THE RANCH Offers a Fistful of Dollars
It's said that Walt Disney created Disneyland because he wanted a place to spend time with his daughters. Andrew Edwards, the owner and president of Extron Electronics, a manufacturer of high-end audio/video equipment, has created THE RANCH (yes, it's in caps and uses an ampersand per the peppy PR people) Restaurant & Saloon for pretty much the same reason. When Crazy Horse Steakhouse closed, it left Edwards without a place where he could do the two-step with his daughter. He built this 20,000-square-foot steakhouse and country dance hall on the ground floor of Extron's new office tower in Anaheim so that he could—and because he can.
Not since Howard Hughes dabbled in motion pictures has a technology mogul's extracurricular side project been so ambitious and so diametrically opposed to his field. It's hard to reconcile THE RANCH and Extron's strange co-existence. In the morning, engineers and factory workers trudge in to earn their day's salary in an industrial complex surrounded by guard gates. In the evening, they're replaced by young blondes in Daisy Dukes, boots and cowboy hats who come to drink beer and line dance at the saloon.
You enter the restaurant through a separate set of double doors, and it reveals itself to be a sprawling network of rooms with booths that smell of leather, a wall made entirely of repurposed belts and steer-head motifs etched into glass. It's lit with the same intimacy of a Houston's or a Mastro's, but the scale of the place is something even a Texan would have to call large. In a kitchen that's at least two buses long, Edwards has hired his dream team. Both executive chef Michael Rossi and master sommelier Michael Jordan formerly worked at Napa Rose. And when you eat the food, you quickly realize this isn't a replacement for Crazy Horse, but rather Napa Rose: The Sequel, as Rossi dabbles in barbecue ribs while Jordan boasts a collection that includes a $7,500 Domaine Leroy Musigny Grand Cru from 1961.
Don't expect to see a mass-produced baked potato in foil. Unless you really want to, there's no need to order any side dishes. Contrary to the typical à la carte steakhouse menu, Rossi puts out composed and complete plates. He cooks a New York steak perfectly to temperature, slices it into thick squares, then lays them down as though they were fallen dominoes atop a fingerling-potato sauté made salty and sharp by house-cured pancetta and Shropshire blue cheese. It's an assertive dish that calls for an assertive wine, maybe a Cab, something to hit your tongue's reset button so you can continue to eat it with impunity. A short-rib dish is diminutive with the breathe-and-it-falls-apart cut of beef no bigger than three mouthfuls and practically sinking into its grits—a starch whose soupy texture answers the softness of the protein, slurp by sloppy slurp.
Cattle, so central to THE RANCH's cowboy ethos, are best represented by two dishes at either end of the price spectrum. The most expensive dish is a $54 rib-eye that arrives still attached to a bone big enough to inflict blunt-force trauma; the cheapest is a $13 burger composed of four different cuts of beef. Somewhere in between, there's an excellent barramundi, a swoop of fish with skin rendered so crispy you tiptoe around it, doing everything you can to preserve the crunch against that which surrounds it, including shrimp, artichokes, and a pooled roasted-tomato-and-fennel broth that sips like an ultra-thick cioppino.
If there's a cowboy hat on your head and you're headed to the Saloon after dinner (the cover charge is waived for patrons of the restaurant), it seems appropriate to order pork spare ribs. The meaty bones come from a breed called Duroc and aren't smoky so much as just sticky where the glaze isn't caramelized to a charred-sugar concentrate. Rossi stacks them to resemble Lincoln logs and offers with them a tart, julienned-apple-and-radish salad and a mini Dutch oven of beans so sweet it could upstage dessert.
This brings me to Rossi's brother, David, the pastry chef whose plate designs are often so elaborate and gorgeous it almost distracted me from his popcorn ice cream, the best new flavor discovery since sea salt and caramel. Order it, and you'll shake your head how uncanny this humble scoop is in re-creating the buttery and toasty notes of the movie-theater snack. Perhaps when Edwards decides to go into the ice cream business, they'll sell it in cartons.
A few creases still need ironing out at THE RANCH, however, starting with its insistence on all caps. When questioned what pasta was used for the wonderfully silky lobster mac and cheese, our server admitted he didn't know and never came back with an answer, even after he promised to check. And when I asked how many pieces of fish came with the crudo appetizer, he simply repeated his earlier non-answer, then added, "It's just very a small portion." But none of these points should deter you from coming. After all these years, Disneyland isn't perfect either.
This review appeared in print as "A Fistful of Dollars: Extron owner Andrew Edwards has invested major coin into THE RANCH Restaurant & Saloon."
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