Bluegold in Huntington Beach’s Pacific City isn’t just one restaurant. Technically, it’s two. There’s a restaurant within a restaurant called LSXO, which lies beyond a second set of double doors to the right of Bluegold’s kitchen. But for now, I’m focusing on Bluegold itself, which already feels as if it’s four restaurants in itself. The kitchen—with its raw bar, steam-kettle station, roaring pizza oven, stoves upon stoves, and at least two grills with two different fuel sources—has enough man- and firepower to feed a steakhouse, a Cajun restaurant, a seafood joint and a pizza place all at the same time. And the room is so cacophonous it has the volume level of those four places put together.
Yet depending on what you order, where you sit and who serves you on what day, dining at Bluegold can also feel as if you’ve been in as many different restaurants, with varying results. One night, while crammed into a tight-seating section near the kitchen, I ate a Vietnamese-style, 10-ounce New York strip steak that felt as if it weighed at least a pound. It cost $36. But because of its portion size, the salad of tomatoes and a bowl of buttered rice, it’s still the best deal I’ve found so far. The steak itself was already wonderful—perfectly charred on the outside, sliced thickly, and flavor-packed even before the garnish of cilantro, mint, onions, chiles, and a shower of crispy fried garlic went on top. But onto that, I spooned a sauce made seemingly of magic; thin, tangy and chile-flecked, it was a combination of the dipping sauce Thai restaurants serve for Crying Tiger and Vietnamese nuoc cham.
But the service on that Saturday night, while well-intentioned, was often absent-minded and scattershot. Three different people asked if I wanted my leftovers boxed. I said yes to all of them, but only the last person actually did the job. When I checked what he packed, I realized the steak was missing that wonderful topping, the tomato salad, and, most important of all, the sauce. When I told our server, he scrambled to get me some in a small container. Then, as I was leaving, another person ran up to me holding an even bigger takeout bowl of sauce. “Are you the one who needed the sauce?” he asked, out of breath.
On another night, a Monday, while sitting in a spacious C-shaped booth, I discovered the dish that seemed to be the polar opposite of the steak—the toro tartare. Not only was it egregiously priced at $21 for a few crackers and a tiny bowl of raw fish paste no bigger than an In-N-Out thimble of ketchup, but also the tartare itself was slimy, full of gristle and tasted so fishy it was as though it came from a bait shop. However, the service that night couldn’t have been more impeccable.
Because of the unevenness I experienced, I can’t say I’ve really formed a final opinion on Bluegold. There are, for sure, really great meals to be had here. The “O.G.” pizza—basically a margherita—was as good as any pizzeria flouting an Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana certification. But the thick dough on the shrimp and crab ravioli muffled all the crab flavor from the filling. The best part of the ravioli dish, it turned out, was actually the fried shrimp heads. But they were so disjointed from the ravioli, they could’ve been an entirely different dish.
There’s also a terrific slow-cooked pork short ribs cooked Indian-style that, despite resembling a soggy mess of bones and connective tissue, were actually well-done and smothered in a gravy not unlike authentic vindaloo. I would gladly pay $21 again for that dish, but I don’t think I’d commit another $18 for the Maine lobster and corn chowder. The chowder came in a bowl large enough for three, and for every third spoonful I slurped, I found a tiny morsel of lobster—but it’s still $18 for soup.
The most impressive thing I’ve eaten at Bluegold so far was the platter of smoked, canned and cured seafood. Found in the charcuterie section, it included mussels and scallops swimming in silky oil, smoked salmon, and a fricassee of octopus and potatoes. At first, my only complaint was that there wasn’t enough bread and crackers to answer it all. But a few days later, I found out that when a friend ordered the same dish, his had an extra plate of baby eels I never got.
Now that I think about it, shortly after we were served the seafood platter, a Brussels sprouts side dish we never asked for arrived with no explanation other than it was “compliments of the chef.” Was it supposed to compensate for the missing charcuterie dish? Or was it to apologize for the cramped seating arrangements? I still don’t know. Whatever it was, I’m guessing something must have been communicated but got drowned out by the cacophony. After all, it’s just as noisy in there for them as it was for us.
Bluegold, 21016 Pacific Coast Hwy., Ste. D200, Huntington Beach, (714) 374-0038; dinebluegold.com. Open daily, 9 a.m.-10 p.m. Dinner for two, $50-$100, food only. Full bar.
Before becoming an award-winning restaurant critic for OC Weekly in 2007, Edwin Goei went by the alias “elmomonster” on his blog Monster Munching, in which he once wrote a whole review in haiku.