Chef Jamie Ngo is a talented young chef with serious credentials, including Le Cordon Bleu, the Bazaar (a bastion of molecular gastronomy) in Beverly Hills, the Polo Lounge and the Ritz-Carlton in Pasadena. She now presides over her own kitchen at Scraps in Huntington Beach, serving an inventive fusion menu of small plates.
Once again, we note that Huntington Beach appears to have more new, small, chef-driven restaurants than anywhere else in Orange County. The menu has many intriguing combinations that just beg to be tasted, and unusual variations on more familiar dishes.
We never did get to try the mini kim chili Kobe dogs with roasted garlic aioli, or the deviled quail eggs filled with salmon and topped with apple chutney, but we did begin our adventure with chicken bits and hearts, fried in cornstarch batter, tossed with five-spice powder and chili. If you've never tried deep-fried chicken hearts, here's the place to get started. They were delicious with just a nice bit of chewiness and the flavor of dark-meat chicken. The coating was very light and crunchy. The "bits" were little scraps of dark meat prepared in the same manner, and the portion was very generous.
Alongside these, we munched on a basket of thin, crispy potato and taro chips that came with a terrific cilantro, jalapeno aioli dip. It was so tasty that we dipped the bits and hearts in it too with great results. Taro, like potato, is a root vegetable and, when thinly sliced, also makes a great chip with a slightly more distinctive flavor than potato.
Chicken and waffles is an old soul food dish, combining fried chicken with waffles and maple syrup on both. It has recently become a trendy treat. Chef Jamie, with her Asian heritage, has come up with a rather unique version, substituting ginger-glazed chicken wings for battered fried chicken and adding the unusual touch of kim chi flavor to her Belgian waffles. The addition of a fermented spicy ingredient to a waffle takes some getting used to. The wings in a Korean barbecue sauce were good but messy.
Kim chi popped up again more fortuitously in roasted pork belly tacos, where it was combined with radish and onion to top the tender pork, which was meaty, not fatty and had an excellent crispy skin. The soft tacos were brushed with a spicy, subtly sweet sauce that completed this satisfying dish.
There is a nice seafood selection as well, including octopus ceviche and seared salmon with creamy soba and mushrooms. Coconut crab cakes were served with Thai basil aioli. The pan-fried patties were full of crab with just a hint of coconut but seemed a bit undercooked. Once again, the aioli dip was addictive.
There's not a small-plate menu around that doesn't include sliders. Scraps' version uses rib eye, cooked in its house secret sauce that reminded us of sweet barbecue sauce. The meat was topped with pineapple slaw and pickled leeks and stuffed into mini Hawaiian sweet bread rolls. Our only complaint was that the meat was over-sauced.
Only the desserts don't reflect the fusion theme: New York cheesecake, panna cotta, lemon sorbet and coffee crème brulée comprise the list. Even though the crème didn't have much coffee flavor, it was creamy, luscious and not overly sweetened. We particularly liked the fact that the burnt sugar topping was expertly prepared, dark and crunchy.
The long, narrow room with floor-to-ceiling glass on three sides has a distinctly contemporary feel. There is a separate lounge area in the rear with a bright red S-shaped light fixture adding an atmospheric glow. In the main dining area, there is an anachronistic antique wood mantle surrounding a faux fireplace, in front of which are two low armchairs with '50s retro fabric. The rest of the room is very simple and modern.
Chef Jamie has created an innovative take on a small-plate menu with lots of tasty fusion food.
ELLE HARROW and TERRY MARKOWITZ were in the gourmet food and catering business for 20 years. They can be reached for comments or questions at email@example.com.
Where: 7862 Warner Ave. No. 110, Huntington Beach
When: 4 to 11 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday
Small plates: $5 to $10
Desserts: $6 to $8
Glass: $6 to $13
Bottle: $18 to $48
Corkage fee: $6