The soaring lobby looks a bit sleepy as we ascend the dramatic staircase that leads to Henry’s Coastal Cuisine. It’s still low season, and soon-to-be sunburned guests are weeks away from check-in, but an eager crew are all smiles and lead the way to an expansive patio that gives off sunset vibes. The stage is deserted and the choice of tables is up to us.
Of the six specialty cocktails, none appeals as the choices seem prosaic. Wines by the glass are more appealing – a racy Vouvray from the Loire Valley, a Santa Barbara Chardonnay from Daou or a Whispering Angel rosé from Provence. Best of all, they all cost less than those uninspiring cocktails.
Our awesome server is a polished practitioner, followed by a wise intern – a hopeful sign that Henry’s is gearing up for a busy season. The waiter has the answer to every question, and I’m asking a lot given that the menu descriptions are sometimes terse. Goat cheese fondant, for example. It’s an entry, but after what? His detailed description is compelling and leads to one of the most enticing items on the menu. It’s a slug of pale cheese mixed with cauliflower that you can’t see, but can taste – it lifts the dense cheese and adds depth that plays off dots of blue spirulina aioli electric and a small top knot of caviar. It’s beautiful to behold, enjoyable to consume, and surprisingly unorthodox. Executive chef Lewis Butler is the man behind the superb appetizer. Head of Henry’s kitchen since September, he’s cooking on the coast again after 11 years running the now closed Center Club’s private dining show. Prior to that, he was the Executive Chef of the Surf and Sand Resort in Laguna Beach.
Remarkably compact at 19 items, Butler’s menu is made up of American seafood dishes you’ve seen all over the county. Granted, locals don’t aim for the unconventional when heading to a Hilton, and tourists even less so. The choices are distilled into a nifty core of can’t-miss favorites. Fresh oysters, wedge of iceberg, roasted sea scallops, etc.
Yes, this goat cheese fudge is an outlier among mainstream options – and exactly why some will try it and others will avoid it. Another standout starter is the homemade sweet corn agnolotti, tiny pockets of pasta filled with delicate fresh corn and smothered in sage brown butter. Fresh sautéed spinach provides a leafy counterpoint. The tender grilled octopus is well helped by roasted mushrooms and baby potatoes.
The honey and soy hamachi crudo is deliciously plated, but the strong flavors of the soy and romesco sauces overwhelm the thin slices of marinated amberjack. The lobster bisque is downright dreamy, releasing its brandy-flavored vapor as waiters pour the satiny soup over the fennel streusel. The baby iceberg wedge salad outshines with its elevated ranch dressing, crispy onions and chunk of royal Fourme d’Ambert cheese.
Given the menu’s tight format, Butler and his team have little wiggle room for missteps, and the entrees show mastery on many fronts. Crispy-skinned salmon arrives with perfect crispiness on a rich fillet topped with a spinach horseradish mash. Sea bass, roasted in a pan, is delightful on a saffron sauce, a note of tapenade and succulent marbled confit potatoes. Scallops are seared with precision and served with a spring vegetable fricassee of saffron chorizo foam.
Vegetarians, Butler has you covered with a stellar Portobello Wellington, with a browned puff pastry dome highlighted by a Pinot and vegetable reduction. Two classic beef dishes evoke retro dishes for special occasions, birthday and date night stuff. Oscar’s beef tenderloin is crowned with king crab wrapped in Serrano ham and a sumptuous wrapper of good Béarnaise. Cotê de Boeuf is the ultimate treat for two – a powerful bone-in sirloin and potato gratin cooked in garlic cream. Desserts are enduring shoo-ins – berry creme brulee, Valrohna chocolate lava cake, and a mini cast iron skillet wearing rustic apple crisp with the thinnest, most delicate restaurant pie crust ever.
While not having a dazzling ocean view equal to the balcony rooms above, the 100-seat setting is rich with lit palm trees and beach views. There’s a glass-enclosed fireplace and more intimate seating at the edge of the patio, not far from the over-amplified musician. Live music is always a plus, but loud voices certainly interfere with the relaxed vibe here. Adjusting the volume would be an easy remedy, perhaps?
Henry’s is yet another new restaurant forged in the crucible of the epidemic. The Waterfront Resort has refused to back down from launching its fine dining restaurant, battling reversals, setbacks and erratic issues that have sunk other operations. Henry’s has barely finished refining itself, but it’s here to stay for a commendable dinner in a setting so enviable that fellow diners come from other states.
Henry’s Coastal Kitchen
Waterfront Beach Resort, 21100 Pacific Coast Highway, Huntington Beach 714-845-8000
- Cauliflower Goat Cheese Fondant
- Sweet corn agnolotti
- Lobster bisque
- Seared sea bass
- Rustic apple crisp
- Appetizers, $16 to $19;
- Appetizers, $24 to $185;
- Desserts, $12 to $14
FOR YOUR INFORMATION
The weekend brunch starts this month.