When Pizzeria Ortica chef Justin Miller makes the drive to San Diego County, as he does regularly, it’s not only to visit his girlfriend. Miller often adds in a stop at Chino Farms, the iconic Rancho Santa Fe grower known for its early-days relationship with chefs like Alice Waters and Wolfgang Puck, among others. At his Costa Mesa restaurant, Miller puts together a menu using the Chino produce he’s personally hauled back in his truck.
Significant-other visits notwithstanding, why go to Chino Farms? Miller says, “Simple—because it’s the best produce in California, if not the U.S. Try a fava bean in its peak season and it will blow the doors off of any other fava around. Very expensive, but, I think, well worth it. The Chinos take extreme care with all their products.”
The aforementioned fava beans play a role in this week’s result, a soft-shell crab dish ($14)—soft shells are just now in season. “The dish is a simple preparation,” Miller says. “Lightly floured soft-shell crab sautéed in olive oil, deglazed with lemon juice, and finished with chives, parsley, and butter. The fava beans are simply blanched, then tossed in the sauce. A salad of frisée, chili oil, and pickled Fresno chilies is tossed and placed on the plate.”
“I try to make the trip to the farm once a week,” Miller says. “My girlfriend lives in San Diego, so I usually stop on my way back up north. I go once a week, and if a menu item runs out, then that’s it. It’s just the nature of the process, of being able to continually update with the best product possible. We encourage our guests to come back each week and see what’s fresh and new.”
A Chino Farms sweet-corn risotto ($16) also emerged from this week’s provisioning. “Our risotto dish gets most of its sweetness from the corn stock that we cook it in. It’s the very first of the season for corn,” Miller said. Very glad to hear about the corn stock, the secret to getting such depth of corn flavor. There’s even a Chino cocktail ($10), made from fresh peaches, sage, gin, and lemon juice.
There are still a few spaces left in Miller’s Saturday, June 18 cooking class at Pizzeria Ortica, a series I wrote about in ToOC back in April. Participants make fresh pasta, and pizza using the restaurant’s wood-burning oven, then dine on the results, with appropriate wines. Call the restaurant to reserve a spot.
Pizzeria Ortica, 650 Anton Blvd., Costa Mesa, 714-445-4900.