Hendrix Lessons: Laguna Niguel Restaurant Wins “Dish Of The Year”

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Orange Coast Magazine’s restaurant critic, Gretchen Kurz, named Hendrix’s burrata-spiked muffins “Dish Of The Year.”

Kurz wrote: “A crusty muffin exterior hides the unexpected inside – eggy; buttery house-made spaetzle, that is scarce on today’s menus. The nutmeg-spiced muffin gets salty umami  from bits of smokey Nueske bacon tucked within …”

Congrats to Hendrix, a third restaurant from the team behind Driftwood Kitchen and The Deck.

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Is it possible for eyes to feel hunger? Look through Hendrix’ spacious front window and the sight could make your peepers ravenous. Trust me. A tall French rotisserie to the left of the front door displays a bounty of browned and caramelized treasures.

HendrixRottisserieThe rotisserie:

The top revolving skewer corrals plump chickens side by side. Brined for two days prior to spearing, the four-pound birds are judiciously basted with a mixture of fresh lemon juice, garlic, extra-virgin olive oil, fresh herbs and spices.

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An alluring crust is created, the flesh underneath moist and flavorful. A vibrant lemon confit is served on the side. This citrus garnish requires two months to perfect, the thinly sliced lemons mingling with sugar, juice and lemon pepper for its 60-day nap interrupted by occasional stirring.

Just below, a gentle drip-drip-drip of chicken juices fall onto thirsty potatoes held in a basket attachment; they are thumb-length beauties with yellow flesh from Weiser Farms. Before service the dripping-spiked spuds are tossed with chimichurri.

One skewer down, lush porchetta performs its rotation; skin-on pork belly wraps around pork loin, the exterior becoming super crisp with its just-right exposure to the heat. A delightful hint of anise is absorbed from brining. Slices are accompanied with pickled vegetables, a mix of radishes, cauliflower and fresh fennel that add brightness with their acidic counterpoint.

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On the bottom spear, a luscious Colorado leg of lamb takes it turns. It’s boned except for the shank and rubbed with a mixture of whole-grain and Dijon mustards. Milder than New Zealand or Australian lamb, the scrumptious meat is served pink and thinly sliced with lebni on the side.  Made by straining a mixture of yogurt, sour cream and salt, the creamy lebni is augmented with minced cucumber and chopped dill. It’s like Greek tzatziki, but thicker and richer.

Rainer Schwarz, executive chef-partner, said that Hendrix aims to be a neighborhood restaurant with honest delicious food, great service and value. A rotisserie platter showcasing chicken, lamb, porchetta and potatoes (plus all those flavor-amped garnishes) available both in-house and for takeout.

Chef Schwarz and New American Cuisine:

Schwarz has a well-established reputation in Orange County for his delicious restaurant menus. Along with John Nye and Colby Durnin, partners in the Sentinel Restaurant and Hospitality Group, they form the team behind Driftwood Kitchen and The Deck restaurants on the Laguna Beach coastline.

“I want Hendrix to be about the neighborhood,” Schwarz said. “I live a mile away. Neighbors will text me for reservations, or they will tell me if things aren’t right.

“You have to be passionate about this business. It’s not only about the hours, it’s about the effort.”

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Chef Rainer is also a master of octopus. Looks delicious, right?

Watch Chef Rainer Schwarz prepare one Octopus dish.

Beautiful yet comfy:

The new 180-seat eatery shows off a creative design that is both stunning and welcoming, an all-embracing remodel of Fred’s Mexican Cafe that previously occupied the location. The enclosed patio area is lined with large bi-fold widows that open to a vista of trees, foliage, and on a clear day, a glimpse of the Pacific Ocean; forced-air heating assures guests of a chill-free experience. There’s a glassed in private dining area, as well as a retail wine shop where diners, if they like, can purchase a bottle to take to the table. Comfortable booths scattered throughout, are crafted from fabric that has the feel of a well-loved baseball glove.

A showy bar is in the center of the dining room. It boasts a dropdown beer tower that provides six craft beer choices. There’s a large selection of wines by the glass, as well as an array of alluring cocktails. The restaurant’s name honors Hendrick’s gin, so it seems fitting that the spirit is featured in The Perfect G & T. This refreshing cocktail, served in a stemmed white wine glass, includes Fever-Tree tonic water and botanicals, including juniper berries, cucumber and flowers such as rose petals and borage.

Off the bar, a cozy lounge areas seem the perfect spot to leisurely enjoy some wine and a plate of grilled Spanish octopus drizzled with harissa olive vinaigrette. There’s a good dollop of hummus on the side making the dish rounded and satisfying. Chef is a master at grilled octopus; it’s masterfully prepared to make the texture oh-so tender, while creating a crisp-yet-light char on the exterior.

Hendrix is at the Ocean Ranch Village in Laguna Niguel (32431 Golden Lantern). For more information, visit www.hendrixoc.com. 

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