A New Chapter in OC Dining

Courtesy of Heather Hoang

The moment I stepped in, I was smitten; the walls were lined with vintage books on clean wooden shelves.

A typewriter sat in the corner with a vase of white lilies. The California sun cascaded through the large glass panels, giving the place a crisp, yet welcoming ambiance. Jazz music played overhead, drawing me further inside.

Am I talking about a snazzy new bookstore? No, it’s Chapter 1: the Modern Local, a bar and restaurant. The minimally-designed gastropub is a contrast against its location, nestled in the bustling sidewalks of downtown Santa Ana, amidst tacky bridal shops and Latino food carts lined with pork rinds and bright umbrellas.

The menu is aptly organized as “Foreword” (appetizers), “Body” (main course) and “Climax” (dessert).  However, do not quickly dismiss that Chapter 1: the Modern Local is pretentious or dry; rather, it is refreshing.

The food is best described as enhanced or refined comfort food, intertwining the ease of a lazy Sunday and the liveliness of a night out with friends. To ensure yourself a worthy experience, you have to know what to pick.

I started off with the Asian chicken wings, seasoned with orange-ginger hoisin sauce with crushed peanuts, scallions and daikon sprouts sprinkled on. It’s a decent starter; an enjoyable appetizer when paired with casual conversation.

The Italian Portobello burger, a main course, is disappointing, or at least mediocre. The meat blend and Italian herbs failed to leave an impression. The side of shoestring fries were twig-like potato chips.

However, the mac and cheese is hands-down one of the best I’ve tried. Made with warm white cheddar, it was topped off with a handful of bacon (bacon!), fontina cheese, fried onions and toasted panko.

The perfectly cooked pasta was seeped into the white cheddar that was neither too watery nor too thick, giving each spoonful the appropriate amount of zest. Every bite is scrumptious and the occasional bacon and grated fontina cheese just completes it.

Toss out that flimsy blue box of cartoon-shaped macaroni in the trashcan. This is comfort food at another level.

The dessert menu is small, but the milk and cereal is the choice to go with. It’s actually vanilla panna cotta, kataifi, Mandarin oranges and (wait for it …) Cinnamon Toast Crunch ice cream.

That’s right, Cinnamon Toast Crunch ice cream. The combination of a favorite childhood cereal with the panna cotta creates a mixture of nostalgia and surprise.

It’s definitely worth popping into Chapter 1 if only for this dessert, especially for those warm days coming ahead of us in SoCal.

Wood panel floors line the spacious cuisine and large wall-length window panels give it a fresh feel.

The sleek design contrasts against the vintage books, balancing out the style. Like the food, it’s a mixture between the contemporary and comfort of the familiar.

Even the music was from two ends of the spectrum. The playlist included jazz pieces followed by dub-step, but it somehow just worked. As for the service, the waiters were friendly and charismatic, dressed in pin-striped button up shirts with black suspenders that complemented the trendy ambiance.

This is a place for those who crave comfort food but want the excitement of a crowded downtown bar or simply just somewhere to hang out after midterms.

The only downside I could think of is that the menu is a hit-or-miss, so I’d stick to the recommended choices.

The spacious design and deft service gives it a cool yet immersing feel, leaving one satisfied. Chapter 1: the Modern Local is something you don’t want to miss out on here in Orange County.

Address: 227 N. Broadway, Santa Ana, CA 92701

Alcohol: Full bar

Price: $10-$25

Hours: 11 a.m.-2 a.m.