Here's the thing about me and food: I can pretty much go either way. No, seriously: given the choice between a $35 Kobe beef burger and, say, Kraft Macaroni & Cheese (sans the "cheese" and sauted in Grey Poupon with carrots and onions—my specialty), I'm likely to smack my lips at both dishes. I blame this on my lack of a discerning palate, and it affects other areas of my life too: Why bother with olive oil when you can get the job done with a little Pam? Who cares about imported beers when Miller High Life tastes just as good? And those "California rolls" at 7-Eleven? Mmm . . . gooey. And delicious.
So maybe I'm not the best gal to tell you where to eat or why. But I do have impeccable taste when it comes to friends.
Nearly every single one of my friends can cook—some better than others, some with more passion and flair than the next—and at least one or two are deliriously obsessed with the culinary world. And so it happened that I invited Marc (owns and regularly uses a mandolin; has been known to describe food as "sexy") and Yen (world traveler; Asian food expert) to dine with me at Biggs, one of the more recent additions to Second Street, Long Beach's mecca for hungry hipsters.
And here's what I have to say about it: Biggs is super fantastisch.
And Marc and Yen, for the most part, agree. More on this in a second.
Located in the same nook that used to house the upscale Shenandoah Cafe, Biggs sticks out like a New York hot spot squeezed in between a row of unassuming mom-and-pop stores. Flickering candles and low-lit halogen lights offset sleek lines and dark textures in the interior; the tables are crammed close together; the silent wait staff hovers in the shadows; the menu comprises pricey, appetizer-sized dishes—and you're expected to order at least two of them. If you're like me, you'll feel cool by association just because you're eating somewhere that isn't a studio apartment, and you'll even be more than fine with paying $18 for three scallops because, hell, when else are you going to eat scallops? If you're like Marc and Yen, you'll agree that the inside is pretty cool, but you may be underwhelmed by the service—it can be slow and somewhat perplexing; my superb blackberry mojito was unfortunately taken away when it was still half-full—and a little disappointed at times with the dishes.
But that's why it's so great that appetites—like intelligent minds—can disagree. Whereas I thought that the seafood in parchment ($17)—leeks, sea beans, ginger, corn, mussels, scallops and shrimp all cooked in a tiny brown bag—was really neat and lots of fun to eat (you get to peel open the bag! They give you tiny forks!), Yen noted that the shrimp seemed previously cooked and a little dry. Marc wasn't too keen on the scallop ceviche and Japanese cucumber salad ($13), remarking that the entire dish was overwhelmed by the grapefruit used in the ceviche, but I felt it was a sharp, tangy pairing and actually enjoyed eating grapefruit for the first time ever.
We all agreed, however, that the cheese plate ($14) and caramelized cipollini and cave-aged Gruyere ($8) were a perfect match: the cheese plate (actually in the shape of an artist's palette) featured "one Spanish hard cheese, a ripe Camembert and a medium firm cheese," as Yen helpfully reminded me; some hazelnuts drizzled in honey; a "fruit compote square" (Yen, again); and a few slices of bread from La Brea Bakery, all of which played off the sweet stew of the meat-like cipollini (onions, if you don't know). We also agreed that more bread would've been a nice touch, if only to soak up the cipollini sauce and, later, the salty broth containing the unbelievable, not-to-be-missed-at-all-ever clams and chorizo ($15).
Still, it wasn't until I made a return visit with more friends (this time courtesy of my foodie pal Bill) that I decided to trust my palate—and this time everyone agreed about everything: the unforgettable heirloom baby beets and burrata cheese ($12; "Burrata's like the bastard child of cottage cheese and mozzarella!" I gushed); the gone-in-20-seconds heaping stack of petite fries, garlic and parsley ($8); the braised wild mushrooms and creamy polenta, perhaps the perfect dish for a cold night and best paired with a chilled glass of Livon chardonnay ($10; score the wine at Morrey's Liquor down the street in Naples); the tray of tender, mouthwatering grilled sirloin in chimichurri sauce ($23; "so good I gave up being a vegetarian!" swore our waitress); the Gourmet-with-a-capital-G grilled cheese sandwich featuring guanciale (meat from a pig's cheek), fried egg and harissa, a Tunisian chile paste ($13; quite possibly the tastiest and most self-indulgent dish on the menu); even that $6-a-pop trio of scallops, which were, at approximately $2 per chew, well worth every penny.
Ultimately, it seems at Biggs that it doesn't matter if you're a gourmand like Marc and Yen or a could-care-less gal like myself: food is food. And when it's prepared with care and precision, it'll get everybody talking.
BIGGS, 4722 E. SECOND ST., BELMONT SHORE, (562) 434-1313. OPEN DAILY 11 A.M.-2 A.M. DINNER FOR TWO, $50-$100, EXCLUDING DRINKS. BEER, WINE, SOJU. CREDIT CARDS ACCEPTED.
Get the Food & Drink Newsletter
Our weekly guide to Orange County dining includes food news and reviews, as well as dining events and interviews with chefs and restaurant owners.