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Gossiping Gourmet: Hotel chefs' creativity is best in the starters

January 05, 2011|By Elle Harrow and Terry Markowitz
  • Roasted chicken tortilla soup with avocado, pico de gallo and tortilla strips at The Californian at the Hyatt Regency Huntington Beach.
Roasted chicken tortilla soup with avocado, pico de gallo… (SCOTT SMELTZER,…)

Hotel restaurants are often quite pricey and the food is frequently mediocre. With a few exceptions, like the Montage, locals tend to dine elsewhere. However, the Californian at the Hyatt in Huntington Beach is a surprising contradiction to this popular assumption. This huge, imposing hotel overlooking the ocean boasts a restaurant that has very tasty food at reasonable prices, while daytime diners have the benefit of a spacious terrace, complete with towering palms, gurgling fountains, large fire pit and a beautiful view.

On a chilly evening, the capacious dining room offers a roaring fire and cozy upholstered armchairs. The décor is "classic hotel" patterned carpets, potted palms and traditional-style furnishings.

Our first clue that dinner was not going to be run-of-the-mill was the presentation of the best focaccia we have had in years. Actually house-made, rather than just house-warmed, the hot bread came in two varieties, garlic and olive rosemary. Both had a real crust and a dense chewy interior, and both had excellent flavor, one with subtle garlic overtones and the other with robust green olives and a pretty sprig of pungent rosemary.

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Good bread always puts us in a good mood, as did the very generous pour of our well-priced glasses of wine. Sipping and munching as we looked over the menu, we noticed that it, like the décor, is fairly traditional, but on a more careful reading, we were pleased to see some creative touches such as the appetizer of chili spiced lamb chops, served with Greek yogurt and sumac; while the green salad is embellished with dried cherries, toasted pumpkin, seeds, pickled red onion and a honey, white truffle vinaigrette.

We warmed up with chicken tortilla soup. The charming presentation featured a bowl with a tangle of thin, crispy tortilla strips, avocado, pico de gallo and slices of roasted chicken. The server then poured the hot broth from a ceramic carafe, so that the chicken was not overcooked and the chips remained crunchy. The thickened soup had a wonderful flavor that left a lingering heat on the tongue without being too spicy.

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