Rediscovery: The Crosby

Out with Habiger, in with Nguyen

Five years into its leading-edge run, the dark-but-welcoming Crosby feels as outré as ever. No amount of mainstream accolades can tame this tiny kitchen-cum-bar in vintage Santa Ana. When its Starving Artist sandwich catapulted to cult status, it was pulled off the menu in 2012 to help launch a sibling restaurant, The Grilled Cheese Spot, around the corner. This 60-seat indie resists repetition.

Sure, The Crosby’s motley following of neighbors, artists, drinkers, and transient hipsters are unhappy to lose inaugural chef Aron Habiger. (How dare he move to Washington state!) But in his place, we now have his longtime sous chef, the likewise creative Linh Nguyen. The SoCal native cites the “melting pot of O.C.” as his culinary muse; the off-hand, progressive vibe of the venue supplies a blank canvas. The menu is so fluid, it rarely appears on The Crosby website. Just know that Nguyen excels at the unexpected. One night’s lobster queso tacos starts with a lacy frico folded over fat chunks of sweet crustacean, thick bacon morsels, and pickled onions with bite. The house salad is a big, busy affair in graceful balance that defies the ordinary—greens, goat cheese, dried apricots, and sour cherry vinaigrette. Steaks are strikingly tasty: The cut changes, but whether rib-eye, hanger, or porterhouse, the grilling is expert. Or, forget the meat and tuck into Nguyen’s dazzling vegetarian lasagna, savory layers of squash, eggplant, and mushroom duxelles with a sprinkle of crispy pepitas. For dessert, another stunner, a parfait of persimmon granite, créme Chantilly, and candied sunflower seeds. Yes, the nightlife set descends for live music each evening, but I say come for the food, stay for dessert. 

400 N. Broadway, Santa Ana, 714-543-3543, 

Best Dishes 
Daily specials are a gold mine of seasonality and improvisation. Consult with your server or, better yet, the crew in the open kitchen.

Belly Up 
Imaginative, delicious cocktails are a tradition. They far outclass the wine options.

You Game?
Alert chef Linh Nguyen—he’s up for serving more boar, pheasant, and venison.


Photo above: Lobster inside a frico wrapped in a tortilla, and a ginger-mezcal cocktail

Photograph by Priscilla Iezzi

This article originally appeared in the January 2014 issue.

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