When you eat out as often as my friendsand I do, you inevitably revert into a set routine. Someone always opts for the salmon, another zooms in on the scallops, while I gravitate to whatever red meat is on the menu, usually the steak (even better if it contains the word "Kobe").
Most new American restaurants are all but complicit in perpetuating our behavior, as they seem to predictably offer salmon, scallops, steak and chicken—the four time-tested proteins of the trade. My conspiracy theory is there must be a book out there called How to Succeed in the Restaurant Biz, with a first chapter titled "Four Proteins Your Customer Wants to Eat." If I didn't already know that chef John Gladish (formerly of N9NE Steakhouse and the Regent Beverly Wilshire) was behind the menu at Flight Bistro, I'd say that owner Steven Chu has read that book.
And if there is a page on how to decorate your restaurant so that Carrie Bradshaw could sip a Cosmo and look ravishing, Chu also followed it. That's where the "Social Lounge" part of Flight Bistro's name comes in. There are candlelit, leather-cushioned sitting areas. In the middle of the room, a handsome bar dominates, with dangling panes of frosted, ice-blue glass. To set the mood, a DJ pumps out groovy tunes from a podium.
All of it made me feel a bit underdressed and nerdy, especially when the more fashion-savvy diners started to arrive after 9. But when it comes to food, Gladish and Chu had us pegged. They know what we like, and we fell into old habits the minute we saw those preferred proteins listed as entrÃ©es.
Although I neglected to notice it read "Kobe-style," not "Kobe," my steak was terrific. The hyphen meant the cow was American wagyu, which doesn't have the clout of its Japanese cousin. But what it lacks in marketing panache, it makes up for in flavor. Its crust was broiled to a dark caramel; its interior, bloody as hell. Each slice I took of this neat oval of meat was as pristine and tender as the previous. The juice that bled out mingled with the puddle of red-wine reduction beneath, turning it into an even-tastier dipping medium for the side of fries.
The salmon my buddy ordered was perfectly pan-roasted, served rocket-hot with a moist, pink center. It sat on a creamy, mashed-potato base; was crowned with warmed spinach leaves; and sprinkled with salty bits of rendered pancetta. I sampled a forkful and spent the rest of the night eyeing it longingly from across the table, waiting for an offer of another bite that never came.
As for the scallops, I didn't have to ask for a sample—my other tablemate practically pushed it over to me, half-finished. After a taste, I knew why: They were overcooked, the only error in an otherwise-spectacular dish. The asparagus snapped with the vibrancy of spring. The sautéed wild mushrooms distilled the lushness of forests. And the "shellfish reduction" made me want to lick the plate clean. Too bad all I could think about was how the scallops chewed like pencil erasers.
For entrée supplements, there were well-executed but conventional starters of ahi tuna tartare, shrimp ceviche, seared hamachi, even burgers and flatbreads. (The latter is, of course, a way to say you do pizzas without saying you do pizzas.) A nice diversion came in the form of charcuterie and cheeses. It's a worldly list, with lofty names such as Saint Andre, Piave Vecchio, Bresaola and Sopressata, and you can pick your choice of cured meat or cheese in quantities of three or five. But since we'd be paying the same amount, we went for all charcuterie. It was shaved as thin as tissue, served with pickled cornichons, strawberries, mustard and toasted bread drizzled with olive oil. The chorizo burned with hot pepper; the jamon serrano was permeated with the musty aroma of the old room it was aged in.
For desserts, Chu goes Asian. Elements such as lychee, green tea and ginger touched each item. Although the chocolate-and-marshmallow spring rolls clashed with their passion-fruit dipping sauce, it was still a great choice. Why? Well, since it had to be eaten separately, we effectively got two desserts for the price of one. Now there's something definitely not condoned in the ol' restaurant-biz playbook.
Flight Bistro & Social Lounge, 8082 Adams Ave., Huntington Beach, (714) 374-8300; www.flightoc.com. Open daily for "Starter Specials," 4-6 p.m.; dinner, Tues.-Sun., 5-10 p.m.; late-night menu, Fri.-Sat., 10 p.m.-midnight. Dinner for two, $60-80, excluding drinks. Full bar.
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