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The Corner

This understated Huntington Beach restaurant makes a big impression.

Chef/owner Chris Grodach

Get a Taste  
Drop in at The Corner,
8961 Adams Ave.,
Huntington Beach.
:: thecornerhb.com

One does not stumble upon The Corner accidentally. Most events that lead to The Corner, located in a shopping center on a busy but unremarkable thoroughfare in Huntington Beach, are fraught with happenstance and coincidence, a combination of chance, geography and good luck.

Our circumstances involved a movie. It ended late. Everything was closed, and we were hungry. An iPhone search for nearby restaurants revealed Carl’s Jr., McDonald’s and The Corner – an unknown. Going out on a culinary limb, as we often do, we decided on The Corner, whose website advertised “eclectic eats and cocktails” – two very good signs – and the clincher: kitchen hours on Friday and Saturday until midnight.

It was with some difficulty that we found The Corner, which turned out to be hiding in plain sight. There’s little fanfare about its location on the corner of Adams and Magnolia, save the yellow entryway. There’s even less fanfare about the interior, which is sparsely decorated and has the faint but unmistakable odor of a dive bar. But we noticed other things, too. We noticed that The Corner represents what we see as the future of restaurants – understated places with a hyper-local crowd and a pedigreed chef.

Restaurant dining has been going in this direction for a while now, with the decline of formal, expensive eateries in favor of casual, small-plate, reasonably priced restaurants. The evolution began in earnest with the gastropub (The Crowbar & Kitchen, Haven Gastropub, SideDoor) and evolved into innovative chef-run, food-centric, quasi-experiments (The Playground, Iron Press, Three Seventy Common) and is now something even less definable. In broad strokes, it involves a talented chef-owner, an off-the-beaten-track location and a wide-ranging menu, complemented by artisanal beers and innovative cocktails. It’s a recipe that works well for ambitious, independently minded chefs, of which Chris Grodach, the owner of The Corner and former chef at The Montage Beverly Hills, is one.

For one, his restaurant makes a cocktail called the Dirty Pickle, made with vodka, gin and pickle juice, served “up” – like a dill-flavored martini. There’s also the Antioxidant Intoxicant, which layers powerhouse flavor and health ingredients such as cucumber, basil and mint with acai-infused spirits and vodka, all ensconced in one large Mason jar and tasting of tart, herb-scented bliss with berry overtones. (It must be good for you.)

Inspired by these delicious concoctions, we set out to peruse the menu. The first item listed – 48 hour fries – is not listed first because it begins with a number and therefore comes first in an alphabetical lineup. One discovers relatively quickly upon ordering these fries that they’re listed first because they’re the best. Of medium thickness and a perfect golden color, the fries were not dense and overly potato-y, but had just the right amount of substance and surface-to-insides ratio. To top it all off, the housemade ketchup was divine, a sauce on the savory side of the ketchup spectrum. This affinity was surprising to no one more than myself, who has never met a housemade ketchup I liked, nor found one that bests tried-and-true Heinz. This one did both.

Next up: Spinach and cheese fondue. It may sound like a version of the terrifying fat globule known as spinach-artichoke dip, but rest assured that this version’s mission in life is not to make you fat, but to make your flavor receptors happy. For one, you can actually taste the three cheeses that go into its construction (aged white cheddar, aged provolone and parmesan), and the spinach and artichoke appear as if they actually came from a garden at some point, and not from a can of unknown age. Ahi tuna tar tar tostadas fared much the same in our let’s-see-if-this-place-really-is-different test. We’ve had some pretty terrible tuna tartares in our time – ones that we were all but positive would end badly in a bathroom somewhere – but Grodach’s was as fresh as fresh could be, accentuating the quality of the raw tuna with jalapeño, citrus slices, avocado, and prawn remoulade, all piled on top of a crunchy tostada.

There’s also a heavy comfort food influence at The Corner, found in abundance in dishes such as the gnocchi mac ‘n’ cheese and housemade garlic noodles. The former, sprinkled with artichoke hearts and sundried tomato and covered in melted parmesan, is heavenly in its creaminess and expertly crafted, melt-in-your-mouth potato dumplings. The garlic noodles take on an international flair with the addition of Chinese cabbage, Spanish chorizo and cilantro that somehow works wonders. There’s something about the thick ribbons of garlic-coated noodles, the crunch of the cabbage, the spice of the chorizo, and the floral quality of the cilantro that form a complete dish in every sense – something at which Grodach is exceptionally adept. This talent is also found in the Korean barbecue chicken served with large lettuce leaves for wrapping and a variety of raw vegetable accompaniments, as well as a cilantro-garlic emulsion. A block-cut New York steak marks the obligatory meat lover’s item on the menu, and is likely to earn the approval of the discerning carnivore with its thick profile, drizzle of red wine glacé and serving of parmesan-garlic fries alongside.

And then, if you can handle it, there’s dessert – a selection of one or two of Grodach’s musings of the moment. We’ve tried the peach crisp, made using fresh-off-the-tree peaches and topped with buttery crumble and melting vanilla ice cream, as well as a peanut butter and jelly sundae, which, fittingly, is the perfect reflection of The Corner, and of Grodach’s real talent: creating playful, whimsical dishes that look good, taste good and most importantly, just feel good.

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