The Gossiping Gourmet: Great food, and all that jazz

We are always finding delightful small restaurants in Huntington Beach's plethora of strip malls. Several friends told us about the Black Trumpet Bistro, saying the food was uniformly good, so we tried it last Saturday night. They don't take reservations, so plan on a wait. Even though we got there at 6:15, there were 10 people standing outside and the hostess said it would be at least half an hour for a table. We stood just inside the door so we could watch the dishes as they were served, and they all looked good.

The décor was mainly photographs and paintings of famous jazz musicians, and jazz was playing in the background. There is the long counter with tall chairs across from the open kitchen as well as banquettes along the walls. The décor is simple and attractive, and the atmosphere is casual and friendly.

When we were finally seated by the very busy but pleasant waitress, we were quite ready to eat. The menu is primarily Mediterranean and features a long tapas list in addition to eight entrees and a few specials. We nibbled on warm pita bread and a dish of olive oil suffused with herbs for dipping while we tried to decide among the many appealing selections.

There are several pizzettas to choose from, and we selected the figa. The thin crisp crust of the flatbread was covered with caramelized onions, sweet figs and a sprinkle of feta cheese. It was finished with a sweet balsamic vinegar reduction, drizzled on the flatbread. It was a big hit. Our neighbors at the next table were raving about the truffle fries, and although they weren't what you would normally have as starter, they were irresistible. The truffle part, which I assume was truffle oil, was really almost undetectable, but the fries didn't need it. They were thin and very crispy, some of the best in recent memory.

Pan-roasted duck breast was also a tapas offering, but we found the duck to be underseasoned. It came with a sweet pomegranate reduction but simply didn't stand up on its own.

The entrees are named after jazz greats like Satchmo Bouillabaisse or Duke Egyptian Chicken. My favorite dining companion had the Ella, which was a lamb shank. The lamb was meltingly tender and came in a meaty red wine reduction dotted with whole figs. It was served with a delicious rice pilaf sweetened with white raisins. On the side were slices of perfectly roasted yellow and green squash accented with caramelized onions, as well as grilled asparagus spears. It was a wonderful dish.

When we were standing around waiting to be seated, I had spotted some very tasty-looking steak kabobs; alas, when I was about to order them for my entrée, I heard the waiter say to the woman next to me that she had gotten the last one. So I opted for the chicken kabob instead. It was really bland. It did not seem to be seasoned and had no taste of the grill. It came with a rice pilaf. The dish was somewhat redeemed by the kabob of vegetables that accompanied it. It had some wonderful sweet yellow peppers that wore a nice char, as did the onions. A tzatziki sauce of yogurt, cucumbers, salt and olive oil added flavor.

Rather than a dessert menu, there is a dessert tray from which you may select the grand finale to your meal. Our choice was a layered mousse with dark chocolate on the bottom and white chocolate on the top. It was sinfully delicious, all creamy and smooth and hard to stop eating.

There are 25 tapas selections as well as salads in addition to the entrees. We will definitely be back to explore some of the other treats like caponata, lamb lollipops, house-made falafel or veal meatballs.

The Black Trumpet is the kind of restaurant we all would like to have in our neighborhood.

TERRY MARKOWITZ was in the gourmet food and catering business for 20 years. She can be reached for comments or questions at m_markowitz@cox.net.

The Black Trumpet Bistro

Where: 18344 Beach Blvd., Huntington Beach

When: Tuesday-Thursday: 11:30-9:30, Friday: 11:30- 10 p.m.,

Saturday: 4:30 -10 p.m., Sunday: 4:30- 9 p.m.

Prices:

Appetizers: $4 to $10

Entrées: $12 to $23

Desserts: $7.50

Wine:

Bottles: $21 to $80

By the glass: $6 to $7

Corkage fee: $12

Information: (714) 842-1122 or theblacktrumpetbistro.com

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