When a friend invited us to join him at dinner, I had absolutely no expectations whatsoever. All I knew was that it was an Italian restaurant in Huntington Beach with a Japanese chef at its helm. Located next door to an ostentatious MMA studio, you might miss Ceppo completely if you blinked. In fact, the restaurant itself is so understated you might actually wonder if you’re at the right place. There is no decor or ambiance, but my friend assures me the food will speak for itself.
Since our dinner host is a regular here, and a Huntington Beach resident, he took the liberty to arrange our menu with Chef Tomi for that evening, I had no control over any of it, nor did I know the prices (as it would have been rude to ask). However, glancing at the menu, there was nothing over $18, so an educated guess would surmise that it was nothing but reasonable.
An amuse bouche of fava beans and grilled artichoke arrives. I love fava beans as it brings back memories of my grandmother who loved these broad beans, what I knew them as growing up.
When Uni Flan hit the table, I gasped at the sheer sight of it, served in an uni half shell, my taste-buds already salivating at the thought of the first spoonful. Those of you who know me will understand why my heart was palpitating at the sight of this. I have an obsession with uni and anything that looks like this was already making my mouth salivate, even before I had a chance to put it into my mouth.
I’ve had Japanese style Italian food before and love the fact that it’s usually very light even when cream is involved. The Lentil Soup here is a good representation of that fact. Visually, it looks creamy but is never cloying or viscous on the palate.
I rarely order Halibut on the menu because usually it tends to be on the tough side due to the low fat content in this fish. However, I was pleasantly surprised at how moist and flaky the fish was. Perhaps it was the very thin slices of zucchini wrapped around it? Regardless, the flavors were very well thought-out with a sun-dried tomato sauce and a parsley oil drizzle.
Our next course of roasted Jidori Chicken was also a hit. Tender, juicy chicken is well seasoned and prepared immaculately with hints of rosemary. Simple and delicious.
I am always impressed when a restaurant’s chef creates his own desserts without the help of a pastry chef.
We were presented with four desserts. Interesting, everyone had his or her own favorites, although, never the same one. Mixed Fruit Gelee was light and refreshing with champagne as the base for the gelee.
I loved the Cheesecake, which, in true Japanese style, was light and airy and absolutely delightful.
Chocolate Cake with black pepper ice cream was definitely interesting and all of us marveled at the ice cream with a kick.
But my favorite was the Kabocha Mousse, a flan if you will, created with the ubiquitous Japanese squash used in soups and pastas alike. I loved how subtle the sweetness level was, almost non-existent, allowing the pure kabocha flavors to shine through.
During dessert, Chef Tomi appeared out of the kitchen and I was able to chat with him a little. Trained in France, Chef Tomi’s resume includes working under Wolfgang Puck at Spago and Chinois. I highly urge you to go give Ceppo a try. The decor might not be impressive, but the food certainly is.
Ceppo Italian Cuisine
7391 Warner Avenue
Huntington Beach, CA 92647