Like the similarly named Dermot Mulroney and Dylan McDermott, the new Huntington Beach restaurant called Heirloom, a Modern Farmhouse doesn’t have much in common with Heirloom Farmhouse Kitchen in Irvine. The former is an intimate bistro that shares a parking lot with Wings N’ Things in a Beach Boulevard strip mall, while the latter is the sprawling eatery inside the swanky new Irvine Spectrum Marriott.
If it weren’t for the fact that both chose to use the words Heirloom and Farmhouse in their names, neither would be mentioned in the same breath. They are diametrically opposed in almost every way. Marriott’s Heirloom Farmhouse Kitchen is corporate-owned and caters to millennials on business trips. Heirloom, a Modern Farmhouse, on the other hand, is the passion project of two women—the mother-daughter team of Leonora Clancy and chef Brianne Clancy—and when you’re there, you get the feeling the other customers are from the neighborhood and found the place through good, old-fashioned word-of-mouth.
Leonora greets you at the door. And when she welcomes you in and tells you she considers the restaurant an extension of her home, you believe it. The window treatments look as if they’re from a country cottage, and there’s a wall in the back decorated with nothing but her family snapshots. Some of the photos are of her daughter, Brianne, when she was a lot younger. And when Leonora tells you of the circuitous route Brianne’s career took before they decided to open this place together, you see her pride welling up.
The younger Clancy, she says, started out in international relations but went back to school for a culinary degree. Then came stints as sous chef at Old Vine Cafe, Sapphire Laguna and Mama’s On 39. Her last gig was with BlackHouse Hospitality, where she helped Tin Vuong open Bluegold and LSXO at Pacific City.
Now, Brianne—or Chef Bri, as she’s called—is the engine and creative force behind this place. On most nights, when the dining room is packed, you can hardly see her behind a counter full of customers as she salts, sautés, and plates dishes in her tiny show kitchen.
Her cuisine fits the bistro mold. This is food made to be enjoyed with an assertive glass of wine. Every plate feels rustic, and most dishes are showered with flurries of Parmesan. If you opt for something from the appetizer share plates, the crispy eggplant is a best seller: breaded aubergine deep-fried to rigid planks and served with glops of oozy burrata, puddles of pesto and slices of heirloom tomato she calls a “carpaccio.”
She also breads and fries portobello mushrooms the same way, serving them upright in a cone as though fries, with sides of harissa aioli and pesto aioli—both sauces razor-sharp and garlic-forward. The eggplant and the portobello have similar flavor profiles, but the eggplant is better; it’s a more balanced dish, and so substantial a vegetarian could order it as a main course.
If it’s mushrooms you want, there’s a mushroom potage that’s labeled as velouté. It comes in a big, asymmetrical bowl and tastes like an upgraded can of Campbell’s. She garnishes the thick soup with crisply fried sunchoke and a drizzle of basil oil. And as you sip your first spoonful, you get a whiff of the truffle essence she added. It almost compensates for the fact that the soup is served at room temperature.
Main courses range from a roasted chicken with pork cassoulet to a filet mignon with a blue cheese demi-glace. There’s also a short rib bourguignon that starts as the classic French slow braise of beef and wine, but is then served in a modern way on a shallow, oblong plate with a celery mousseline subbing for the potatoes.
One of the cheaper dishes is the scallops. She sears each of the three meaty cylinders until the outer part caramelizes but the cores are still wiggly. As a starch, she spoons on a creamy leek risotto. And to layer on the flavors, she adds an artichoke tapenade, a roasted tomato for acidity, and a tarragon cream sauce that manages to excuse the pieces of asparagus that came from the fibrous stem end of the plant.
The most personal dish you can have at Heirloom is the “old/new school” onion dip. It’s a thick, cheesy spread that comes out in a jar and is piled with massive amounts of golden-fried shallots and garlic chips. When you tuck into it, you notice the potato chips are Ruffles, but then you realize it has to be Ruffles because no other chip, store bought or homemade, could measure up. And if the Clancys hosted a Super Bowl party at their actual home, you figure this dip would be there, and you’d be invited in just as warmly as you were welcomed here . . . except that there, you probably shouldn’t double dip.
Heirloom, a Modern Farmhouse, 18344 Beach Blvd., Huntington Beach, (714) 375-6543; www.heirloomhb.com. Open Mon.-Sat., 5-10 p.m. Share plates, $10-$18; mains, $25-$52. Beer and wine.
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.