Playground (Santa Ana) - Dry Aged Fish

On a recent visit to Playground 2.0 Chef Quinn was cooking up dry aged seafood. It was the first time I’ve heard of this concept. Aging fish for sushi is very common but dry aging was a new concept to me. In the dry aging process water never touches the fish, not even during the cleaning process. The dry aged fish we had at Playground 2.0 was amazing. Different textures and flavors coaxed out of sometimes mundane fish. I’m surprised this was the first time we’ve had dry aged fish but maybe I’ve been going to the wrong places. I can’t find my pictures from the dinner.

1 Like

First encountered this a couple years ago, haven’t tried any myself. Sounds like the concept is slowly catching on

The Joint Sherman Oaks also sells and serves dry aged fish.

How is playground 2.0? I’ve always been intrigued but I’m not fond of the shared plate concept there given the price. Some of the dishes they serve also seem meh. On this one meal I saw on Yelp, they served a kanpachi sashimi, potato croquette, braised leek with puffed buckwheat, cumin lamb (that looks very saucy), radish root in dashi, saute ong choi, garbanzo bean tempura, canele…

It’s our favorite dining experience in the OC. $225 - $250 all in for ~15 courses, beverage pairings, tax and tip is a pretty good deal. There might be 1-2 misses each night but way more hits. The menu is seasonal and you rarely have repeat dishes. I’ve been to 10-12 Playground 2.0 dinners and the only repeats have been A5 Waygu off the bincho and some sashimi dishes (pretty good dishes to repeat).

Jason is a great host and talented cook. First course is usually bread they bake in house with butter. Fantastic. They do a great job with vegetables. Lots of unique preparations and always trying new things. Desserts are usually very good but small bites at the end of the meal. Not big beautifully plated fully composed desserts like Majordomo and Republique. Plating is more family style and every 3 seats have to share each plate. So there is a chance you are sharing food with a complete stranger but everybody there is having a good time. We are never bored. If you live fairly close I think it’s worth a trip.


So Playground is gone.

I really like that Jason Quinn fella.

About 15 months into the experience of running Playground I got a bit lost in my thoughts. I was so determined not to be a statistic (referring to the 70%+ restaurants that don’t make it through their first year), and I was so proud of our team and what we had accomplished. A massive question popped up in my head that I had never really considered, “What is the lifespan of a restaurant?”

I was 25 when we opened, and as I have often said, I really had no business owning a restaurant or being a chef. Although I had way too much belief in myself, I didn’t really think that we would ever be the ones making the decision to shut Playground down, by which I mean that I expected people would figure out I was a fraud and we would be forced to close. I was so convinced this would be the case that I worked hard to make sure we wouldn’t suffer that fate. It seems to be common knowledge that this is a brutal industry with really long hours, and I was up for the challenge, but I had no idea how much it would actually take to accomplish our goals. After a while it became clear that to make this experience “worthwhile” we would have to expand, feed more guests, do more 2.0 services and take larger parties. We decided we needed another kitchen, we needed a bakery, we needed a private dining room and so we continued to put every dollar we made back into the business. We basically made every decision that would be a really good idea before a global pandemic came to be.

As everyone is well aware, the pandemic changed everything for us. By 2019 we were settled (so we thought). It was an unbelievably good year, we were finally done expanding, nearly every single seat at 2.0 was purchased well in advance, Playground routinely served over 400 guests a night, we had plenty of staff, everyone was happy and we we’re finally going to see this “profit” thing that everybody talks about. The pandemic hit, we pivoted quickly and with a lot of help from our friends we were able to keep everyone employed and making sure all bills got paid. It was an unreal experience trying to navigate such unforeseen circumstances but we were determined to keep everybody together. Sadly, many of our employees were frustrated, as we all were, about how different our new lives were. Many of them “didn’t sign up for this” and found new employment opportunities in other industries. In other cases, our lack of staff made it impossible to discipline our staff adequately or hold our incredibly high standards and this too led to us losing more staff. At a certain point, roughly six months in it became clear to me that Playground would never be the same again.

Jarred and I started to think that perhaps this realization was okay. Neither of us were particularly happy with how much we were still working, how much our bank accounts still looked so similar to when we first started. We realized we both now had multiple children and that our work life balance was totally screwed. We looked at our cooks, who are the backbone of this restaurant and most of which, even with 20 hours of overtime a week, aren’t able to make the paychecks we know they deserve. We’re not the first to say it, but it deserves repeating that the restaurant industry is broken, and we started to think about how we could fix it. We also frequently talked about the fact that as a restaurant, we were basically professional mistake makers, and maybe it was time to actually learn from the 10 years of mistakes we had made.

I will admit that I’m exhausted. I have given so much of my life to make this building amazing and I feel that 10 years is a really good run and the perfect time to close on our terms and prepare for a brand new world. I’m not only referring to a post-COVID world, but also a world in which the obvious problems with our industry finally change.

As many people know, I was fully prepared to move my family to Canada and start over; then something amazing happened, we ran out of money. Our reserves were completely drained as we did our best to tread water. As much as many of us complain about our government, I do have to say that they did a great job helping us keep our employees paid and if it wasn’t for both of our PPP loans, we would have shut down long ago.

At the end of the day it was clear, we have too much invested in this building to leave. That is of course, unless you know someone looking to buy our operation (4 kitchens, 16,000 sq. ft. and a solid 2.5/10 fun).

And then there is our team. I believe in them so much, and have seen them all grow, that I no longer was looking at them as my employees, but instead as peers. This made it difficult for a control freak like me to balance and sometimes I feel that my presence hindered a dish from becoming better. It made me think that I wanted to see what they could do without me holding them back. Jarred has been our GM (Director of Libations) since Day 1 and John Parker is the best Chef De Cuisine we’ve ever had. Both of them very much deserve to run their own show, and that will be the plan moving forward.

On December 31st of 2021 we will celebrate the end of this amazing place that exceeded my wildest dreams. I cannot thank anyone reading this enough for helping be a part of my dreams, it truly means the world to me. We will take a couple weeks in our cocoon and metamorphose into our next version that we hope shows leadership in the evolution of the industry by offering our employees all a very comfortable wage, a four-day work week and a safe environment in which they can thrive. Our new name for this operation is always what I figured would be the most logical step after having too much fun on the Playground: Detention.

Jason Quinn


Here’s the press release about the planned replacement:


aah! thanks very much… insightful. So who’s Bob Quinn!!?

Ever inventive, chef/owner Jason Quinn has decided not to close Playground in 2022 as previously announced but will morph two of the spaces at 220 E. 4th St., Santa Ana into new concepts. Quinn will take on the role of advisor. Bob Quinn, (Jason’s father), will remain his son’s business partner while Jarred Dooley, John Parker and Justin Werner will pick up new roles running the operations.