The Hobbit – Orange, CA
Visited: May 2019 (Fine Dining)
It was time for a splurge, and in Southern California there’s no place like The Hobbit in Orange to plunk down some extra bucks for a unique (and delicious) dining experience. We’d eaten here about 20 years ago with friends Rob and Barbara, and when they asked if we wanted to make a return appearance, we quickly checked our bank account and said, “Yes.”
From its website: “A meal at The Hobbit is somewhat like a play in three acts.” Luckily I looked at the website because there is a dress code, which I had not remembered. It said, “No denim (no problem) … and jackets preferred for men.” Well, since I haven’t had a jacket that fit me since the beginning of the Obama administration, I instead opted for a tie. I hoped they wouldn’t mind that it was a San Diego Padres’ tie (someday I’ll grow up).
Luckily, I’d lost a few pounds earlier in the week, because The Hobbit serves a seven course, prix-fixe menu, for which it has garnered numerous awards throughout the years. We met Rob and Barbara at 6:30 and headed upstairs for, what I called, the Prologue. Cocktails are available for purchase in the small bar (once a children’s bedroom), so while waiting for dinner to commence, a Manhattan was definitely in order. We enjoyed our cocktails in the adjoining lounge area. The interior reminds you of an elegant mansion.
Promptly at 7 p.m. we were summoned back downstairs to partake in Act I … a visit to the wine cellar of this lovely Spanish-style home replete with more than 1,000 bottles of wine, plus a major serving of hors d’oeuvres. We were offered glasses of sparkling wine from their well-trained, professional and friendly staff, which we consumed while perusing the wine selection. You could purchase a bottle or two for dinner, however we decided to go the corkage route of $25 for the first and $35 for the second. (photo on left courtesy of The Hobbit)
The hors d’oeuvres buffet selection was extensive including steak tartar, a French tart, olive tapenade, ratatouille, stuffed dates, mini goat cheese soufflés with prosciutto, liver mousse pate, cucumbers with caviar and a chilled pea soup, which I amazingly enjoyed given that I usually pass on peas. This time, in a John Lennon moment, I gave peas a chance.
As per usual, I ate too many of these small appetizers and probably could have stopped here. Tracy reminded me we still had six courses to go. Oops.
After enjoying the house sparkling wine we traveled upstairs. It was time for Act II.
The living room with a barrel vaulted ceiling and cozy fireplace …
… and an intimate side room (our room), where the walls are covered in toile fabric, are utilized as the dining rooms.
Both rooms are lit with crystal chandeliers, and the tables are set far enough apart so the noise level is not a concern. On this evening, there was a large party also seated in the wine cellar, which was a good thing because it seemed they had hit a bar before hitting the bar at the Hobbit.
With seven courses, there is only one seating per evening. The set menus are available for viewing on the Hobbit website a few months in advance, so we knew what the featured main course was going to be. (because it was dimly lit, food photos are not of the best quality … luckily, the food did have great quality)
Our first course consisted of a seared diver scallop on a bed of fresh corn succotash with pesto sauce. “Wow!” The succotash was simply incredible. What a way to start dinner! I could just hear Daffy Duck yell out, “Suffering succotash!”
Coincidentally, we went daffy about our next course of roasted Maple Leaf duck breast with a fresh cherry and port reduction over Po Valley Italian Black Rice. Another “Wow!” The duck medallions were perfectly seared, and the fresh cherries delightful. Tracy said she could have stopped with this course. I reminded her we had four courses to go. Two can play at that game.
Next up … we enjoyed the shaved fennel and green apple salad with Société Bee Roquefort Dressing and a small goat cheese soufflé with crispy prosciutto, which did not linger on our plates long. The Hobbit was on a roll. Even Rob, who does not eat goat cheese, thought this was a wonderful course. No kidding.
… venture into the kitchen to chat with the chef and staff, plus mingle with other diners. While everyone is away from their respective tables, the staff refreshes and straightens the dining rooms.
Back at our table after intermission, we started with a marvelous palate cleansing sorbet. Blackberry with subtle hints of cinnamon, cardamom and cloves was a great way to start Act III. Somehow we need to steal this recipe.
The main entrée this night was roasted sirloin of lamb with chorizo Demi-Glace. On this particular night, the restaurant offered two alternative choices for an additional $7.75, which was a prime filet mignon with truffle sauce or wild caught Alaskan halibut with ginger garlic jasmine rice and black bean sauce. The entrées were served with baby vegetables; all the fruits and vegetables here are seasonal, fresh and artfully prepared. Although the dishes were good, they were actually outshined by their understudies (I mean the other courses).
Finally it was time for course #7 … dessert. Since we were all quite full, we thought it would be a challenge to eat our final course. However, when the apricot custard tart with apricot glaze and Italian meringue was delivered … as Worf would say … “Resistance is futile!” It proved be yet another “Wow!” for the restaurant and topped off an incredible dining experience.
The seven course meal came out to $92 per person, plus tax and gratuity (wine not included). Expensive, yes, however when it was all said and done, we all felt it was worth every dollar. I had read somewhere that when the restaurant began offering the prix-fixe dinners in the early 1970s, the price was $14.50.
The restaurant name and philosophy is described on a sign as you enter. It reads in part, “The Hobbits … like to laugh and eat (six meals a day) and drink … they wear bright colors (they’d love my Padres’ tie) … they love parties.” It ends by saying,” To the hobbits and j.r.r. tolkien this restaurant is gratefully dedicated.”
As the four of us waddled out to the parking lot, we all remarked that this special occasion dining experience was something we would cherish for a long time. If you’re looking for something unique, be sure to reserve in advance for a night to remember. Some of the upcoming entrées include Prime Roast New York Strip Steak with Black and Green Peppercorn Sauce, Filet of Beef with Bone Marrow Bordelaise, Veal Osso Bucco and Beef Wellington.
The price point might mean I can’t make The Hobbit a habit, but it is surely a place I hope to return to one day (I believe there’s a beef Wellington with my name on it).
Mai Tai Tom Rating – 4.85 Mai Tais (out of 5)
2932 East Chapman Avenue
Orange, CA. 92869
Hours: Wednesday – Sunday 6:30 p.m. (cocktails) – 11 p.m.
Parking: Free (lot)