We’re seated at a table at Bluegold—four hungry, thirsty adults. We take in the paint-box sunset behind the Huntington Beach pier, then switch to contemplating the menu’s vast culinary terrain. Open since November, Bluegold is the first Orange County project and latest restaurant from Blackhouse Hospitality, a Los Angeles group with venues in downtown, Culver City, and the South Bay. Tin Vuong, who once helmed the kitchens at Sapphire Laguna and the now-rebranded St. Regis, is its executive chef and co-founder. Jed Sanford is co-founder-CEO. Launching this glossy, glassy, big venue at a premium Pacific City site illustrates the team’s go-big-or-go-home swagger.
After 15 minutes, we finally order cocktails and return to studying the menu. “Yes, it’s a lot to process,” our waiter says. “We have eight other restaurants with different concepts, and the best dishes from each make it to Bluegold’s menu.” Back we go to building our order. Raw oysters or steak tartare? Pork jowls on black rice or crispy sweetbreads with gastrique? Uni risotto with hijiki or mighty lamb meatball and walnut romesco? Charcuterie or caviar?
Talk about culinary whiplash. And that’s just for the appetizers. Four warm milky buns accurately described as “fluffy clouds of heaven” are the meal’s first bites. Soothingly simple, the shiny rolls are ethereal on their own, hardly needing the flourish of hazelnut honey and citrus jam. Next is a generous small plate of crispy sweetbread medallions that isn’t overrich thanks to a drizzle of crushed roasted almonds in sherry, plus bits of honeycomb oozing earthy sweetness. In contrast, the teensy ribbon of bland steak tartare is memorable only for its lavosh cracker sidekick.
After an hour, the now-full room is roaring with sound bouncing off the glass walls. You have to shout merely to converse or place additional orders. To avoid becoming hoarse, sit at the calm but overlooked wood-burning fireplace patio tables. There’s no view, but once it’s dark, who cares?
Inconsistency plagues this dinner and the three that follow. Duck confit Milanese is imaginative and tantalizing—a rich, cured leg rolled in panko and flash-fried, served aside baby vegetables spiked with Thai chile and fresh mint. Though a perfect medium-rare, the “Vietnamese-style,” glazed 10-ounce New York strip includes some off-putting gristle. The burrata Neapolitan pizza, redolent of wood fire, delights with delicate squash blossoms, creamy cheese, sizzled rosemary, and dribbles of orange oil. Floppy in the center and blistered on the rim, the pie is so alluring that I go for the O.G. pizza on another visit. This one is Bluegold’s adept take on a margherita, with fior de latte mozzarella, roasted tomatoes, fresh basil, and a smidge of garlic. The lunch menu’s Cubano sandwich, brimming with roast pork, ham, and slab bacon, has the high-volume flavors this classic demands. Best performance by a single dish is a tie between albondiga—a lamb meatball braised in yogurt, sauced with an intense Indian spice romesco and partnered with remarkably authentic naan—and the bouillabaisse, with its expert broth, scads of shell and fin fish plus buttered bread for dunking or smearing with silky rouille.
From the Plates de Dujour section, fried chicken with baked beans and creamed corn is most curious. The beans are actually chili con carne and sport a roof of oily cheese. Creamy corn is run-of-the-mill. A paper minibucket bursts with both boned and boneless chicken so underfried that the meat is rubbery and the pale, peppery crust tastes of raw flour. I have no idea why it’s served with a pot of garlic aioli.
Desserts can be overwrought. I couldn’t resist the strawberry shortcake but should have. Despite the enticing elements of angel food cake, Bavarian cream, meringue kisses, berry gelee, and fresh berries, the assemblage never coalesces into lusciousness. For those who must have chocolate, the flashy signature 64-percent cocoa, dark-chocolate pave, with its iridescent blue-gold leafing, has deep character but needs a larger serving of the accompanying kirsch ice cream to offset the cocoa’s chalkiness.
An enterprise this massive demands an army of staff, but coordination between kitchen, dining room, bar, and reception lacks polish and symmetry. Servers can be invisible or ever present, glib or insightful. Waits between orders can be inexcusably long. Yet tables are bussed with great efficiency. Checking in at the cramped hostess station creates an awkward bottleneck that doesn’t allow for a real welcome. A poor start for any meal.
With 230 ocean-view seats and three meals a day, Bluegold must work hard for a mass audience. Though it falls short, it shows ambition and promise. The question is how much does this matter to date-nighters, ocean-entranced tourists, and special-occasion splurgers who value dazzle more than depth?
As if its mission isn’t challenge enough, this flagship is also home to LSXO, the 28-seat Vietnamese hideaway that’s as slyly intimate as Bluegold is sprawling and bright. LSXO’s dishes are personal, focused, and dazzling. Alas, this covert gem deserves its own review, so stay tuned for details.
Blue and Gold
21016 Pacific Coast Highway
Photographs by Priscilla Iezzi