Orange County hasn’t exactly been known for its gourmet fare. Its restaurant scene is dominated by drive-through and fast-casual concepts. It’s home to the headquarters of industry giants like Taco Bell, Del Taco, Claim Jumper, and Wienerschnitzel, among others. In fact, one of my first jobs was at a brokerage specializing in franchises like Burger King, Jack in the Box, and Cinnabon. What’s suburbia without chain restaurants to match its cookie-cutter houses?
I am, of course, being a bit facetious — and more than a little unfair. Recently, I’ve been noticing a sea change in the dispatches from my friends in Southern California. They’re ‘gramming all nature of delicious-looking things: rib-sticking sandwiches, beautiful eggs Benedict, bright poke salads, fancy popsicles. Local dining websites like Foodbeast have been gaining traction; culinary hotspots like the Anaheim Packing House are enjoying explosive popularity. The food-as-hobby bug, it appears, has slipped past the Orange Curtain, resulting in an outbreak of food-centric operations.
On a recent lay-over there, I sojourned to one of these new highly-hyped restaurants, Slapfish. Their creative “boat to plate” seafood dishes had been splashed across my social media feeds as of late, lookin’ all fun, funky, fresh. As such, I knew exactly what I wanted to order: their chowder fries, smothered in chowder and bacon, and the lobster roll, boasting 100% real meat, warm butter, and a dash of lemon and mayo.
Our lunch was delicious, beginning with an amuse-bouche of lobster toasts (complimentary when you check in on Yelp). The roll featured some of the freshest lobster I’ve had in recent memory, brightened up by a light, tart dressing. There’s nothing more depressing than good seafood ruined by cloying sauces; thankfully, the flavors in this sandwich didn’t have to compete with one another. My only complaint was that the bread, while deliciously buttery and springy, became a bit too heavy — though this is more the fault of our other dish than anything else. The chowder fries were, as you might expect, a total gutbomb… but also ridiculously warm, rich, and comforting. “I didn’t expect to like these so much,” N confessed as she and I dug in, unable to stop ourselves. It’s definitely not something you want to eat every day, but it’s certainly worth the indulgence now and then (provided you’ve got the rest of the afternoon to sleep off).
Impressed as I was by the flavors at Slapfish, I couldn’t help but turn a more critical eye on its trappings. The space is actually well-suited for beachy California, with a modern, surfer-bro, seafood-shack feel. I can’t complain about the service, either; the food came out fast and the employees were almost irritatingly attentive, despite the fast-casual setting. All the same, there was something a little off about the place… something a little too squeaky-clean about its atmosphere, something a tad too polished about its branding. It all made sense when I visited Slapfish’s website and saw, in the upper right hand corner, a link in big block letters: “FRANCHISING.”
Orange County, may you never change.
Slapfish (multiple locations)
19696 Beach Blvd
Huntington Beach CA 92648