I have been hearing Saint & Second on several people’s lips of late. As usual, I try not to read too much about restaurants before visiting, so not to tarnish my own view, with other people’s perceptions. Long Beach is always a little trying when it comes to parking, however, we are extremely lucky and find a metered spot right on St Joseph Ave (where the “Saint” comes from in its name). We are able to keep an eye on our car in case the meter man drives by.
I am immediately mesmerized by the interior. There are so many little things to be impressed about: light fixtures, the bar, the rooftop patio and another bar, the stools, the open-view kitchen. As we settle into our booth, I see a familiar face — Ray Gonzales — Saint & Second’s General Manager, who I know from The Ranch Restaurant & Saloon, where he was when the restaurant opened many years ago.
It would be amiss not to try one of the house-made cocktails while at Saint & Second. Everything is made in-house, and you’ll definitely taste it in your libation. Moscow Mule ($12.50) is served in the ubiquitous copper mug with Christiana Vodka. The house made agave ginger syrup, when combined with Q sparkling water, and fresh lime juice come together to form an extremely clean finish on the palate.
I am always highly interested in how non-Asian chefs use and interpret Asian ingredients. Here, you’ll find a strong gastropub menu with many Asian-influenced dishes which work extremely well with the concept of pairing your food with the impressive cocktail, beer and wine choices available.
Crab Corn & Coconut Soup ($8) catches my eye immediately. I love corn, and I love coconut. The butternut squash-base soup arrives piping hot dotted with crab and corn. For me, soup has to be served hot – scorching hot – unless it is a cold soup. I am pleased by its temperature and even more so by its flavor. Although it isn’t heavy, the texture is creamy and substantial. Each of the components stand well on its own, but marry well together as a whole.
Duck Meatballs ($10) is another stellar selection. The meatballs are firm, yet tender, with a rich, slightly sweet, shallot and hoisin glaze which isn’t overly cloying. The shishito peppers and radish add texture and freshness to a pretty solid item. It is so good my friend’s toddler eats two meatballs on his own.
I am curious about Lamb Belly, Korean Style ($13) and am not disappointed. This beautifully unctuous slab of perfectly executed meat has been rendered impeccably. Take a slice of pickled daikon wrap (Ssam-Mu, 쌈무) and top it with a slice of lamb. If you like kimchi, add a little as well.
Pick up the little “taco” and pop the whole thing in your mouth. I am surprised there is no gojuchang in the sauce, but I do pick up a little hoisin.
Don’t expect the Pozole Clams ($14) to be anything like the Mexican pozole from your neighborhood Mexican hole-in-the-wall joint. The chile and hominy broth is bland. We add a little salt which perks it up a little, but it definitely needs more seasoning. We squeeze wedges of lime into it, and while it does improve, it isn’t much better. The only thing pozole about this dish is the use of hominy, julienned cabbage and radish. The clams are fresh and delicious though.
Several entrée items jump out at me. Fish & Chips ($17) is a top contender and arrives on a wooden platter with three very generous logs of IPA battered Alaskan cod, two battered smelt, thin fries, and condiments of malt vinegar aioli, and cocktail sauce. The fish is flaky and moist, overall well-executed. The batter can be a tad thinner, but I’ll admit I tend to be overly picky when it comes to fish and chips. The malt vinegar aioli is stunning, as is the cocktail sauce with hints of horseradish.
I am impressed by Banh Mi Burger ($15) and its spot-on Vietnamese flavors. A Heritage pork patty is seasoned perfectly with Vietnamese flavors I am well familiar with. The accoutrements of cilantro, pickled carrot, jalapeno, cucumber, and Sriracha mayo are all great accompaniments for this burger. This is something I will pick when faced with a burger choice simply because I am not a huge fan of the traditional burger.
Our side of Mac & ‘Shrooms ($11) is tasty, albeit a tad runny. I like the use of mushrooms with mac and cheese which adds an element of umami to the mix. It is a generous portion so make sure you share it with the table.
Even if you’re stuffed at the end of the meal, order “Donuts & Coffee” ($9), a play on your morning doughnuts and coffee. It is a bread pudding dessert and meant for sharing. A square of chocolate doughnut bread pudding, as well as another of apple fritter doughnut bread pudding arrives with a large scoop of coffee ice cream. There is a little vanilla crème drizzled around the plate as well. I eat a little more than I should have as the bread pudding is not at all sweet.
I foresee Saint & Second becoming one of Long Beach’s top restaurants very soon. The menu is solid with creative drinks and a casual, but swanky atmosphere to boot. Check out its rooftop patio, perfect for happy hour, or cocktails at sunset.
Saint & Second
4828 E 2nd St
Long Beach, CA 90803
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