I haven't been too nice to the Crosby, the SanTana hipster haunt who I've previously called out for uneven food and for one of its owners cracking easy Mexican food jokes. But I'm man enough to take back what I've said if proven wrong, or at least open enough for another try. And I've been planning to return for a couple of weeks now, ever since Crosby owner and Free the Robots madman Chris Alfaro MySpaced me to say he appreciated the criticisms but urged me to return because they were going to revamp the menu soon.
I got a hint of what was to come on Wednesday, when my chica returned from the Crosby with slices of pepperoni pizza. What was once limp was now fat, slightly greasy, hearty and passed the cold pizza test. We returned yesterday, and the menu was radically different from what I remembered. Gone was about half of it, and the remaining half featured new items (fritters, roasted tomatoes of some sort) that I must try soon. But distracting me was a weekly menu and a monthly special menu: the Crosby had gone gourmet and relatively locavore. Hipsters caring about something other than their wolf T-shirts and image? Nah...
We started with what seemed to be a bizarre combination: ceviche tacos in a wonton shell. I'll need to try these again to fully appreciate the new vessel (the Mexican in me missed the taste of corn a bit much, but the slight sweetness of the wontons, as Moe once said about the non-flamed Flaming Moe, wasn't without its charms). But the ceviche was top-notch: of shrimp, with cucumber and mango, sour but sweet and only a bit spicy. It was very flavorful to me, which means it should be extraordinary to those of you who don't like their ceviche puckering and a level below habanero on the Scoville scale.
I only tried a couple of the chili-cheese fries, and the vegan chili remains as delicious as ever; the fries, though tasty and of sweet potato, could stand to be a bit crispier. But I was saving room for their jerk carnitas torta. I usually eschew this type of pork, but the chef's attempt at Mexican-Caribbean fusion, as described on the menu, was too enticing to allow my idiotic aversions to rule.
What arrived was even better than advertised. The jerk carnitas torta was really a modified take on cochinita pibil, the classic pork dish from the Yucatan that you can only find locally at Conde Cakes and Peña's Restaurant in SanTana. The carnitas truly tasted Jamaican, and there was so much meat offered on the torta I had to take off three-quarters and I was still stuffed (the extras will make a great burrito this morn). Most impressive, however, were the requisited pickled pink onions. There were too few in the initial offering, so I asked for more and promptly received a full ramekin. Tart, sweet, crunchy but so wet: the perfect cochinita pibil onion. My chica asked if these onions were pickled in-house (she's into canning now), and we were surprised that the answer was yes. Take it from someone who's been enlisted to help pickle: it takes a LONG time. The only modification I'd suggest for this jerk carnitas torta is to lay low on the mayo, but I don't like mayo and it's telling of the condiment here that I thoroughly enjoyed it instead of getting a napkin and wiping it off like I usually do. This is the best high-end torta in Orange County, and one of the top five overall--absolutely.
And the trace of Sriracha on the plate? Brilliant.
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We ended with a simple, luxurious dessert: sugar cookies which we dipped in chocolate. Afterwards, I found out that the chef plans to mess around with the menu more and buys his products daily, usually from farmer's markets, which sends off my foodie alarm that the food, on freshness alone, will be better tasting than the average restaurant--and this is before any experimentation ala the jerk torta.
See, folks? I can take my words back, and I can say nice things about a restaurant many say is on the front lines of SanTana's gentrification wars. But my ban on any restaurant that advertises "street tacos" still stands. Quick aside of a concluding anectode: when I told a fellow food critic, one of the most prestigious in the country, about the phenomenon of high-end places selling "street tacos," he laughed. "Dumb-ass suburbanites trying to slum it," he said. And I agreed.
I digress. Crosby, people! That torta and those onions! On the cusp of greatness? Another visit will tell...
The Crosby, 400 N. Broadway, SanTana, (714) 543-3543; www.thisisthecrosby.com