Southern Californian Poutine (Going Out: The Kroft in Tustin)

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The one with the chicken nuggets.

It all started off, as most mealtimes do these days, with my toddler wanting french fries. While he adored them (what toddler doesn’t?) before he ever set foot in the USA, he discovered an entirely different level of availability while we were in California this past autumn. It seemed that every restaurant we went to would randomly throw fries onto the plate, just to spite me. Steak and fries. Sandwich and fries. Soup and fries. It was an epidemic. We had to impose a limit, just to make sure he didn’t give up entirely on the five food groups in this gloriously greasy land of plenty. He could have fries once a week, was my ultimatum. Given that we were there for two months, that was still at least a 200% increase in the amount he was used to getting. Still, there were times when I got tired of fighting the irrational whims of a whiny 2-year-old starchaholic. That’s when I started Googling for poutine.

If we were going to get fries anyway, I figured, might as well make it a gastronomic adventure, yes? I didn’t expect to get many hits — it’s not like we have a Little Canada in OC to zip off to when one gets a sudden craving for poutine or… erm… I dunno, maple-glazed Pacific salmon stuffed in a moose with a side of Saskatoon berry sauce? Sorry, Canada, I know you guys have other iconic dishes, but jetlag has consumed most of my brain this past week. So yeah, the bottom line is that Orange County does not immediately come springing to anyone’s mind as the hotspot for Canadian cuisine. And yet, there was The Kroft.

Now, I’m by no means saying this stuff was anything close to authentic. I’ve never had the opportunity to go north of the border, but from what I’ve heard, poutine is pretty much obtained in the same manner as chili cheese fries — out of greasy, little fast food places where the word “chef” never enters the picture and any on-site seating that might exist would undoubtedly be made of cheap plastic. The location we visited — in trendy Union Market at The District in Tustin — was done in industrial metal and brick, housed amongst other artfully presented vendors with a strong leaning towards that mellow SoCal brand of bohemian hipsterism. You know, the sort of place that didn’t bat an eye at my toddler’s sartorial choice of combining suspendered skinny jeans, dinosaur loafers, and a seersucker newsboy cap. In fact, he made friends with some people behind the counters while we were waiting for our order, but that’s another story. So yeah, we knew we were getting dressed up versions. Orange County isn’t known for holding back or sticking to the basics.

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The one with the short ribs.

Right, now what about the food? I ordered two poutines for takeaway — the country fried chicken and the braised short rib. They were presented to us with the boxes open (so that the fries wouldn’t get soggy, they explained) and steaming hot. They seemed pretty serious about preserving food textures, which showed a certain level of regard for the integrity of their product. A peek in the boxes showed even distribution and aesthetic arrangement of toppings, even for a to-go order. So thumbs up for service and presentation, at least as far as we experienced. I can’t say much about the on-location dining experience, since I rarely get to experience actual dining at a restaurant these days. Ask me again when I’m not spending the majority of most meals chasing a toddler around a booth. Yeah, there are plenty of good reasons for restaurants to offer takeaway — most are under the age of 5.

By the time we got home, the food looked a little more haphazard but still pretty appealing. The chicken one (containing country gravy, chicken nuggets, bacon, cheese curds, and green onion) ended up being my favorite, even though it was originally ordered for the little guy. The seasoning in the breading and gravy made it a bit too peppery for toddlers, but gave it the right amount of kick for me. The short rib one (containing braised short rib, short rib gravy, mushrooms, pickled red onions, cheese curds, and parsley) ended up being more to Blob’s preference — the gravy was a bit sweet and the meat was super tender.

Verdict? Fun place with a fun menu (Japanese katsu curry poutine, anyone?) that I would definitely like to visit again. Especially when you have a small fried potato monster in tow. Little dude consented to have several mouthfuls of something other than fries, even when they were right in front of him — I consider that a total win and the best endorsement you could ask for. As for authenticity… well, it’s in the middle of an upscale Orange County shopping center, so I don’t think anybody goes in there expecting their lunch to magically transport them to Quebec. But really, Southern California and authenticity have always had about the same affinity as oil and water, so I doubt any of you really needed the warning. If wacky food combos are your thing as well (or if you too have a small one that you desperately want to eat something other than fries) it’s worth a visit!

The Kroft

2493 Park Ave, Ste 2

Tustin, CA 92782

(657) 900-8451

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