails sound delicious.

    1. If you were to choose just one or two, I'd say go for the Norrington and Buccaneer =]

  2. Your blogs are a visual FEAST! Thank you for the amazing amount of effort you put in to each one.