Between Tower 14 and 15 in Cardiff-by-the-Sea, the award-winning restaurant The Beach House has offered contemporary seafood and grilled specialties with panoramic ocean views for twenty years. Driving through a quiet, laid-back, residential neighborhood to get there, I almost expected to find a house. What I found was a two-level establishment, right on the water, with a wide range in clientele and an atmosphere that invites guests to stay long as they like. Many patrons look as if they come here every night; however, the restaurant is appropriate for dates, meetings, or large parties.
I dined inside with my husband, seated next to a wall of windows that allowed for maximum viewing while preventing glare from the setting sun. The restaurant interior is appropriately painted the color of sand, with tall plants around the tables adding privacy. The space is not deep, but wide, with booths in the back where diners will feel more secluded than the tables alongside the windows overlooking the outside patio. The outside patio holds approximately 100 people. When I say it’s right on the beach, I mean this: pebbles and rocks are the only barriers between you and the sand and stream that lead to the open ocean. You’re so close to the water that you hear people calling their dogs or children giggling in waves that lap at the shoreline or crash very close to you, depending on the time of day. When the sun sets, the pace slows down, people toast their glasses, take pictures, and discuss the Green Flash. After sunset, the breakwater illuminated in the restaurant’s lights is delightful. You feel at home while on vacation, exactly what the owners, the Pikes, intend.
Although The Beach House has been in the area for decades, the original restaurant opened in Laguna Beach in 1968. I’ve been to that location and experienced the same on-the-water, friendly service experience. The food is every bit as showcased as the fortunate ocean view. There is also a newer location on Dana Island.
The menu offers new twists on classics, but the staples—seafood and steaks—are surprisingly affordable. A 12-oz. King Lobster tail is $42; Lobster Thermidor, $26. My husband ordered the 10-oz. Filet Mignon for $28.
The menu is divided into Starters, Salads, “etc.,” From the Grill, Fresh Fish, and Lobster and Shellfish. The oyster options available were inviting (including my favorite, Rockefeller), and 11 out of 12 starters are seafood options (Fire Grilled Artichoke being the non-seafood item). The entrée menu has broad appeal, and the Beach House also offers a children’s menu.
We decided on the Hawaiian Ahi & Snow Crab Stack, layered with mango and avocado, with wasabi beurre blanc. The beurre blanc was a creamy accompaniment to the meaty, proportionate crab and pink, buttery ahi. A soy sauce was served on the side, but we preferred eating bites of seafood with the beurre blanc, fresh avocado, and thick slice of mango crowing the tower. It was a highly colorful dish, and our senses were pleased by the mellowness of the wasabi and simultaneous brightness of flavor.
Despite years of dining locally, I haven’t enjoyed vinaigrette like I did at The Beach House. I ordered the Poached Pear & Goat Cheese Salad, with pecans and walnuts over mixed greens tossed with cinnamon vinaigrette. The pears, sliced and circling the plate, were scarlet. I asked if the color was due to the poaching liquid, but was told the red hue of the fruit is the naturally occurring color. The cinnamon vinaigrette was earthy as well as slightly sweet, which brought together the tanginess of the goat cheese and the sugary texture of the pears. Every bite provided a crunch of pecan or walnut. It’s been a long time since I’ve had a salad with two nut varieties. This salad proved that delicious needn’t be complicated.
The Caprese Salad had both red and yellow tomatoes stacked with mozzarella, red onion, fresh basil, capers, and roasted pine nuts with balsamic vinaigrette. The tomatoes resembled the sunset and the fresh mozzarella absorbed the vinaigrette and flavor of the globe-like capers. The starter servings were generous. We were full as dinner arrived—immediately after our starter plates were cleared.
The dining room was full but the service was very attentive. Kristin, our server, had checked on us several times by the end of our starter course. I drink excessive water at dinner, and I can’t remember my water glass being empty long. The cues of the hungry, thirsty diners are well noticed by servers, if not intercepted by any restaurant employee happening to be nearby a diner in need. I saw many restaurant employees standing in as photographers.
We ordered wines by the glass. The wine list is long and reasonable; I almost had my husband talked into Far Niente Chardonnay at $85 a bottle. It is divided into nine sections: Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, Other Whites, Half Bottles, Champagne and Sparklers, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Other Reds, and Specialty Cocktails. You may bring in your own wine and incur a corkage fee of $15 per bottle.
The Horseradish Root Sea Bass was served with avocado-cilantro butter, fried leeks, and macadamia-wasabi mashed potatoes. Eating the fried leeks was like enjoying a greener onion ring—same indulgent flavor, smart accompaniment to perfectly done fish. The crust on the fish was delicate, lending an appealing aesthetic while delivering the promised flavor of horseradish. The macadamia crunch in the creamy potatoes brought an exotic touch home to this dish. The wasabi wasn’t overwhelming—I could have taken more! The avocado-cilantro butter hid under the leeks, but the flavor of the fish—meaty, mild, and fresh—almost didn’t require it. The green beans, asparagus and baby carrot served with the sea bass had a pleasant crunch, nowhere near being overdone.
We asked for the 10-oz. Filet Mignon to be prepared medium, and that’s exactly how it was served. The fingerling potatoes were roasted just right, caramelized on the skin, the potato itself, creamy and flavorful. We particularly enjoyed the gorgonzola cream sauce, which was sharp but velvety, and mentioned this fondness to Kristin. Within two minutes, she had brought additional gorgonzola cream.
I didn’t want to stop eating. We informed Kristin that it was a school night and we’d like coffee and cappuccino before leaving. While sipping speedily, I overheard Kristin telling other diners that she planned to study in the hospitality program in the California State University schools; she seemed to know about wine already. The Angeline Pinot Noir we ordered (Russian River) is, she mentioned, her favorite, and after tasting it—smooth, cherry and smoky—we understood why.
By this point in our meal, we had glanced at the dessert menu and signed our check, but people were still being seated inside and out. It made me smile to see Cherries Jubilee and Bananas Foster on the dessert menu. The Beach House definitely has a clientele that warms to such sentimental favorites, but contemporary desserts are available as well, such as crème brûlée with berries and ice cream.
As we left, I took one last glance around this restaurant that, although built on sand, has deep roots in this tranquil community. In twenty more years, my guess is the Beach House will still be here, and that is part of its charm. Cuisine that is classic but savvy, generous but healthy is inviting and not disappointing to new clientele, like me. The restaurant’s cool colors, warm sunsets, and dutiful staff keep people coming back. Places like The Beach House never go out of style.