SANTA ANA, Calif. — The beloved and celebrated Playground restaurant that was recently shuttered will open anew on Jan. 18 — this time, rebranded as Detention.

With the departure of chef Jason Quinn, the remaining team of chef John Parker and Jarred Dooley chose to start fresh, taking the last decade of lessons to start something new.

What You Need To Know

  • Playground, now closed, will reopen Jan. 18 as Detention

  • While chef Jason Quinn has departed, chef John Parker and Jarred Dooley will remain at the helm

  • Detention, located near the rest of Santa Ana's nightlife scene, has undergone interior renovations 

  • The menu will still feature dry-aged fish and smoked fish sausages

The menu will contain many of the things longtime fans of the restaurant will enjoy, like house-made dumplings and dry-aged cod.

“It just creates this really unique flavor profile,” Parker said.

The biggest change, perhaps, is consistency. Some weeks, Parker said, about 80% of the menu might change, a fertile ground for experimentation. There were home runs and odd-note failures, but it all ultimately helped define the restaurant as a gastronomical laboratory to watch.

Experimentation won’t disappear, the pair says, with staples of the menu providing the kind of structure that allows them to take smarter risks, and vet the dishes before they make the menu.

The closure of Playground, which happened in late December, allowed them to overhaul the interior. The renovation aims to improve the flow of dinner service by consolidating all the cooking to one kitchen, shifting over underutilized equipment like a super hot broiler known as a salamander. The second kitchen will just be used for prep.

Located at E. 220 4th Street in Santa Ana, Detention is centrally place naer other attractions of the ctiy's historic downtown like the basement watering hole known as the Copper Door.

Detention hopes to pull in some of that foot traffic with a revamped bar experience complete with lounge sofas and a pace of service and atmosphere that invites people to stop by for just a drink or two.

Room capacity has dropped from 180 to about 110 customers even as they’ve opened a patio and added seating to the bar. 

The new chapter, conspicuously, leaves out Quinn, who gained prominence as the restaurant developed a name for itself.

“He wanted to move on, and Jarred and I wanted to continue on with the foundation that was created with Playground,” Parker said.

The new restaurant benefits from 10 years of mistakes, they say, and large investments in tools and toys that allow their cuisine to range far and wide.

Life for Parker and Dooley is different than when they were newcomers to restaurant operation. Ten years ago, the restaurant was a labor of love; the operators had no kids; research and development was their calling card. Art as food was created with their culinary oddities, like fish sausage, an unusual offering in the area.

And moving forward, they want to establish themselves as a zero-waste restaurant. 

“Restaurants are losing 60%, 70% of the fish from trimmings and heads going into the trash,” Parker said. “We’re trying to use all that.”

Other changes include decor, borrowing the classic look of deep booths with tufted, burgundy cushions.

But all the charm that once existed will still be there.

“Internally, and affectionately, we say it’s a lot the same ideas — just with better lighting,” Dooley said.