The last name Goodell reminds us of past and present Orange County eateries: Aubergine, Troquet, Red Pearl Kitchen, A Restaurant/A Market, plus the 25 Degrees brand in Huntington Beach. Over the weekend, Tim Goodell and Leslie McElroy quietly opened their “no reservations” Royal Hen in the space previously occupied by Amelia's on Balboa Island.
While a comprehensive menu exists, there will be a gradual rollout, per Goodell. Diners are currently limited to a selection of savory bar snacks. However, a strong wine list and creative beverage menu tided us over for the time being. If our small bites were any indicator of what's to come, island residents won't be disappointed.
Chicken cracklings ($5) with avocado and 'nduja, a Calabrian pork spread, was a crunchy morsel of our favorite tastes. Flaky lamb samosas ($7) plated with a Greek yogurt sauce were even more filling. If those do not amuse you, then the petite jar filled with potato and cheesy haggis croquettes will for $7. But be warned: they come out piping hot.
If we were to offer some constructive criticism, it would be in a name. Our curvy trio topped with hibiscus gelee and Parmesan pictured above is listed as foie gras macaroons. That's one extra 'o' than needed, according to pastry chef Diane Yoon. While we prefer our liver warmer, the balance of slightly sweet outside with finger-licking good foie more than makes up for it. We even ordered a second plate ($9). The most expensive item listed was a lobster toastie ($10), reminding us of a Slapfish clobster roll.
Seating options were aplenty, from a front dining room that looked out onto the sidewalk to the dedicated bar that ran down the center of the 1,700 square foot space. We sat towards the back, where a banquette faced a windowed wall. Beyond the wall, we realized there were mirrors hanging along the side of the adjacent building, subtly offering the perception of a larger room. Tucked away in the back is an informal lounge, complete with low stools and a flat screen airing baseball scores.
Dishes to look forward to include savory pies (think beef and Guinness), Hatch green chile cheeseburgers, sweetbreads, black bass and smoked trout rillettes. And the story behind the name? It's a nod to Ambrose Bierce's infamous The Devil's Dictionary, referenced under their logo in the front dining space. Give the kitchen another week to develop their sea legs, then start ordering some pie!
The Royal Hen is located at 311 Marine Avenue, Newport Beach, (949) 873-5603; www.theroyalhen.com.