Clearly, executive chef Jason Montelibano has upped the culinary content at Chapter One, the sociable gastropub in the Santa Ana Artists Village: pastel topknots of chilled smoked salmon on just-fried potato croquettes; walnut vinaigrette, fried carrots, baby kale, and drool-worthy Soledad Goats goat cheese in a roasted beet garden plate. If there’s any doubt, order his Wang’s Wings, the adobo-sauced finger food that earned him the nickname Chef Chicken Wang. Go ahead and lick your fingers—everybody does.
Another thing the diverse crowd here does is drink with gusto. The blur of frosty copper mugs at the bar underscores the enduring popularity of its Moscow Mule, made with fresh-daily house ginger beer. Carefully vetted booze and bartenders are a given at this “modern local,” as it’s known in pub parlance. Bar manager Drew Tripp aligns tightly with the kitchen, all the better for finessing seasonal drink recipes and duly glorifying the unique and allocated bottles he hoards for hooch wonks.
But before you fall too hard too soon for libations—the Druid Divination with strawberries and thyme is quite marvelous—lay a solid base with sesame-glazed Berkshire pork belly folded into springy bao buns with fresh kimchee and sizzled jalapeno wheels. Or dig into a salt-sugar-anise cured chicken, half-fried until the skin shatters, served on ginger risotto scattered with garlic chips. Finish with the chilled, weightless chocolate semifreddo, a confection of chocolate ganache, kataifi, maple caviar, and peanut butter powder, for a finale so refined you’ll think Montelibano is hiding a pastry chef in a corner of this former bookstore.
Chicken wings, smoked salmon croquette, roasted beets plate, crispy skin chicken, pork belly buns, chocolate semifreddo, Druid Divination cocktail.
Night Owls Rejoice
The kitchen serves a small-but-mighty late-night menu until 2 a.m.
227 N. Broadway, Santa Ana 714-352-2225, chapteronetml.com
Photographs by Priscilla Iezzi
This article originally appeared in the May 2014 issue.