The eateries you'll see on the 5-mile stretch of Beach Boulevard as it extends from the 405 down to Pacific Coast Highway can have the randomness of what sticks on a strip of flypaper. Burgers? Of course. Pho? Persian kebabs? Vegan? Thai? The brick-and-mortar home of the sustainable seafood truck Slapfish? Yes to all of the above. Name virtually any foodstuff, and you'll likely find a purveyor somewhere along this strip before you hit the pier, everything from the snootiest wine bar to a place selling honest-to-goodness broasted chicken.
And I'm not even counting what has popped up on the banks of its tributaries. There's a Slater's 50/50 within walking distance of Beach, near Adams. Scraps, that new Vietnamese tapas concept, and Gyu Kaku, an outlet of the popular yakiniku chain, can both be found at the corner where Beach meets Warner. There's even Tacos Jerez, a Zacatecan taquería that this paper's Mexican in chief wishes were located in Anaheim, where most jerezanos actually live. Beach Boulevard's indiscriminate hodgepodge of eats doesn't lean toward any particular ethnicity or group, proving that everyone from everywhere wants to do business on one of OC's busiest thoroughfares.
The Black Trumpet Bistro fits perfectly into this scene because its specialty is that it doesn't have one. If you had to describe it to friends, you'd tell them about the jazz theme: Paintings of Miles Davis, Satchmo and Johnny Coltrane crowd the walls. The small space is appropriate for a restaurant calling itself a bistro. It has velvet-lined benches, an open kitchen and shelves of vino near the back. But because the Black Trumpet cherry-picks its dishes from Italy, France, Spain, Greece and Morocco, it's entirely possible to construct a meal in which every course hails from a place nowhere near the last. The evening starts with pita bread and a complimentary house dip concocted by mixing together feta cheese, olives, pepper flakes and olive oil into a chunky slurry. A falafel can be had as an appetizer followed by an Italian caprese as the salad. After that, a fuming crock pot of French onion might be your soup. And your main course could be Spanish paella studded with shellfish and squid.
Tapas makes up a large part of the menu: You'll find hummus sculpted into the oval shape of pâté, as well as a gemuine caponata, a traditionally Sicilian stew-like relish of eggplant, here offered with a plop of burrata and the same pita bread triangles used to scoop up the hummus. There's a pizzette with figs, melted onion, feta crumbles and a drizzling of syrupy balsamic. Though it's really just an oblong tart, it's still better than what passes as pizza out there.
The Brussels sprouts do not seem to be specific to any country, but they're flash-fried in oil so hot the outer skins burn to a papery crisp while the centers remain soft and steamy. The entire serving is made tangy with sumac and garnished with shaved almonds and pencil-eraser nubs of chorizo bursting sweet, spicy fat. There's also a perfectly cooked lamb chop with a squirt of mint sauce it could've done without, alongside a couscous that was puzzlingly cold. Almost as good: a pair of densely packed veal meatballs ladled with just enough tomato sauce to drag each bite through.
A gigantic bowl of steamed clams and mussels should be skipped; the broth is no better than any place else that does the dish, and the mussels here are inexplicably mealy. Get the spiced garlic shrimp instead, but be warned that its coating of what appears to be wet breadcrumbs and the creamy puddle of sauce harbors enough garlic to render you unkissable for the rest of the evening. If the soup of the day is the kale and bean, claim a bowl before the kitchen runs out. The main course to order is a filet au poivre called “The Coltrane”: a rosy-pink medallion is slit as though a baseball mitt to receive a tongue-throbbing, Madeira-based peppercorn sauce so pungent and good you'll be picking out the peppercorns from in between your teeth for hours. You'll squeegee every drop with the crisp French fries that you haven't yet dipped into the complimentary feta slurry given to you earlier.
Owner Dino Ferraro is no stranger to Huntington Beach and the boulevard. He started the more traditionally Italian Capone's a few blocks down, then Mona Lisa a few years later. Despite the purposely unspecific menu, the Black Trumpet might be his most personal eatery yet. If it weren't already on Beach, a veritable sea of sore thumbs, it would stick out like one next to its neighbors: an aging, old-school Chinese joint and a payday loan counter.
Before becoming an award-winning restaurant critic for OC Weekly in 2007, Edwin Goei went by the alias “elmomonster” on his blog Monster Munching, in which he once wrote a whole review in haiku.