Eatery - Ritter's Steam Kettle Cooking (CA)
1421 W Macarthur Blvd, Unit G, Santa Ana, CA 92704
Pricing - $$ | Dining - Casual | Cuisine - Cajun/Creole
I feel as if I will be lambasted for the comments I am about to make in this post or even if people do not read them, they will look at the 2.5 star rating out of a possible 5 and seethe at me. Why is that? Well, all that I have heard from everyone that has been to Ritter's is the highest of praise for the food. They wax on about their favorite dishes and how flavorful everything is but yet, our experience there was much different. Finally tackling this restaurant from our list of places we *had* to try, Duc and I came in right at the opening one weekend, hoping to catch some good attention due to a smaller crowd. We had heard that it gets quite busy inside the spacious restaurant and wanted to beat any rush. We also figured that less chaos in the kitchen would hopefully yield a more thought-out product.
If you've heard of Ritter's Steam Kettle Cooking, you'll know that its appeal comes from the method of cooking that is a mix of entertaining to watch and efficient to utilize. The entrees are cooked evenly and quickly in jacketed steam kettles which can be viewed from the bar (or at a table when the bar is empty!). Individual kettles give individual attention per dish, and we were excited to taste the possibilities as we've never experienced this type of cooking before. The interior of the restaurant had a Southern kitchen feel with its brick walls and wooden tables but the combination of stainless steel and hammered metal brought in a modern yet still low-key touch.
My eyes went immediately to the Sweet Tea ($2) in the drinks section because I am always on the hunt for the southern sweet tea I miss from North Carolina. There really aren't good imitators of the crack beverage in Orange County but I would have to say that Ritter's gave a poor attempt at this label. It tasted like sugar had been dissolved into plain tea after the fact instead of during the whole brewing process. I think the same outcome could have been achieved had I just dunked multiple packets of table sugar into a glass of regular iced tea. No thanks!
For our appetizers, we made sure to indulge a little as we were dining with another friend. To be fair, he had been to Ritter's several times before and noted that our visit was not very up to par with past visits (so we're willing to give them another chance!). His choice was to grab a dozen of the Oysters ($MKT - raw Louisiana oysters served on the half shell with cocktail sauce, horseradish, and lemon by the dozen or half dozen) and Duc's eye lit upon the Bacon Wrapped Shrimp ($12 - deep-fried molasses marinated shrimp with Mozzarella, wrapped in bacon and served with molasses mustard). The oysters were fatter in both size and taste than I was accustomed to but pleasantly cold upon their ice platter. The shrimp came off too sweet from the molasses, hiding the saltiness I was hoping to find from the bacon.
For the entrees, we went for the Ritter's Famous Pan Roast - House ($23 - with shrimp, crab, clams, and lobster; tomato cream-based Creole dish server with rice and trinity) , Cilantro Chicken ($14 - seasoned chicken breast, Andouille pork sausage and linguine in lemon garlic broth topped with tomato and cilantro), and Fried Catfish Po' Boy ($12 - served on a French roll with mayo, creole mustard, lettuce, tomato, and trinity with fries). I had extremely high expectations for the pan roast because it is the most singled out dish by everyone whom I asked about the restaurant. Rave reviews and others' cravings made us believe that this would be mind-blowing and it wasn't. In fact, it was not as steaming hot as hoped and the tomato base was nearly overwhelming save for the heightened shrimp taste. Overall, the dish did not mesh well together, and it was difficult to look past how strong the tomato taste was. There were so many other ingredients I had wished would shine through in flavor.
The cilantro chicken struck us as a somewhat confused dish. A Southern pho imitation perhaps? Unfortunately, the linguine remained in a parcooked state so the texture was distracting during the meal. The title of the dish stated cilantro chicken but the herb only made an appearance atop the noodles rather than infused into the broth. As for the broth, it was very thin and lacked memorable flavor which was a disappointment considering how delightful the whole dish sounded in the description! Then we moved onto the po'boy but the mayo was much too heavy; it made the roll soggy and nearly masked the catfish which was quite dry. The seasoning on the batter for the catfish was an enjoyable blend but when there is dry fish underneath it instead of juicy flesh, it cannot hold the dish up alone. On the plus side, the fries that accompanied the po'boy were good.
All of us were feeling let down by the meal that morning so hoped to find redemption in dessert. We went with their Beignets which came with a chocolate mousse (a little bizarre...) to dip into. These were heavily loaded with powdered sugar on top as expected but then were also quite loaded inside with dough. The beignets were much too dense, practically cake bites, and the mousse did not make very much sense. I wish that our experience had been better and perhaps you've never had a bad time there; however, here's what happened. We're willing to give it another shot though. After all, how is it possible that everyone we've spoken with is wrong? Perhaps it was a bad day at the restaurant...
Photography by Duc Duong.