Event - Ways & Means Media Dinner

We had heard just so much buzz about the newest restaurant in Orange, Ways & Means Oyster House, that we were more than a little excited about the media dinner we attended two weeks ago. Headed by Chef Conrad Gallagher (who received a Michelin star at just 25 for Peacock Alley, making him the youngest chef at that time ever to receive such an honor), the restaurant was founded by owner Parnell Delcham and his wife, both of United Culinary Artists. All of those involved have wanted to put together a great restaurant for a long time and only just recently started on Ways & Means having all understood the value of community in the city of Orange (Conrad lives in Orange and the Delchams in Anaheim Hills). They wanted to be at their restaurant every day too because of the community focus, and they wanted to bring great sustainable seafood to the area. Considering the lack of seafood-focused restaurants in the city, the restaurant will easily be able to thrive we predict, especially through the dedication and intensity by which Chef Conrad operates. He takes trips every morning to get to the various vendors they use in order to ensure the freshest possible. If necessary, international products will be imported within 24 hours of being line-caught.

We arrived earlier than the dinner's start time so sipped on a Cava rosé while admiring the interior design. Their large chandeliers are formed via spiraling wire that dangle spherical and clear baubles, creating a sense of oyster pearls or seafoam bubbles above. Other light fixtures around looked like they belonged in ships or were semblances of anchors themselves. We also found joy in the branding through their menus which are presented in bound books similar to yearbooks, complete with signatures inside the front cover of the chefs, owners, and beverage directors. It was apparent just how deliberate each design element was. Inside it truly looked and felt like an upscale seafood shack with white-washed paneled walls and dim lighting.

Once all had arrived, we sat down at a half moon table with more wine glasses per setting than can be counted on one hand. The breads offered were unique and quiet varied: our choices were basil tomato, curry apricot, baguette, wheat baguette, Guinness bread, and olive. We divvied it up ourselves to taste everything. For the most part, these were baked in-house, and the interesting flavors had me curious for more. The favorite two were probably the basil tomato and curry apricot. Our first dish was presented on an impressive handblown glass plate topped with ice, pink peppercorns, and seaweed; the plate itself contained intentional flaws inside, mimicking bubbles appropriate for the cuisine. This Oyster Ceviche began in the cup of the Fat Bastard oyster paired with pear confit, red pepper, watercress microgreens, and lime juice. It was so lovely, I felt sad to have eaten it and not have more. Then we tried the Salmon Rillettes, a dish of smoked salmon that had been mixed with chopped capers and served with red onion, watercress, and lemon aioli. Our taster was precisely that however - a taster - and it made me disappointed not to have more. The normal creaminess and heaviness of the rilettes style was offset by the acid and citrus of the accompaniments, creating a good combination with the salty crunchy bread alongside.

The next dish honestly made me turn to Duc and say that dishes like it made me grateful for the work we do covering food. The Kataifi-Style Crab Cake with cilantro, Meyer lemon, and celeriac remoulade was assuredly the best crab cake I've ever tasted. It focused on the natural sea-sweetness of actual crab meat (not lump crab as many other places do) and avoided using fillers to buff up the morsels. Ours were bites of tasting plate size, a relief to know considering how lovely it was. I think the kicker was topping the mound with phyllo dough though because they shifted the texture of a typically crisp crab cake to an exquisite one. We found this paired with a glass of 2011 Chablis from Louis Jadot, a perfect pairing that complemented the remoulade and lemon.

With each dish came a wine pairing so our Tuna Tartare (with quail’s egg, gherkin, capers, whole wheat toast, and harissa) was paired with a 2012 Luberon from M. Chapoutier, a French wine that is mainly Pinot Noir and made by a reputable winery (though they typically do dessert wines). Our tartare was composed of chopped sushi-grade ahi seasoned with ginger, chili pepper, cilantro, and lime zest topped with a quail egg yolk and joined with another quail egg but hardboiled. They seemed so delicate because of the size but the flavors were outstanding. The particular wine had a vegetal and alcohol-heavy nose (Duc said it reminded him of warm greens such as grilled asparagus whereas I found some brown sugar notes) but came off lightly buttery and easy to drink. They allowed it to be a great food pairing wine as well and its butteriness matched the egg yolk richness well without either being overwhelming. At this point, Duc declared the pairings as "solid - I wouldn't choose anything else differently."

As we continued through the night, Duc did impart some wine education to those nearby, explaining the importance of wine glass types because he noticed that Ways & Means paid attention to such detail. They appropriately served our wines with the correct glasses which are shaped differently depending on how much surface area, oxygen absorption, and aroma funneling was needed per pour (the funneling is because smell is at least 50% of taste!). One example would be champagne's need to be in a flute whose shape allows bbbles to be more apparent and whose size prevents you from drinking too much. We were poured a 2011 Pinot Noir called "Flor de Campo" from Sanford Winery in Santa Barbara in its appropriately wide glass. All of their glasses seemed to be made of crystal as well which is important to avoid losing flavors to porous glass glasses. This wine was for their Bamboo Steamed Halibut, a dish with a "Surf and Turf" feel as it came with cumin spiced savoy cabbage, braised oxtail, braised baby leeks, red wine dressing, and small white beech mushrooms. This was all certainly unique and very tasty but the wine was a miss with the halibut (though a hit with the oxtail). This dish seemed perfect comfort food for those who want a bit of both seafood and meat worlds.

So as not to continue spoiling us and our appetites, the entrees stopped coming out but we still did finish the savory dishes off with some cheeses (Cheese Plate with Fig Preserve) and Quinta Do Noval's ten-year-old Tawny Porto. A dessert wine from Portugal, this wine is made in brandy style but stopped early to maintain its red color, sweetness, and a 30-40% alcohol level. In particular, we had the tawny variety (other than ruby) which was smooth and worked well with some of our cheeses. Shortly after, our desserts started to arrive as did another bottle of wine. This time, it was sherry from Spain from Pedro Ximenez served in again, the appropriate glass. Like port, sherry is also started off like a brandy but then stopped during fermentation. Unlike port, sherry does not get better with age. It came accompanying the Warm Valhrona Chocolate Cake served with a chocolate brownie and pistachio ice cream. It made sense since the dark chocolate from the cake matched smoothly with the sherry, and the warmth oozing out once the lava cake was broken held onto the normal flush you feel with drinking alcohol. Both were great alone but still fantastic together. Overall, our Ways & Means experience was impressive, and we look forward to coming back again and again, especially for that crab cake!

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

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