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The HT Grill in Riviera Village is one of many HT Grills. HT Grill in turn is one of many restaurants under the monster enterprise that Hennessey’s has become. Paul Hennessey founded the first bar in Hermosa Beach in 1976. Since then it has expanded to 10 Hennessey’s Tavern and H.T Grill operations, as well as the renowned Lighthouse Cafe jazz club (shout out to the Cadenas!) Mickey Finn’s, and The Fish Bucket.
Although the South Bay has always been bordering on middle class, before gentrification you had two choices for fine dining: a dark, whiskey-soaked steakhouse or a fish place on the pier. In fact, you had your choice of TWO Tony’s on the pier! The first HT Grill next to Hennesseys was a welcome relief for elegant lunches. Tall wooden booths and white tablecloths set the scene for fusion cuisine, a fine selection of wines, and excellent service. If you dropped a spoon, you had to be careful to not pick it up or you would knock heads with an overeager waiter.
It was with some disappointment we left our maiden visit to the new location of the HT Grill a block down the street a few years ago. The new HT Grill’s decor was less European elegance and more ski lodge. The food was sub-par. In its stead stands an iffy Mickey Finn’s. I will confess to not having eaten there yet, but it looks super cheesy. Tiki decor and drinks accompanied by Mexican-style bar food? At least give us a pupu platter!
Thanks to some recent confusion regarding another restaurant, we ended up at HT Grill out of hunger and practicality. The service was back on the top of its game and the food was delicious. We were back within a week.
As is a theme with Hennessey operations, there is a different special every night. Monday nights offer a 3-course dinner with wine pairings for a surprisingly reasonable 20 bucks.
The starter for the wine dinner was a trio of apps – nicely cooked shrimp, a crispy ham croquette and their signature bean hummus. Some dishes just sound like such a bad idea. Pork and tomatillo cabbage rolls had me making worried faces, but it turned out to be delicious. Somehow the tomatillo married the flavors. Go, tomatillo! The wine dinner closed with a lovely beef tenderloin topped with onion rings on a bed of mashed potatoes.
The wines were well-paired. The pouring sizes were reasonable; especially for $20.
One starter on the menu was a plate of tater tots. How can you resist? They were more like the ham croquettes than tater tots, but when we are talking fried potatoes, who cares what form they take as long as they are good. Another good choice was an ahi poke made into a tower with crispy won ton skins so you could pick up each won ton and eat it like a little tostada. It was one of the most popular dishes on the table. By comparison, the chicken satay was just meh. The coconut coating made me wish it had been made with shrimp instead.
So maybe stacking food really high is old-fashioned now, and the comfort food craze is in its denoument. But I am not really judging a meal on how au courant it may be. It was delicious and satisfying and we dug the comfort food. The steakhouse of a bygone era-style wedge of iceberg was crispy and fun, if a little unwieldy.
I was so into the comfort mood vibe that I ordered fried chicken with potatoes and corn, which turned out the be outrageous. It could easily feed two people, but they would have to fight me to the death before I split it. The steaks were properly cooked, if a little more done than what we thought was “rare”, they were still peaking.
The creamy seafoods were also a nice surprise. The shrimp, ordered on a bed of mashed potatoes instead of the usual rice, were cooked just until done, a feat that seems to be so difficult for most restaurants. The rockfish specialty was so buttery it might have been too rich to not split.
The HT Grill is definitely running at full speed. I wouldn’t hesitate to return. Although it might be some time before I hit Mickey Finn’s.