Event - Sandy's Menu Tasting in Huntington Beach

Our first experience with Sandy's of HB was during the To Live and Dine Chef Challenge in August 2013 where they offered up a sample of a variation of their layered seafood cocktail (lobster, shrimp, orange chili sauce, and avocado) in a cucumber cup with shiso leaf. A gorgeous little morsel, it gave us an insight into what to expect when we came out by invitation to try the food at Sandy's. It was the perfect weather for a late morning/early afternoon visit, and the restaurant's location on the beach was superb. If you know where the Huntington Beach pier is, you'll easily find Sandy's. It rests just below the pier (take the stairs to the left of it) so you have an eye-level view of the surf and sand. The outdoor dining area where we sat was protected by the comfort of a wrapping windguard so we were also able to people watch without breeze blowing sand in our eyes. Our server that morning was Kimmy who happened to be familiar with these type of visits - her own grandmother used to write about food too with her tagging along as the guest at times. How fun is that?

What I first noticed from my initial exposure to Sandy's HB as a brand was how apt their logo was and the use of teal. It is not a very common color around these Orange County parts but perfectly picked for a Huntington Beach surf-side establishment as it invokes romanticized images of the beach. The fork across the state of California indicated the type of food we'd expect and once you stepped inside the restaurant, you would see this motif repeatedly, emblazoned on the walls. I actually quite fancied the artwork that they had commissioned for their interior decor; they were clever, colorful, and oh-so-southern Californian. A winding bar and open kitchen welcomed guests, and the furniture alternated between classic wood and modern, chic seatbelt seats (with highlights of bright yellow and teal). I'd have to say that the color combinations inside had me smile in appreciation. I could see how this place could easily set the scene for a great time out.

On the matter of food and beverage business, we could not neglect the cocktail menu once we sat down. Three drinks were readily had that sunny day, and those three drinks were quite enjoyed. We had their HB Mule, Paloma ($9.50 - chili infused silver tequila, agave nectar, Grand Marnier float), and Tarragon Lemonade ($10 - Hendrick's gin, St. Germain, tarragon, lemonade), all of which were refreshingly beach-y and absolutely brunch-y. The wine list was extensive and the beer list featured mainly craft and local beers. We learned later from General Manager Greg Ames that their recently new bar manager that had come in was very selective with his alcohol stock and was studying (with the help and encouragement of Sandy's) to become a fully certified cicerone. There aren't too many places in Orange County that can boast that!

There was a fair mixture of breakfast and lunch items that morning on what I would call their weekend brunch menu. Because there were several sections, we opted for trying at least one item per menu section and left a lot of the choices up to Greg based on either popularity or restaurant pride. The first out was their Baked Local Eggs ($9.50 - Parmesan, tomato, cream, prosciutto, baguette), a piping hot bowl of baked eggs coddled in a warm, tangy tomato sauce and blanketed with a heavy helping of cheese. The fresh grape tomato halves added bright bursts of flavor, and the accompanying crispy prosciutto chip lent a fun saltiness to the mix. Their bread sources from Sadie Rose Baking and their eggs from a farm in Escondido; how's that for local? The plate also came out with a bottle of Gringo Bandito, a hot sauce created by the singer of Offspring, Dexter Holland, who is an HB native. We tried a bit on the side, and it was nice but because of how flavorful the dish itself was, we didn't need to add it to the mix.

What I really enjoyed in the first round was from their Starters section - their Beer Braised Mussels ($12 - chorizo beer broth, shredded kale, Shiitake mushrooms). These mussels steamed in Bayhock beer (from Irvine) were done to perfection having just the right amount of sea saltiness and beer bitterness. They had been cooked to an enjoyable texture as well. It is no wonder that the ingredients per dish would be of great quality though as their sous chef Mason focuses greatly on scouting out the best vendors and products. We saw this in their Heirloom Tomato & Mushroom Stack ($15 - Portabella, Boursin cheese, lentil cake, arugula, sundried tomato vinaigrette), a vegeterian-friendly entree that took advantage of the natural flavors of the vegetables to carry the dish. The Boursin cheese may have been a little too much but with the help of the lentil cakes, it did not overshadow anything too much.

After cheesiness in two of the three dishes first shown, it was time to opt for a salad. We asked for the Arugula ($7.50 - haricot vert, golden and red beets, Manchego, applewood smoked bacon, pickled shallot), a welcome dish that was bursting with the spectrum of tastes from sweet beets to salty bacon to tart/sour shallot. The textures played together well, seemingly adding more crunch to the crunch, and the salad was eaten up fairly quickly. That was good because almost right after, the Mushroom Flatbread ($11.50 - fresh mushrooms, garlic, thyme, fennel, truffle oil, Brie, and Parmesan) came out in all its glory. The truffle oil was just a light finish on top but was still potent enough to be smelled across the patio. This one came out bold with big earthy flavors and as Greg put it, a "forest floor feel." It certainly was the palate wrecker he called it due to the intense umami but alas, we still dream about it because it was perfect for our own preferences. I can see this being ordered frequently for its mindful crunchy crust. Next came out the Spiced Rubbed Tuna Sandwich ($13.50 - seared rare tuna, wasabi aioli, applewood bacon, mizuna, pea shoots, tomato, onion, flatbread with Mohr-Fry Ranch bean salad). The first detail I noticed was the decisive lack of traditional sandwich bread; instead, two wide slices of flatbread were the covers for the thick layers between them. In this particular case, the tuna was albacore because ahi was on the Monterey Bay Aquarium red list. We found this one too thick though, needing a knife and fork to eat it and not quite moving the fish forward in terms of it being appealing. Though we liked the thin flatbread as the "bread" part to hold everything together, the sandwich was a bit of a miss to us. The beans on the other hand from central California were fantastic.

By this point, we ought to have stopped but dessert was very tempting. An inviting rose of a Pear Tart was brought out, tempting us to delve in along with bites of the vanilla bean semifreddo alongside it. Since savory is more my style when it comes to dessert, this was definitely my preferred of the two desserts we had and one of my favorite dishes for the entire meal. With extra crumbs sprinkled on top, the pear tart got a bit of crunchiness through both top and bottom as well as cinnamon-y sweatness from the baked fruit. We also took a stab at Sandy's Smores which was a housemade interpretation of s'mores. Toasted marshmallow fluff atop chocolate ice cream resting on a a bar of graham cracker crust speckled fudge(?) made a significant impression, especially once you realized that everything was made in-house except the chocolate ice cream. If I could have s'mores this way without having to singe arm hairs or smell like bonfire for days every time, I would. These were lovely ways to end the meal, and our thank yous go out to everyone at Sandy's HB and Cenci Ventures!

Photography by Duc Duong. More photos available on Facebook here.

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