Time after time, we find small strip-mall restaurants in Huntington Beach that are chef-owned and reasonably priced and offer a menu with their particular, inventive slant on whatever cuisine they prepare.
Our newest discovery, the Corner, has been around for about a year and a half. It is the offspring of Chef Chris Grodach, who earned his chops at such culinary meccas as the French Laundry and the Montage. In Chef Chris' own restaurant, featuring eclectic cuisine, everything from the ketchup to the garlic noodles is made from scratch.
The unpretentious décor is about to be changed in January. So far, this former Chinese restaurant has had a paint job and new upholstery. There is a separate bar/eating area and a room for large parties in addition to the main dining room.
They are proud of their signature cocktails like the Dirty Pickle, the Good Uncle and the Antioxidant Intoxicant. The latter has Ion Vodka, VeeV Acai Spirit, cucumber, basil and mint, served in a Mason jar.
The menu is divided into four sections: Start, Cold and Warm, Hot, and Not Entrées. The first three categories are small plates, and the Not Entrées are somewhat larger. For a mere $2, you can get one of four different potato or vegetable side dishes.
We chose an item from each category, beginning with crispy short rib tacos. Two small, shatteringly crunchy fried tacos were stuffed with well-seasoned, shredded beef, but the meat was rather dry and not at all spicy. Adding the accompanying mild salsa gave it some moisture but no heat. Lots of flavor was provided by the generous amount of finely grated, excellent white cheddar.
For something cold and refreshing, we ordered the shaved fall vegetables. This wild arugula salad was resting on top of a bed of thin shavings of crunchy fennel, parsnip, carrot and radish. This mélange was dressed with a light citrus vinaigrette and topped with creamy, crumbled goat cheese.
One of our favorite Asian dishes is garlic noodles. Chef Chris' take is a delicious riff on this popular Asian American offering. The measure of this dish is the quality of the noodles, and his house-made ones are superior. Distinct from the familiar skinny noodle that one usually encounters, these are wide and flat, like pappardelle. The tasty sauce is also unique in that in addition to butter, there is also cream, but not much garlic. Chef Chris rounds out the pasta with an Asian element — pieces of Chinese cabbage and a delightful Spanish one — rounds of salty, slightly spicy chorizo. Sprigs of cilantro added a final touch.
From the Not Entrées category, we chose the Korean BBQ chicken with non-traditional accompaniments. In fact, the only aspect that seemed authentically Korean was the marinade and sauce on the chicken. It was presented with lettuce leaves, cucumbers, green pepper, radish and avocado slices for you to create your own wrap. The chicken, topped with black and white sesame seed, was juicy and full of flavor. We found that the cilantro lime dipping sauce was too acidic and didn't marry well with the other delicious elements.
For a side dish, we were eager to try their 48-hour fries. Mostly, we were curious about the 48-hour part. It turns out that they are soaked overnight, air-dried, frozen and finally deep-fried. The result is something quite different and irresistibly delicious. The inside of these potatoes had a light, airy texture, while the exterior was slightly thicker than usual and as crunchy as could be. Just wonderful. Less exciting but very tasty was the side of lemon basil zucchini.
Pear crumble with caramel sauce and house-made ice cream was a lot of pear and barely any crumble. We wished there had been more to give it some crunch. However, the caramel sauce was generous and really luscious, with deep caramel flavor, and it paired perfectly with the vanilla ice cream.
We look forward to tasting Chef Chris' future creations.
ELLE HARROW and TERRY MARKOWITZ were in the gourmet food and catering business for 20 years. They can be reached for comments or questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Where: 8961 Adams, Huntington Beach
When: 3 to 10 p.m. Monday and Tuesday; noon to 10 p.m. Sunday, Wednesday and Thursday; noon to midnight Friday and Saturday
Small plates: $3 to $14
Not Entrées: $9 to $18
Desserts: $6 to $9
Glass: $6.50 to $15
Bottle: $21 to $49
Information: (714) 968-6800 or http://www.thecornerhb.com