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Chimayo, Where Eating Well Is Easy

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

In Huntington Beach, the art of Sunday brunch is highly cultivated.

Chimayo at the Beach is at the foot of the pier, graced with an unobstructed view of the pounding surf. Arrive here any way you like--by bicycle, on a skateboard or in your new Boxster convertible. No matter the mode of transport, what awaits is the imaginative nouvelle Southwestern cuisine on which restaurateur David Wilhelm built his empire.

Chimayo at the Beach’s stylish space does the most with its beach-level digs. The low-slung rattan ceiling would be at home inside the hull of a frigate, and one wall is emblazoned with a mural that looks as if both Paul Gauguin and Diego Rivera had a hand in its design.

On Sunday mornings, when the bar is lined with regulars who have come to nurse drinks like the spicy Hornitas, 100% agave Bloody Mary or a pulpy, sweet mango mimosa served in a tall flute, the restaurant is relatively quiet. That’s precisely when I like to secure a table on the patio.

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Eating well here is easy. First you’ll be plied with a basket of slightly over-baked focaccia spiked with cumin and jalapeno with a Halloween orange garlic and ancho chili butter to smear on the bread. Next you’re handed a four-item brunch menu for your consideration, which is more breakfast- than lunch-oriented.

The best entry is what the restaurant calls creme brulee French toast, a fat, fluffy French toast served with fresh raspberries, maple syrup and hickory-smoked bacon. The bacon is rather ordinary, but the French toast is wonderful. It’s about 8 inches high, gloriously eggy and absolutely decadent when splashed with real maple syrup and melted butter.

Then there are two riffs on eggs Benedict, one a filet mignon Benedict with a chipotle pepper bearnaise, the other built around smoked turkey. Have the steak, for a variety of reasons. For one thing, the dish is composed partly of two halved English muffins, so you get two tender medallions of beef instead of one. Furthermore, the mildly smoky chipotle adds a nice dimension to the bearnaise. But what is really relevant is that the smoked turkey comes in tired patty form, imparting a plebeian cast to what is supposedly a patrician dish.

The last brunch entry is a nice omelet made with cremini mushrooms, sharp cheddar nicely melted in the center and enough fresh spinach to make the whole thing look as green as mulch. These last three also come with cheddar jalapeno potatoes, a cheesy, heavy variation on scalloped potatoes that seems too heavy for breakfast, or for anyone who had a hard Saturday night.

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Finish off your Sunday extravaganza by ordering one of Chimayo’s wonderfully creamy ice creams like tequila raisin. If you crave more indulgence, try the warm Mexican chocolate brownie sundae with Spanish peanuts, vanilla bean ice cream, whipped cream and chocolate sauce.

The restaurant also serves a variety of fine spirits, such as the trendy Pyrat XO Reserve rum from Anguilla in the Caribbean. One snifter and you are ready to skateboard all the way home.

Chimayo at the Beach, 315 Pacific Coast Highway, Huntington Beach. (714) 374-7273. Sunday brunch is served from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. The brunch specials range from $8.95 to $14.95.


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