Before I talk about the food I tried at Wreckless, the new restaurant in Fullerton by chef Cody Storts, I must mention the branded merchandise. There was an entire wall of it: T-shirts and trucker hats, shot glasses and flasks, iPhone cases and money clips, even lapel pins and socks. The Wreckless logo, a “W” formed by the tines of a fork dripping with blood, emblazoned everything that was on sale.
It was a bit confusing. After all, this isn’t some established institution such as In-N-Out or a clothing-brand-turned-restaurant such as Tommy Bahama. Open scarcely two months, Wreckless is just the latest trendy eatery in a town that has seen a lot of trendy eateries. To me, it all seemed kind of presumptuous.
It would make more sense if those T-shirts had Storts’ name on it. The chef himself is something of a name brand. He is, at this point, quite well-known in foodie circles because he has cooked at as many restaurants as a twentysomething has Tinder dates.
If you’ve dined anywhere in Orange County in the past five years, chances are you’ve eaten his food. He’s jumped around so often and spearheaded so many concepts, it’s hard to keep up. The last time I encountered him was three years ago at Grits Fullerton; I went because I knew he was cooking there. Since then, he’s served a stint as the executive chef at Tempo Urban Kitchen and Salt & Ash after that before settling at Wreckless, where he’s currently listed as the executive chef and co-owner. That noncommittal currently isn’t my word choice, by the way; that’s actually what it says on his bio on the restaurant’s website.
So when my server started to explain that everything on the menu might not be here tomorrow, I began thinking it could also apply to the chef. That would be a shame because in Wreckless, Storts has created a restaurant that feels as if it’s meant to stand through the ages. Or at least that’s what I saw. The bar is decked out in expensive Italian marble, and the restaurant’s name is etched on all the plates and cutlery. You have to be pretty damn sure of your staying power if you’re going to do that.
Judging from the night I went, Wreckless’ confidence is not misplaced. It was packed. People without reservations were being turned away, which is noteworthy because Wreckless is not an inexpensive restaurant. A 28-ounce porterhouse here will set you back $75. A dish of egg noodles showered with Italian truffles runs $45. It’s the kind of place where you can and should order ahead your chocolate soufflé dessert.
If it seems that Storts is going for broke here, it wouldn’t be the first time. From what I remember of his cooking at Grits, he’s a risk taker who isn’t afraid to experiment and turn things inside-out. A dish called “escargot toast” is exactly what I expected to see on his menu.
He starts with a thick slice of soft brioche crusted with pecorino—a cross between the cheese toast at Sizzler and something you drown with maple syrup for breakfast. Then he douses the bread with a sauce made of herbs, garlic, shallots and lemon, topping it with about a half-dozen pieces of the snail meat. If I didn’t end up liking the escargot as much as the toast, it’s because the snails weren’t dripping in the butter and garlic that usually masks their muddiness. But in an appetizer that costs $21, I realized it really shouldn’t have been the bread that I enjoyed more than the featured ingredient.
For a buck more, I could’ve ordered another plate of the smoked pork belly, one of the cheapest dishes Storts makes. Weighing at least a pound and meant to be eaten as a steak, it’s the biggest slab of belly I’d ever seen served in a restaurant. It’s also the tastiest. Brined, smoked, then crisped so that the attached rind crackled, this was baby back ribs with benefits. And when I ate the blubber as though it were pig Jell-O, a guilty tingle went up my spine—both from pleasure and the realization I just ate the equivalent of 12 slices of bacon.
If you want your money’s worth in ocean critters, the seafood chowder has almost all of them, including a deep-fried softshell crab on top of soup containing more species than I care to name. It, too, comes in a custom bowl with “Wreckless” printed on it. I hope Wreckless lasts with or without Storts because if it doesn’t, it’ll be impossible to auction off any of that china.
Wreckless, 136 W. Commonwealth Ave., Fullerton, (714) 519-3179; www.wreckless.us. Open Tues.-Thurs., 4 p.m.-midnight; Fri., 4 p.m.-1 a.m.; Sat., 9 a.m.-1 a.m.; Sun., 9 a.m.-11 p.m. Entrées, $22-$75. Full bar.
Before becoming an award-winning restaurant critic for OC Weekly in 2007, Edwin Goei went by the alias “elmomonster” on his blog Monster Munching, in which he once wrote a whole review in haiku.