When the sun dips down behind the water in Huntington Beach, there’s a perfect place to take in the shimmering blue-gold hues as the day fades into night—and it naturally bears the name of the colors that surround it. Yes, that spot is Bluegold, the stellar new restaurant at Pacific City from acclaimed chef Tin Vuong and Jed Sanford. It’s the ninth dining concept in their L.A.-based culinary empire, and the first in O.C. But Vuong is no stranger to our shores: He hails from the beloved Monarch Beach Resort and Sapphire Laguna, and his newest baby is 8,800 square feet of decadence in the form of coastal cuisine (think oysters and sea urchin and New York strip steaks), with a restaurant within a restaurant; a hip, hot vibe; and, of course, an ocean view to live for. The restaurant is a gorgeous build-out with an impressive glassed-in kitchen, and a design that honors the beauty and rusticity of early Spanish missions. You’ll find heavy wood doors, limestone and leather, a trendsetting bar and grand tables for large-party dining. And behind an unmarked door in a corner of the vast space, just next to the wine cellar, you’ll find the chef’s clandestine LSXO, an offshoot of his Little Sister in L.A.—but created specifically for O.C. There are only 28 seats and a homestyle Vietnamese menu with offerings deeply rooted in Vuong’s culinary-focused childhood.
But back to Bluegold. I had the gastronomic pleasure of dining for both lunch and dinner (breakfast is also served), and there’s much to say about Vuong’s global approach to the menu and the vibrant energy that expands from the interior dining room to the exterior patio and beyond.
Begin with a punch or an elixir from the cheeky cocktail menu, with its lineup of liquors and syrups infused in-house. Or tap a beer on draft from the loyal list of local finds. Pair your swill with a few picks from the massive menu, like the bloody mary oyster shooters from the raw bar. They’re divine, spicy and topped with fried uni chips for a briny, umami addition to an already licentious slurp. Then there are the Alaskan snow crab legs with hot mustard (indulgent!)
and a colossal shrimp cocktail with a gin-infused dipping sauce.
When it comes to appetizers, trust me when I say that you won’t want to miss the milk rolls. There are really no words for these ethereal, hot-out-of-the-oven, superflaky biscuits served with honeycomb butter and thyme sea salt. They’ll take you to another place, another time, another planet. They’re that good. Chase them with more indulgence, like the uni risotto.
Rich, creamy and laden with hijiki seaweed, the risotto is outlandishly decadent even before the chef gilds the lily with a copious amount of Santa Barbara sea urchin. A final flourish? A truffle vinaigrette and a poached egg. If that’s not enough to impress, Vuong rounds out his apps with roasted bone marrow and escargot; a savory wild mushroom toast; and dishes that sing with an amalgamation of flavors from France, Spain and Asia.
Oh, the gluttony will continue if you partake in an offering from the steam kettle menu: Both the red and white clam chowders are spot-on delicious, and the pan roast is chock-full of seafood decadence, with oysters, clams, shrimp and scallops in a rich tomato broth.
Entrees come by way of Indian-spiced pork short ribs and the pork cheek sugo. The latter is piggy perfection, complete with handmade noodles and wilted greens for a complex flavor explosion. There’s also pizza from the hearth oven and gifts from the wood-burning grill. The Vietnamese-style New York strip steak is basted in a brown butter soy reduction and served with a chili-lime fish sauce and a salad of herbaceous mint and chilies. And a bevy of wagyu beef selections deliver true
For a sweet ending, try the Key lime pie. Its fresh filling, tender crust and impeccable meringue will leave you on a heavenly note—as will the epiphany that Orange County is a rising star in the food world, thanks to Vuong’s Midas touch. His menu’s depth of flavor, intrigue and creativity reach far past our horizon—and prove that this restaurant is going for the gold.
21016 Pacific Coast Highway, Huntington Beach, 714.374.0038
Appetizers, $5-$18; raw bar and oysters, $5-$32; steam kettles, $12-$18; vegetables and salads, $8-$14; entrees and pizza, $12-$120; sides and sauces, $2-$11; dessert, $8
Originally published in the March issue of Modern Luxury Orange County