The soaring lobby feels a little sleepy as we climb the dramatic staircase that leads to Henry’s Coastal Cuisine. It’s still offseason, and soon-to-be-sunburned guests are weeks from checking in, but an eager crew is all smiles leading the way to a sprawling patio emanating sunset vibes. The scene is unpopulated, and the choice of tables is ours.
Of the six specialty cocktails, none seduce as the choices seem prosaic. Wines by the glass hold more appeal—a racy Loire Valley Vouvray, a Santa Barbara Chardonnay from Daou, or Whispering Angel rosé from Provence. Better still, they all cost less than those uninspiring cocktails.
Our genial server is a polished practitioner, being shadowed by a demure trainee—a hopeful sign Henry’s is prepping for a busy season. The server has the answer for every question, and I ask plenty given the menu descriptions are sometimes terse. Goat cheese fudge, for example. It’s a starter, but then what? His detailed description is convincing and leads to one of the menu’s most beguiling items. It’s an ingot of pale cheese blended with cauliflower you can’t see, but you can taste—it leavens the dense cheese and adds depth that plays off dots of electric blue spirulina aioli and a tiny top knot of caviar. It’s gorgeous to behold, lovely to consume, and surprisingly unorthodox. Executive chef Lewis Butler is the man behind the stunning appetizer. Helming Henry’s kitchen since September, he is cooking on the coast again after 11 years running the private dining show at the now-shuttered Center Club. Prior to that, he was the executive chef at Laguna Beach’s Surf and Sand Resort.
Markedly compact at 19 items, Butler’s menu here is seafood-heavy American fare you’ve seen throughout the county. Granted, locals don’t aim for the unconventional when heading to a Hilton, and tourists even less so. Choices are distilled to a shrewd core of can’t-lose favorites. Fresh oysters, iceberg wedge, roasted sea scallops, et cetera.
Yes, that goat cheese fudge is an outlier among mainstream options—and exactly why some will try it and others will avoid it. House-made sweet corn agnolotti is another standout starter of tiny pasta pockets filled with delicate fresh corn and napped with sage brown butter. Sautéed fresh spinach supplies a verdant counterpoint. Tender grilled octopus gets a hefty assist from roasted mushrooms and tiny potatoes.
Honey soy hamachi crudo is exquisitely plated but loud flavors of soy and romesco sauces overwhelm the thin slices of marinated yellowtail. Lobster bisque is downright dreamy, releasing its brandy-scented vapor as servers pour the satiny soup over fennel streusel. Wedge salad of baby iceberg outperforms with its elevated ranch dressing, crispy onions, and piece of regal Fourme d’Ambert cheese.
Given the menu’s tight format, Butler and team have little wiggle room for missteps, and entrees show mastery on many fronts. Crispy skin salmon arrives with a perfect crackling atop a rich fillet jazzed up with spinach horseradish purée. Sea bass, pan roasted, is lovely against saffron sauce, a note of tapenade and luscious marble potatoes confit. Scallops are precisely seared and paired with spring vegetable fricassee of saffron chorizo foam.
Vegetarians, Butler has your back with a stellar portobello Wellington, with a burnished puff pastry dome set off by Pinot-vegetable reduction. Two classic beef entrees conjure retro special occasion fare, the stuff of anniversaries and date nights. Beef Oscar’s filet is crowned with king crab wrapped in serrano ham and a sumptuous cloak of proper Béarnaise. Cotê de Boeuf is the quintessential treat á deux—a mighty bone-in ribeye plus a gratin of potatoes cooked in garlic cream. Desserts are enduring shoo-ins—crème brûlée with berries, Valrohna chocolate lava cake, and a mini cast iron skillet bearing a rustic apple croustade with the finest, most delicate restaurant pie crust on record.
While not having a dazzling ocean view equal to the balcony rooms overhead, the 100-seat setting is rich with lighted palm trees and beach vistas. There’s a glass-wrapped fire pit plus more intimate seating at the patio’s edge, not far from the over amplified musician. Live music is always a plus, but loud vocals certainly interfere with the relaxed vibe here. Adjusting the volume would be an easy remedy, maybe?
Henry’s is yet another new restaurant forged in the crucible of the epidemic. The Waterfront Resort refused to give up on launching its fine dining venue, battling reversals, setbacks, and erratic glitches that sunk other operations. Henry’s is hardly done refining itself, but it’s here to stay for laudable dining with surroundings so enviable, fellow diners come from states away.
Henry’s Coastal Cuisine
Waterfront Beach Resort, 21100 Pacific Coast Highway, Huntington Beach 714-845-8000
- Cauliflower goat cheese fudge
- Sweet corn agnolotti
- Lobster bisque
- Pan-roasted sea bass
- Rustic apple croustade
- Starters, $16 to $19;
- Entrees, $24 to $185;
- Desserts, $12 to $14
Weekend brunch begins this month.