There's no doubt that the Hyatt Regency Huntington Beach Resort N Spa is a gorgeous place to visit for sheer relaxation but did you know you don't even have to leave the grounds to get an extraordinary meal prepared by one the most talented chefs around? Well you know now! Named Chef of the Year for Hyatt Hotels in 2011, Manfred Lassahn is dishing up tasty and beautiful plates at Watertable (which was actually voted one of the top 100 restaurants in the United States within the first seven months after opening) so if you're going to be in the area do yourself a favor, make your reservations now. We talked to Chef Lassahn about the concept behind Watertable and got the goods on what we can grub on while there and believe us, it had our stomach growling out loud.
OC Weekly (Ali Lerman): I had a chance to look over the menu at Watertable and man does it sound delicious! Can you breakdown your concept behind Watertable?
Chef Lassahn: Watertable is really based on the essential pair. Food and drink, old and new, and rustic and refined. That's really where the direction came for the menu and drinks as well as the space with the casual and approachable dining experience. We did not want to be a fine dining restaurant.
It looks pretty nice in there but you're saying there's no dress code?
There's no dress code. Well, you have to come dressed but, there's no code. [Laughs.]
Well I'm glad you cleared that up because some of our readers have been known to take things a bit far. Is your menu seasonal?
Yes it is. The menu changes on the day of the season. I've been a seasonally driven chef probably since the 90's because of my heritage. That's how I grew up. I'm first generation American and Mother Nature told us when items were ready to eat, not some greenhouse in the city. [Laughs.]
I like the idea of a menu that changes. What if I really wanted something though that I ate in spring? Could that happen?
No. What's really funny is, especially here in California, we have things available year round. Like, you can have Brussel sprouts a million different ways year round but Brussel sprout season isn't until the winter or late fall. Eat it when it's at its peak. Eat it when it's the best! It's like heirloom tomato season. They first came out big in the 90's and it was only a six-week window and that was it! That's when you'd get the crazy funky stuff! Now you can get them all year so it's not even special anymore.
I never even thought of that. As an adult, I'm actually grateful that Brussel sprouts are around all of the time. As a kid, no thanks. How did you choose the dishes for the menu?
A lot of it is again based on availability. It's almost like baking. If you baked a pumpkin spice cake around Easter, it just wouldn't be right. [Laughs.] When you start baking it in September or October though, it really starts inspiring you to move in that direction and continue to push. One thing about Watertable too in regards to staying true to concept is, it's not going to be everything to everybody. For instance, there is no pasta in the restaurant because it's not an Italian restaurant. That said, I have nothing against using old and ancient earthy grains and doing them in a very unique way. We serve a red quinoa cereal for breakfast as opposed to just doing oatmeal. I also did bring back the foie gras. I was probably first in line, well, with every other chef. [Laughs.] So we do a foie gras bread pudding that was handed down from my grandmother.
OK, yum. I wish I grew up in your house! What made you decide to do a whole different menu for Sunday?
Oh Sunday supper! The premise behind Sunday supper was to bring family dining back. When I grew up we ate dinner at 4:30 every day when my dad got home from work so that's what we really wanted to do. When we built Watertable, it was built for the community. It was built for the Orange County food scene. Sunday supper is something were we can invite the community back to sit as a family, talk, and share.
I love that because dinner has changed so much from when I was young.
Right! What's really been great too is that Sunday is typically a big check-in day for the hotel and this place is also a really great way to say, hey, come on in and share and catch-up here! We opened Watertable last year in April and we launched Sunday supper after that summer. We went from doing 60-70 to doing over 300 now.
I like that it's catching on, it's a lovely idea. Tell me about the bar area.
The bar has a completely different dining experience and concept. Because of the hotel, there is a really cool Spanish vein that runs through all of the bar food that is not in the restaurant.
Are the "bar jars" legit jars?
Yes! That comes from my heritage as well because my mother and my grandmother preserved all year. In fact here at a banquet, we just used pickled peaches that we preserved in the summer when they were in season. We've even already brandied all of our cherries that we're going to use in December!
Wow, I've never heard of pickled peaches! I enjoy your thoughtful planning.
I think if you don't stay true to concept, the guest won't know what it is. I just do what I do, I love what I do, and I do it all here. The team here is very passionate so when you come here, come to Watertable because it's not just another restaurant. It really has heart and it has soul.
Reserve your table now at Watertable to check out Chef Lassahn's fall menu at the Hyatt Regency Huntington Beach Resort and Spa. 21500 Pacific Coast Hwy, Huntington Beach, CA 92648, (714) 698-1234. For more on Manfred Lassahn, follow him on Instagram @chefonaroll.