Every restaurant dreams of a welcome that feels like an enthusiastic, sustained hug. Bustling since the day it opened in November, Old Brea Chop House has enchanted diners with its dual personality. The intimate space is comfy yet utterly contemporary.
Downtown Brea isn’t truly old, as it was reborn from scratch in the late ’90s, but here vintage photographs of (truly old) Brea share the brick walls with snazzy abstract and mixed-media artwork. The inaugural staff is a team of pros plucked from the area’s finest venues. On the menu, you’ll find steakhouse stalwarts polished with 2020 vigor.
On my first visit, the smiling room captain greets my guest by name. She glows with the joy of serving regulars from her old job at this new post. Soon, my guest spots two power diners he knows from the local fine dining circuit, a scene long-parched for expansion.
Finally, North County aficionados can skip the drive south. Independent operator Tony Fasulo gets the credit for detecting that hunger and carving out a winner based on a 20-year worldwide tour of duty with Morton’s. It’s a classy formula he and his wife, Dani, have upgraded.
Once greeted and seated, it’s hard to focus on the menu after the abundant bread basket appears. Warm pretzel loaf, crisp lavosh, and glossy dinner rolls backed by a copious supply of butter are a dreamy reminder of a time when worthy breads were served gratis far and wide.
When the bounteous Grand Seafood Platter is ferried past your table, you know a celebration awaits. Kicking off with chilled red claws, cracked legs, pristine oysters, and chubby prawns makes for a giddy beginning. Popular New Orleans barbecued shrimp is a luscious starter. Slurping the umami-laden sauce like soup will occur to you. Swapping grilled shrimp for chilled prawns yields a classic shrimp cocktail with plucky dipping sauce. Minimalist recipes don’t get simpler than the jumbo lump crab cake—a scoop of sweet crab held together by little more than hope before a fast kiss on the grill. Grilled bacon steak is a curious offering. Steak as an appetizer? Just do it, perhaps share it, and marvel at the juicy slabs lacquered with maple-bourbon glaze.
Expect no surprises on the salad front. Bouncy fresh and nicely executed, the five offerings are judiciously dressed. It’s hard not to love that iceberg wedge, frosted with bacon and blue cheese. Chop houses by definition rely on familiar dishes, so execution is paramount. Hidden-gem hunters should consider the marinated skirt steak, a flavorful cut that loves a good marinade. Seek out the buttery mashed potatoes commensurate with Joël Robuchon’s famous silky pommes puree beloved globally by purists. Find them paired with the achingly rich braised short ribs, or get them solo as a starch side.
Other wonders hiding in the sides section include creamed corn laced with mascarpone, fluffy ricotta gnocchi tossed with mushrooms, and corkscrew mac and cheese featuring five cheeses.
Crunchy but bland Jidori chicken schnitzel needs more caper sauce. French onion soup is adequate but almost doomed by the incomparable version up the road at Cat & the Custard Cup. Opulent shellfish aside, pescatarians can choose from Scottish salmon, Pacific swordfish, and whole branzino, all exquisitely grilled.
Cuts of beef include the customary options with a proper crusty char and served at precisely the temperature you specify. Center-cut ribeye is righteously marbled, New York strip delivers an intense bold chew, filet on and off the bone are prom king and queen. Of course, there are big-spender steaks such as the 18-ounce Prime Delmonico and glamourous specials, perhaps a tomahawk chop, chateaubriand, or whatever executive chef Masa Ose deems fabulous that week. And the Delmonico? Here, it’s an extra-mighty bone-in New York. Remember, Delmonico isn’t a cut; it’s the house’s choice of conspicuously thick steaks worthy of signature status.
Given the outlay for lush evenings, this might not be a frequent outing. But there’s a loophole: The 25-seat bar beckons. Clear sightlines and cushy seating create a linger-longer vibe. Dialed-in cocktails, a noshy bar menu, and happy hour discounts seal the deal. Add 46 wines by the glass and 10 draft beers, and becoming a regular is quite conceivable. Prime rib sliders, garlic fries, and a glass of Malbec at sunset for $22? I’m there. Eye-popping charcuterie platters come to life behind the bar. How can you resist ordering nibbles of your own after watching an engaging staffer complete an edible masterpiece?
Old Brea Chop House’s winning crew is a charming, savvy lot. No slacker service here as a seamless experience is the mission. Fasulo stops by every table for a low-key chat. Sincere hospitality lives here. If this is the era for practicing self-care, how about booking an indulgent session at Old Brea Chop House? I guarantee it will give you something to add to your gratitude journal.
180 S. Brea Blvd., Brea
5 BEST DISHES
Grilled bacon steak
New Orleans barbecued shrimp
Braised short ribs
Key lime pie
Starters, $12 to $35
Entrees, $20 to $75
Bar menu, $7 to $21
Happy hour, $6 to $8
The restaurant shares its building with Brea Improv.