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Collage Food Hall Nears Completion

New direction for J&R Group

Food halls abound throughout Orange County, and they come in all shapes and sizes.

Examples: Rodeo 39 in Stanton, Trade in Irvine, the Packing House in Anaheim, and Fourth Street Market in Santa Ana. They all offer an array of diverse eateries.

Collage Culinary Experience in the Bloomingdale’s wing of South Coast Plaza has taken the food hall concept up a notch and turned it into what the folks behind the Costa Mesa food hub describe as an “elevated global dining collective that offers the best of international and local cuisine in an artfully designed space.”

It’s an appropriate description. The restaurants range from Paradise Dynasty and its colorful xiao long bao (steamed buns or dumplings) to Le Shrimp Ramen, ­Mah Jong’s, Egg LXIII, Churrino, and the most recent additions Bruxie and Mochinut.

Collage will welcome three additional concepts set to open early this year: Blossoms & Brass, creative cocktails and small bites with a mesh of Japanese flavors and Italian style; PhoHolic, a fresh approach to traditional Vietnamese dishes; and Cha Redefine, which combines traditional tea with modern brewing methods.

Real Estate Ties

“As a one-stop shop for elevated local and international cuisine, we plan to continue raising the bar with unique world-inspired dining experiences,” said Morgan Zhang, founder and creative innovator behind the concept of Collage.

Zhang is the president at J&R Group LLC in Irvine, whose company finances, develops and redevelops commercial, mixed-use and residential properties in bustling tech and creative hubs across the U.S. and Canada.

The firm counts several real estate holdings near John Wayne Airport, including offices and apartment development sites in Irvine.

Collage is an unusual endeavor for Zhang. He bills himself as a lifestyle developer yet says he usually never touches a project like this, but his passion and interest is travel and the foods that go with it.

“My wife and I travel to Asia, Singapore, Japan, and always see the dining atmosphere. Food courts are everywhere. We started incubating an idea and approached Bloomingdale’s for the space.”

Paradise Flagship

The South Coast Plaza space is the former Charlie Palmer restaurant, which closed in 2015. Holstein’s Shakes & Buns took over the spot and closed a year later. It sat empty for several years until Zhang struck a deal with Bloomingdale’s to lease the space provided Zhang brought in a large anchor restaurant.

Zhang created a floor plan for a two-story food hall, with an anchor on top and smaller ones nearby and down below.

The anchor turned out to be Paradise Dynasty.

“Paradise had their eye on this space for their first location in North America and approached the mall, but the leasing opportunity was not given by the mall, so they approached us,” Zhang said. “I remembered they have different restaurant concepts in Singapore, we loved them, everything from fast food to luxury. This is an ambitious group and we’re grateful to be their first partner.”

Zhang had signed most of the tenants prior to the start of the pandemic. When everything shut down in March 2020, construction moved forward although it took longer than expected.

The first Collage restaurant—Paradise Dynasty—did not open until fall 2021.

Zhang changed his concept for the lower level. Originally designed with another anchor restaurant in mind, Zhang rearranged the space to accommodate more restaurants—the type that he says brings in a younger crowd and also more families.

“We never wanted to charge $80 per ticket, that’s not our concept,” Zhang stated.

The OCBJ Review: By Christopher Trela

So far, I have dined at Paradise Dynasty, Mah Jong’s, Le Shrimp Ramen and Bruxie, and enjoyed the sweet creations at Mochinut.

Paradise Dynasty really impressed me with their eight-flavor, rainbow xiao long bao which includes cheese, crab roe, foie gras, garlic, chicken liver pate, black truffle, Szechuan and the original filled with Kurobuta pork.

The dumplings are thick enough to hold their ingredients but thin enough to pop the entire thing into your mouth at once to savor the flavors that come bursting out of the dumpling.

Le Shrimp Ramen is a creation from Eldwin Chua, founder and CEO of Paradise Group, owners of Paradise Dynasty.

When Le Shrimp Ramen opened, Chua told the Business Journal that “we are the first in the U.S. to have ramen with shrimp broth. The technique we use is complicated but produces full, rich, smoky, creamy shrimp broth. We wanted a competitive edge that nobody else has. It’s inspired by Japanese ramen, infused with Chinese technique.”

Being a shrimp lover, I savored my bowl of signature trio shrimp noodle with prawns, shrimp broth and noodles.

Mah Jong’s was created by Chef Mike Doctulero, who helmed the kitchen at Scott’s Restaurant for 26 years until it closed in 2016. He did restaurant consulting before opening Mah Jong’s.

His version of poutine with fries and clam chowder is fabulous and one of his top sellers.

I have been a Bruxie fan for many years and frequently dine at the Orange location. The Collage Bruxie has a similar menu. They are known for their chicken and waffles, but I prefer their sandwiches and burger, which come wedged inside a folded waffle.

Mochinut is an addiction that needs no cure. Mochi donut is a donut that originated in Hawaii and is a combination of American doughnuts and Japanese mochi. Mochinuts have a light crispy coating with a soft chewy inside. Favorite flavors include blueberry, strawberry and original.

Collage Culinary Experience at Bloomingdale’s: 3333 Bristol St., Costa Mesa, collageexperience.com.

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