32431 Golden Lantern
Laguna Niguel, CA 92677
This is the last of my birthday weekend reviews. I guess the people in my life know me pretty well. I'm not really one for presents. I admit I'm pretty hard to buy for, so that might be why people usually just take me out to a restaurant, which is definitely something that I enjoy almost more than anything. This time it was Katie's parents turn to take us out, and as is their custom, they allowed me to make the decision on where to go. I did not have a hard time coming up with a place, we were headed to Hendrix in Laguna Niguel.
Hendrix is part of the Sentinel Restaurant Group, which also runs Driftwood Kitchen and The Deck in Laguna. It's been almost two years since we visited Driftwood, but I still look back fondly on not only one of the most impressive restaurant views anywhere in OC, but also the food of Chef Rainier Schwarz, which shined on that night.
His new joint is located in the Ocean Ranch Plaza, which used to host the now-shuttered Savannah Chop House, and is located right next door to the Cinepolis Movie Theater. This used to be the site of Fred's, which I never had the pleasure of eating in, but judging from the reviews on Yelp, I wasn't missing out on anything.
Gone is the garage sale meets TGI Fridays look that Fred's had going for it. and it's been replaced with a more grown-up style, which is comfortable, airy and light. Hendrix is going for a neighborhood kind of feel to it, and I feel they nailed it. High ceilings with exposed beams, comfortable seating options, an indoor firepit, and at the restaurant's centerpiece is a very busy and lively bar.
Before even walking in the front door of Hendrix you get to see what they are all about, rotisserie. The highlight of the menu is front and center, with a rotating rotisserie filled with chicken, pork, lamb, and drip potatoes. The aromas once inside the restaurant are intoxicating and made me hungrier than I imagined I was. Not a fan of rotating meats, okay I guess we can still be friends, but Hendrix has you covered. Their menu features a good number of small plates, soups, salads, and entrees, with an emphasis on seafood options. Enough talking about the menu here, let's see what we ended up ordering.
We started wth two options from the small plates section of the menu, the first of which was this Creamy Spinach ($9). This started our evening off wonderfully with a good amount of not your grandmother's creamed spinach mixed with hazelnuts and topped with parmesan cheese and a lightly fried egg. I'm a big fan of spinach and this was a nicely done twist to a dish that can sometimes be a humdrum side item. The leafy green veggie was light, with a good textural element from the hazelnut and it was all brought together with the yolk of the fried egg. Very well balanced and definitely something I would get again.
I was not as much in love with the second of our two starters, the Roti Chicken and San Daniele Proscuitto Fritters ($9). The structure of these fritters was fine, but the chicken and the prosciutto kind of got lost here. I also wasn't feeling the mustard and honey aioli sauces that came with these. This would be one of the few misses for me on this evening.
Entrees were up next, and Katie and her mom split this good looking Rosemary-Lemon Chicken ($19). Both she and her mother were pretty impressed with the juiciness and flavor of the chicken here. It did have hints of lemon and rosemary throughout and was incredibly tender. I'm not really into ordering chicken in restaurants because they are often dry and overcooked. Not the case here, even I would consider getting this neatly stacked half chicken on my next visit to Hendrix. Also hiding beneath the poultry were these little yellow potatoes, which also get their turn in the rotisserie, right underneath the chicken, so they soak up the drippings from the chicken above. The result was a fork tender, and bursting with flavor potato that was tossed with chimichurri. A very satisfying meal.
After reading a review in the OC Weekly I really was torn between the lamb and the pork, but ultimately the Porchetta Pork Roll ($21) won out. This plate came out neatly stacked with those drip potatoes as a base, the next level of this included a rich slice of pork belly wrapped around a slice of pork loin, and then perched on top of that in the penthouse position was some pickled veggies. This plate blew me away. The pork belly was fatty and since it absorbed most of the heat from the cooking process, it got nice and crispy and gained a sweetness that made it taste like pork candy. The pork loin was not to be overlooked either. It came out moist and tender. One of my favorite pork dishes to date. It was rounded out by the pickled veggies which balanced out the richness of the pork with a little acidity. I'll be hard pressed to pass this up to try the lamb next time.
I guess Katie's dad was not in the mood for anything from the rotisserie, so he ordered this Baked Lobster Mac and Cheese ($18). I did not get to try this, but there were no complaints from her dad about this dish. It looked hearty from across the table, with its browned bread crumb topping and cheese hanging over the side of the small iron skillet it was housed in.
Just in case we did not have enough food, we also ordered two other items off of the small plates menu. The Cornbread Zucchini ($14) was stellar, and I'm pretty picky when it comes to cornbread. This one held together nicely, maybe because of the inclusion of the zucchini. It came with some very spreadable butter and honey, which went well with the warmed bread. Katie was over the moon with the Fried Brussels Sprouts ($8). These dolled up sprouts were a textural delight with crunchy almonds, chewy dried cranberries, and a mint yogurt sauce, which bound it all together. I believe that there was also possibly some parmesan cheese added to this. The result was a winning side item that still has Katie looking back fondly even a few weeks past our visit to Hendrix.
After my mother in law let the cat out of the bag that I was here doing a review, we had a very pleasant conversation with General Manager Pete LaCava. We talked about how excited they are to be in Laguna Niguel, his past employers, favorite restaurants, and of course about the food that we had on this evening. He told us he would send us out something for dessert, and we were excited when this dessert sampler made its way to our table. I was super excited to see that the same Sticky Toffee Cake that I had at Driftwood all those years ago is now available at Hendrix. It was still as good as ever but was upstaged by the Hendrix Midnight, which has a layer of peanut butter and jelly and then is finished with a chocolate glace. Decadent and definitely it needs to be shared. Another winner was the Apple Strudel, which should come as no surprise since Chef Schwarz hails from Austria, which is the birthplace of strudel. This was a very traditional version which did not rely on overly sweetened apples heavy in syrup to make its point. A very good group of desserts and a very nice gesture from Mr. LaCava.
I left Hendrix liking it more than I thought I initially would, and I did have high hopes for this restaurant. It exceeded all of our expectations. The meats from the rotisserie were all worth trying here, and the small plates and desserts were almost equally as good. I've read online that one of the criticisms of Hendrix is the portion sizes, but I left here very full and even had some leftovers for the next day's lunch. Our server and everyone we encountered on this particular evening was bright and cheerful and kept our needs met throughout our stay on this evening. I will not let another birthday go by without another visit to Hendrix.
Out of five roses, (because this restaurant is named after Hendrick's Gin, which uses rose petals to add flavor to its libation, and that's the brand of gin that's used to make their martinis here), five being best to zero being worst, Hendrix gets 4 roses.
For more information about Hendrix, head to their website here: https://hendrixoc.com/