I first visited Zimzala three years ago when it was opening and executive chef Jenny Cox was refining the California/Mediterranean menu for this new restaurant on the top floor of the Shorebreak Hotel in Huntington Beach.
I had a delicious meal and gave it a glowing review. I was looking forward to seeing how things were going now in the hands of chef Roy Hendrickson, and was delighted to find that the food was still excellent.
"Zimzala," in surf lingo, means a free-spirited person who finds peace with sand between his toes. The attractive room has large, colored photographs of surfers and locals on the walls. The space has a casual feeling. There's a comfortable lounge area next to the bar, three dining areas and tables on an outdoor patio that has an ocean view.
The menu offers a number of options depending on your appetite. You can get small bites, greens, flatbreads, between the bread, large bites and desserts.
We began with the Zimzala platter, giving us four different samples of the small bites. The hummus was really good, one of the best we've had. It had spicy undertones, a creamy texture and hints of garlic and was topped with crunchy roasted chickpeas.
The triangles of pita that had been lightly toasted were also especially good. We enjoyed the salad of marinated mozzarella and heirloom cherry tomatoes: red, green and yellow. The cheese was still a bit cold when it arrived, but it soon warmed and softened, and we could soak it up with the juices and the mildly spicy marinade.
Two grain salads, faro and couscous, were less interesting. The faro was just bland. It didn't seem to have any dressing at all, and only cubed carrots, onion and red pepper added a bit of flavor. The couscous was better after we added a dash of salt. It had grape halves that added sweetness and was infused with a light lemony flavor.
From the flatbread menu, we chose the one with duck breast, creamy mascarpone, thin slices of forelle pear, slivers of green onion and a gastrique of orange-teriyaki drizzled all over. It was sensational. The duck breast was thin slices of salty duck prosciutto that married perfectly with the sweet pears and melted mascarpone. We also liked the flatbread crust, which was crisp and flavorful.
Moving into the large bites, we were intrigued by the description of the accompanying ingredients with the cider-brined pork chop: a mélange of Nueske bacon, mustard-parsley spaetzle, caramelized onion and a sour cherry pork sauce.
The large, fat chop itself was as tender and juicy as it could be. Brining had softened the meat and left it moist. We could not remember a better one. The entrée was made even more delicious by the wonderful mixture of the salty bacon, soft little spaetzle, caramelly onions and tart-sweet cherry sauce.
Our other entree was the Moroccan chicken tagine. A tagine is a heavy, clay cooking pot that lends its name to the stew-like concoctions that are cooked in it. The Jidori chicken quarters were tender and moist and mixed with caramelized onions, carrots, little green Picholene olives and strips of preserved lemon rind.
All of this rested on a bed of couscous, which was a bit bland in itself but quickly absorbed the juices from the other ingredients. The dish had layers and layers of flavor from the many ingredients.
The desserts are as interesting as the rest of the menu and include virtual campfire — marshmallow fluff, graham crackers, smoked chocolate truffles and spiced hot chocolate — and the breakfast cereal trio, with "cinnamon toast crunch" ice cream "cookie crisp" ice cream and "cocoa puffs" ice cream.
We made our selection from a list of homemade ice creams, which included hatch chili ice cream and the one we chose, candied bacon and vanilla ice cream. The combo was good — after all, everything is better with bacon — but this candied bacon wasn't quite candied enough.
Zimzala is certainly one of the best places to dine in Huntington Beach.
TERRY MARKOWITZ was in the gourmet food and catering business for 20 years. She can be reached for comments or questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Where: Shorebreak Hotel, 500 E. Pacific Coast Hwy., Huntington Beach
When: 7 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday
Small bites and sandwiches: $6 to $15
Entrées: $17 to $33
Desserts: $4 to $8
Bottles: $26 to $155
Half bottles: $15 to $39
By the glass: $8 to $13
Corkage fee: $15
Information: (714) 960-5050 or restaurantzimzala.com