Diatribe With Dave: Q & A with Aron Habiger of The Crosby!

Every second and fourth Wednesday night of the month, legendary bartender/chef/restaurant insider Dave Mau hosts Dinner with Dave at Memphis at the Santora, where he treats drinkers to a free meal and live music as the evening progresses. To remind ustedes of this great night, Dave treats us every Wednesday morning that he's on to a random OC food or drink musing of his choice. Enjoy!

Oh, Inception, how I loathed thee. I'm not much for the genre in general
and DiCaprio is vastly overrated so, of course, I found it pedestrian. I
know this means I'm cranky, old and undoubtedly wrong but that's the
way I feel, so there (although that latter sentiment is more snot-nosed upstart than coot, no?). Of all its flaws, what bothered me most were the vast
expanses of pure exposition–Ellen Page being a torturous dispenser of
it to a slack-jawed Leo as we were being told instead of shown what was

I'm no Billy Wilder but I do know a bit about film. Prior to my current foray into the food and beverage industry, I graduated from film school and did a fair stint in visual effects. Somewhat familiar with the craft of screenwriting, I'm well aware of the fact that exposition is pure cinematic poison, despite its effectiveness in our video game/instant gratification universe.

The same also applies to the restaurant world, where chefs use colorful terminology and mounds of self-praise to tell you how good the food is going to be before you even sit down. Perceived value is the Emperor's New Clothes of the culinary world, which explains why people really pay eight bucks for a side of creamed spinach after getting reamed for a $50  solo steak at some all- too-obvious chop house. And guess what? Food cost on that side order was probably 62 cents. Congratulations.

I call it “culinary exposition” and it's as irritating and prevalent in the food biz as it is in the movies. I understand self-promotion but at some point it becomes frivolous and quite self-serving. I also refuse to accept that ANY chef ANYWHERE is more talented or important than some abuelita making tortillas by hand for her family on a hot plate in SanTana. I ain't buying it and neither should you.

Humility is an all-too-rare trait in general, but especially in the industry. Which brings us to the subject of this week's column, Chef Aron Habiger over at The Crosby. The Crosby is currently the legitimate standard bearer of Downtown Santa Ana, and rightly so. A rare blend of hip, square and ambivalent, nobody there is trying to be something they are not. The owners are great and the food, crew and ambience are spot on. Under a similar set of circumstances someone as skilled as Chef Aron would be given free reign to pop off to everyone how great his is, but he's not cut from that fabric (although he is picky about how plates come out of the kitchen). He was kind enough to let me bounce a couple questions about the biz off him. Here's his spin on things.

On customer service, is the customer always right?
I don't think the customer is always right, but it's important to listen to what people want. It's a service industry and you're trying to give someone the best possible experience you can.

Biggest unintentional kitchen victory?
The “Starving Artist” (Crosby's Gruyere and tomato sauce grilled cheese combo). Chipotle ranch, (laughing), just kidding. (author's note; Aron got chipotle ranch from my menu at The District and I stole it from Los Cabos on Tustin Avenue–who knows where they got i from…).

Should back of house run front of house? Vice versa? Or is it a balance of both?
I think it's important to have the balance between the two. Dante Parel, our general manager, does a great job of tying both together.

Subway or Togo's? Neither?
Subway-Meatball on wheat with provolone and jalapeños.

Simple, embarrassing meal you like best.
I don't think it's embarrassing but the way I eat it is. A simple PB and J. Skippy creamy peanut butter, Welch's grape jelly on white bread with a cup of cold milk and then I dunk. It's like heaven and my current death row meal.

Best time cooking?
Summer BBQ with friends, for sure.

Balance between presentation and it being too much.
I think presentation is important, it's a way to show and let people know that you care about what they're eating. It's like giving the woman you love a gift and wrapping it with care and concern. The same goes for food. It's a gift for your customer.

10 years, what's your plan? And not the one you tell everyone.
I've been really playing with the idea of having a compound where people of like minds being able to forage and grown vegetables for a small restaurant on the property. It's sounds kinda hippie… Well, cuz I'm a hippie at heart. Just don't tell anyone.

No bull: best fellow chef in the OC.
Joshua Han! He's one to keep your eye on, currently the sous chef at Broadway by Amar Santana. He's constantly thinking outside the box and reinventing his own cuisine.

Least productive quality a chef can have.

Worst customer? Can you talk about it?
I guess not one in particular but the ones that tell me how to cook my food.

Worst place to have a restaurant in the OC.
That's a tough one. I use to live in Tustin and any restaurant I liked over there would close after like 6 months. It's like it's cursed or something. With the exception of Honda Ya.

Closed restaurant you miss.
I miss Earl's, open 25 hours a day. I shed a tear every time I drive by and can't have the best biscuits and gravy ever….

Gentrification of downtown Santa Ana: How do you feel about it?
I think it sucks for the people who call it that. It is what it is; change. Every great metropolitan downtown area doesn't cater to just one specific race, ethnicity or religious creed. I think people should look at what's happening DTSA. It's called progress.

Overall view of the food scene in the OC?
The scene has really grown in the last four years in the OC. I feel that we are really starting to get a strong, friendly community of chefs that talk and share ideas with one another. The Pig Out event in August should reflect what's happening.

Want more of Dave's rantings/ravings/ramblings? Check out www.dinnerwithdave.com for the latest!

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