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The Gossiping Gourmet: Not enough Spark at acclaimed restaurant

May 29, 2013|By Terry Markowitz
  • Spark Woodfire Grill's crab cake appetizer.
Spark Woodfire Grill's crab cake appetizer. (KEVIN CHANG, HB…)

Over the years, I have found that the best dining in Huntington Beach is often in strip malls away from the center of town: small, chef-owned, ethnic places that have great food at modest prices. However, when I was searching for a place to review there, I discovered that Spark Woodfire Grill was voted the best restaurant in Huntington Beach by the Orange County Restaurant Assn. Of course, that recommendation meant we had to give it a try.

Located high (one story) above Coast Highway in the heart of the downtown just off the main drag, it has an expansive view of the ocean through the tops of the palm trees, and its loftier location keeps you from having to watch the sea through the busy traffic, both of cars and beachgoers below. In summer, downtown Huntington is one gigantic mob scene, so it was nice to find us far from the madding crowd.

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It is an attractive space with two dining rooms, a pleasant bar area with a separate martini menu boasting 50 different types of "martinis" and a large glassed-in, heated, outdoor terrace with a fire pit at one end. The décor is contemporary with lots of pale wood paneling and planked floors, big windows facing the water, tones of beige and brown and white linens on the tables.

We sipped our wine and munched on some fluffy rolls while we watched the sun go down and perused the menu. Our waiter suggested the black mussels, and they were wonderful. Plump and juicy, sweet and tender, they came in a big bowl of an amazing, thick tomato broth. It was full of onions, chunky tomato bits, basil and red pepper. It had a pleasant amount of heat but not enough to overpower the very fresh tasting mussels. It would have been great on its own as a soup. Luckily, it came with a spoon so, after devouring the mussels, you could yum up some more of the elixir.

Equally good was the crab cake. Resting on a cornhusk was a baseball-sized round with a crispy, barely crusted exterior and an interior of very fresh crab mixed with some breading and a little spice. It came with a zippy tomato sauce and a delicious fresh corn and red pepper salad.

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