When a new restaurant opens, I always like to wait a few weeks to give the operators time to get their act together before doing a review, but I inadvertently found myself at Watertable in the Hyatt Regency Huntington Beach Resort and Spa on the night of its official opening.
The website said people could book on OpenTable, so when I called for a reservation, I had no idea that my companion and I were among the first customers to dine there. I feel it's important to mention this because there were a few glitches, although the food was very good.
The restaurant was previously called The Californian, and the décor was a bit dated: potted palms, patterned carpets and traditional furniture. It has recently undergone a complete makeover, although the large outdoor terrace in the garden looking out to the sea, surrounded by towering palms and a lovely fountain, is still there. The cozy room with a fireplace, as well as several other attractive dining areas and a large bar and lounge, have been given a wonderful facelift.
Executive chef Manfred Lassahn has created a new menu featuring "comfort food with attitude." The menu begins with "Share" starters that can be shared or even made into a meal if you order several. Really excellent Gilroy garlic calamari featured calamari steak cut in thick strips and cooked until were very tender and buttery-tasting, then seasoned with lots of garlic, a bit of anchovy, spicy chickpeas and peppery arugula. A few thin rings of spicy red pepper and some red pepper flakes heated things up to just the right degree.
Our second appetizer, Baja California yellow tail crudo with spicy-sour cauliflower, avocana cream, sweet peppers and micro mustard sprouts, sounded wonderful but, alas, it never arrived. We had been waiting quite a long time, and when I reminded the waiter about it, he said it would be out any minute. About 20 minutes later, our entrees arrived, but the crudo never did. Of course, our waiter was very apologetic and said things were a bit crazy in the kitchen. He did graciously comp us our two glasses of wine.
The dinner menu has a list of four entrees and another option where you choose your protein — fish, steak or chicken — and the size of the portion as well as the method of cooking: steamed, grilled, sautéed or poached. You then select one of the five sauces — bacon jam, white wine butter sauce, veal red wine demi glace, olive oil and sea salt, or salbitxada — to complete the dish. Side dishes are extra.
I rarely order pork in a restaurant because it is so often tough or dry, but the honey lavender brined Berkshire pork porterhouse was indeed tender and juicy and full of flavor. It was topped with a sundried cherry demi glace, pickled onions and a bit of frisee salad. Excellent.
My dining companion enjoyed a fat, prime, hanger steak served rare with a nice exterior char. Soft polenta provided a bed for the meat but was rather bland. A lemon herb gremolata and crunchy leeks added depth, and a meaty pan jus finished the dish.
We ended our meal with an order of profiteroles that were filled with a sweet caramel crème. I found them a bit too sweet. However, our other dessert, the signature dish, six degrees of chocolate, was wonderful. A thin chocolate tuile was on the bottom, and five different cake-like layers of really dense chocolate were stacked on top. Of course, there was chocolate sauce and chocolate dots on top of that. On the side were chocolate mousse cream and candied nuts. A chocolate lover's dream!
I am confident that in the next few days, all the kinks will have been worked out, and this new buzzy-noisy restaurant with the excellent food will be a great addition to the Huntington Beach dining scene.
TERRY MARKOWITZ was in the gourmet food and catering business for 20 years. She can be reached for comments or questions at email@example.com.
Where: Hyatt Regency Huntington Beach Resort and Spa, 21500 Pacific Coast Hwy., Huntington Beach
When: Breakfast, 6:30 a.m. to noon daily; lunch, 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Mondays through Fridays; dinner, 5 to 10 p.m. daily
Appetizers: $8 to $14
Entrées: $19 to $38
Bottles: $36 to $680
By the glass: $9 to $22
Corkage fee: $25
Information: (714) 845-4776 or huntingtonbeach.hyatt.com