The tri-tip doesn’t get a lot of love or publicity in the world of meats. It’s a bottom sirloin cut, relatively inexpensive in comparison to the mainstays at steakhouse restaurants. It’s just not as sexy as a ribeye, NY strip, or the filet mignon. It’s a very lean cut, and like most good steaks, needs to be eaten at medium or medium-rare so that it’s still tender and juicy. Nobody wants to chew on overcooked shoe leather.
Wood Ranch BBQ & Grill, the newest addition to Irvine Spectrum’s stable of corporate chain restaurants, seems to pride itself on their tri-tip. I was invited in a sneak preview of the restaurant about a week before their official opening–it’s a way for their staff to practice on operations and gather feedback from customers from their service to their food. Obviously, as a BBQ enthusiast and first-time customer of Wood Ranch, I was eager to try their BBQ items–especially their much ballyhooed tri-tip.
I’ll cut to the chase–how is their BBQ? It all depends. If you know your BBQ and have extremely high expectations, you will be disappointed. But if you’re in a carnivorous mood and not afraid to shell out some cash, then you’ll probably have a good time. Wood Ranch is an upscale chain restaurant, a notch above anything in the realm of something like Outback, Claim Jumper, Black Angus, etc. These places don’t necessarily fancy themselves as BBQ-centric restaurants, but you get my drift.
At the Irvine Spectrum, it’s a perfect fit. It’s in a great location, at the “front” near the theater, adjacent to PF Chang’s, Ruby’s Diner, CPK, just ot name a few. There’s no other type of similar restaurant at the Spectrum, and it will be a sure-fit hit for both families looking for a casual dinner and corporate-card wielding, power-lunch hungry office workers.
I haven’t had much experience eating tri-tip at restaurants, and they usually come pre-sliced. At Wood Ranch, it’s served as a steak–you can slice it to your own liking–thick and thin. I like the idea–there’s something more satisfying about cutting your own meat. Upon slicing, it was a dark pink and tender. But I can see how if this was pre-sliced, the tri-tip would dry out very easily. No smoky flavors in the tri-tip, however. It’s somewhat bland when eaten by itself, since it’s a very lean cut. But the tri-tip should always be accompanied by their BBQ sauce, which I thought was good. Tangy and slightly smoky, it almost rivals Phil’s BBQ–but not quite.
I also tried their baby-back ribs, which were pedestrian. If the restaurant claims that they smoke their meats, either they’re not doing it right, not using enough wood, or not smoking it long enough. The ribs were your typical restaurant variety–on par with Tony Roma’s. Slathered with BBQ sauce, the ribs were… boring, for lack of a better word. I think Lucille’s makes a slightly better version of ribs if you want to do a battle of corporate chain BBQ restaurants.
I applaud Wood Ranch for doing these sneak preview dinners and welcoming feedback for wanting to improve their food and service. Usually restaurants just open up without so much a word, and if they do a private event preview, it’s only a day or two. Wood Ranch did it for about a week. Although my meals were en gratis, I liked how they provided envelopes to accept donations for various charities. As far as the food, I also tried some other items on the menu.
Just generalizing, but I think their appetizers and burgers are the sure to be hits during happy hour and lunches. I’m not a fan of their salads, and mostly everything else on the menu is priced on the high side. As far as their BBQ, well, I’m glad to have tried their tri-tip, but it’s nothing earth shattering that I would return and pay $20 of my own money.