This week’s obsession is from the kitchen of Executive Chef, Ben LaFleche, who has taken over the helm at the ocean view restaurant in The Waterfront Beach Resort in Huntington Beach. A simple dish of fresh clams and linguine with a bucket load of garlic and red chiles complemented by soulful acoustic guitarist Mike Kelsen who effortlessly reveals the depths of Johnny Cash’s soul and scales the heights of Jimi Hendrix’s fiery licks as you bask in the warmth of the flickering fire pit, hypnotized by the twinkling of lights surrounding the sapphire Elsa Peretti-esque water sculpture. Pure #bliss. Just make sure you share some of the
garlic pasta with your partner.
While I live in Huntington Beach, it has been some years since I dined or lounged poolside at the Waterfront Hilton, or rented a suite to celebrate a watershed event (aka mega party). A return was long overdue and prompted by a tasting dinner designed to introduce members of the media to the cuisine of one, Executive Chef Ben LaFleche.
The tasting began appropriately with a refreshing cocktail served in elegant flutes. The Lazy K is a blueberry infused vodka and lemonade quencher that would have a tendency to go down way too easy on a hot summer’s day. Yet, if your stay at the Waterfront Hilton begins with a Lazy K the world instantly becomes sunnier, even if you’re catching the last rays of what was surely another day in paradise.
Lazy K – refreshing lemonade cocktail poolside
Shades Restaurant & Bar is described as upscale American fusion cuisine, with an emphasis on quality, fresh and sustainable ingredients. A graduate of the Canadian Culinary Institute of Montreal, Executive Chef LaFleche honed his cooking skills and talents in the popular ski resort of Whistler, British Columbia where his passion for creative American cuisine was ignited.
Tastes of note were America’s favorite comfort food, Mac & Cheese, prepared here with Hook’s Four Years aged cheddar with a crunchy topping of crushed duck fat croutons. At Shades, the PB & J gets a grownup redux with bourbon peanut butter and jalapeño jelly and is definitely something I would order again – and school-age PB & Js are available
The Italian sausage risotto stuffed Piquillo peppers with chili aioli were pleasing to the eye with a perfect balance of meaty, piquant and spicy.
Among the entreés was a Pan-Seared Barramundi with lobster risotto, pickled black grapes and pea tendrils which worked surprisingly well, the fish was perfectly prepared and black grapes served as a nice counterpoint to the rich, creamy risotto and pea tendrils lend a fresh, spring component which brighten the plate and your palate.
On my return visit, the pan seared Diver Scallops with a warm shallot confit, Vadouvan yogurt – imparting a subtle curry flavor, and mizuna had a lively combination of flavors and was a perfect portion size for a delicious light meal with the Market Green salad, or any of the other salads on the menu. I enjoyed the special touch of sweet roasted tomatoes and shaved onions with sherry vinaigrette in the Market Green salad. I was torn between the Market salad and the Roasted Apple and Arugula Salad with spice pecans, aged cheddar, and bourbon maple vinaigrette and decided to keep it on the lighter side since I was firm on my choice of pasta. We shared the generous portion of Linguini and Clams Aglio e Olio (garlic and oil) which was distinguished by a touch of smoky heat from chipotle chiles and crunch from a sprinkle of crushed croutons – all was right with the world!
Canadian by birth and son of a butcher, food is in LaFleche’s blood – he “lives and breathes cooking” and being appointed executive chef is the culmination of his 12 years career at the Hilton, working his way up the culinary ladder. “I love being creative in the kitchen and adding seasonal items and unique dishes that you won’t find at other restaurants,” said LaFleche. “From appetizers to our special dishes using the ‘Ingredient of the Month’, I want to add my own flair and give guests a truly memorable dining experience. According to LaFleche, he has taken the Shades menu of American cuisine and elevated it, adding influences from all of North America. La Fleche’s French Canadian background can also be seen in the use of maple syrup and Poutine, the Canadian national dish.
As a side, the Waterfront Hilton has an interactive Facebook page. Changes to the menu are driven by feedback from guests, including the “Ingredient of the Month” – in January they received 285 suggestions – the person submitting the chosen ingredient wins lunch for 4 or a night’s stay in a standard guest room. Nice!
21100 Pacific Coast Highway
Huntington Beach, California 92648