One by one, the cars rolled up to the long, arching driveway as startled valets rushed to open doors and take keys. Civics, Camrys, Accords, Optimas, and Altimas disgorged a horde of software engineers and their families, who strode past the bemused doorman and the great glass doors of the hotel lobby like 50s movie stars. Courteous attendants greeted each new arrival, refined ambassadors welcoming foreign dignitaries to a new land. Nothing seemed to faze the staff at the Hyatt Regency in Huntington Beach.
As holiday parties went, we knew this one was going to be a doozy. We'd come a long way from a seedy warehouse in Newport Beach so many years ago. There were six of us, myself included, with a dream and barely enough money to keep us afloat. Our CEO had worked 20-hour days running another company he owned, trying to fund our fledgling enterprise. He had a vision, we had the drive, and magic had happened. This gathering was a celebration of the road traveled and friends met. We'd achieved so much, and we needed to gather our strength for the challenges ahead.
We congregated nervously around the open bar in joyous anticipation of the night's festivities. It was like Homecoming, Winter Formal, and Prom all over again with families gathered in little clusters, eyeing one another shyly. The conversational clots slowly grew larger. Friends huddled together for protection against social embarrassment and for mutual support. Then, as the libations flowed, the ice within us thawed. Natural diplomats seized the reins of discourse, bridging divides and making introductions until, with a muted crash, the ice shattered and we all came together in a riotous festival of merriment and mirth.
All too soon, servers began circling the ballroom, signaling the commencement of our holiday repast. There were only three of them, yet they seated and served us with such dedication that I would have commended it, save for the brusqueness with which they treated us. At times I couldn't decide whether I was being served a meal or fed at a trough. Given the scores of us in the room, the cold efficiency wasn't a surprise. However, I felt that a locale as grand as the Hyatt Regency should have been able to offer a higher level of service, particularly given the cost of our outing.
We started with a sumptuous lobster bisque that was to richness what wild sex on the beach is to a clichéd pickup line. Thick and unctuous, it coated the tongue in an orgy of dairy and spice. I christened it "Butter with Lobster Seasoning". Yet, I was oddly disappointed. I'd had this lobster bisque at a management summit we'd hosted at the same hotel and, as good as the bisque was at the holiday party, it had been even better then, with a strong lobster presence and much more meat. Difficulties with serving such a large group, I assumed. The Shire Nomad enjoyed the soup very much. Cat thought it was too heavy on the butter and cream, and light on the lobster flavor.
Along with our soup, we were also given golden, soft olive rolls and butter. Cold and chewy, these bready morsels exuded that delicate, fresh-from-the-bag aroma of food-grade plastic. However, torn into pieces and dipped in the soup, they proved an effective method for diluting the intense, buttery bisque.
This refreshing salad followed our soup course. As Elonweis put it in Food Network speak, it was an excellent example of a deconstructed salad. Cat jokingly countered that it was the laziest salad she'd ever seen. Composed of crisp Romaine lettuce, sliced red onion, chunks of hearts of palm, cherry tomatoes, and an avocado wedge, it was topped with a tangy tequila and lime vinaigrette. Once assembled, it was light and sharp, and did a nice job cleansing our palates after the heavy flavors of the lobster bisque.
Our entree was this glorious juxtaposition of the terrestrial and the aquatic that I decided to name Ahab and Moby Dick. On the left, Ahab was a single de-boned, seared, and roasted chicken leg perched precariously on a bed of mashed potatoes and covered in a chicken stock, mushroom, and white wine reduction. On the right, Moby Dick was a teriyaki marinated and grilled filet of salmon firmly seated on his own mashed potato throne, and covered with a tropical fruit salsa.
Ahab was delicious, with paper-thin skin that tore easily to reveal moist, flavorful flesh that harmonized well with his mashed potato base. Moby Dick was more problematic. While flaky and cooked perfectly, the gamey taste of fish past its prime refused to be tamed by the cloying sweetness of the tropical fruit salsa. I wasn't sure that I approved of Moby Dick's overall sickly flavor, particularly when paired with the same mashed potatoes that had served Ahab so admirably. No matter how many times I stabbed at Moby Dick with the harpoon-like tines of my fork, he refused to yield a combination of fruity, starchy, fishy, and sweet that was pleasing to me.
Even more distressing was the pool of sauce surrounding Ahab and Moby Dick. While the presentation of the dish was marvelous, the use of a single plate had allowed both sauces to mingle, presenting such a confusion of flavors that my tongue was tempted to curl up in the back of my throat and cry itself to sleep. For a time, Ahab and Moby Dick battled for flavor supremacy in their soupy seasoned sea before eventually sinking below waves of disappointment together, still locked in mortal combat. To the side, the sautéed spears of asparagus provided a bland balance as they watched the two titans struggle. I called them Ishmael.
A shining beacon of hope after the Aristotelian tragedy of the entree, this Christmas tree dessert spread a soothing blanket of peace across our troubled tongues. A thin cup of patterned cake held whipped cream topped by a gentle peppermint and white chocolate mousse. Studded with fresh berries and flanked by squiggles of kiwi and strawberry syrups, the tart and clean flavors of this confection danced through our mouthes, chasing away our sad memories of the Ahab and Moby Dick.
As we lingered over coffee, conversing with old friends and new, we felt both melancholy and renewal. Our revelry was drawing to an end, yet we would be back in our offices soon enough, surrounded by the friendship and camaraderie forged by determined minds striving for the same goals. We were thankful for each other, blessed both at work and at home.
The chill night air cleared my head as Cat and I left the party. Although the food I'd sampled that night had not been all I had hoped, I had feasted fully on the companionship of dear friends and colleagues. It had a been a night I wouldn't soon forget, and one that had given me yet another reason to work even harder, so that I might enjoy many more of those nights in the years to come.
The Californian at the Hyatt Regency in Huntington Beach - Probably not the best place to host an event with over a hundred people. The quality of service provided by their kitchen and wait staff seems to drop drastically. However, I might recommend it for smaller parties of twenty or less based on past experience.
Since this was a company dinner, I can't divulge the cost per person for the event. As such, I'll be discarding the ROI value in my overall calculations.
The Californian (Event caterer & hotel restaurant)
21500 Pacific Coast Hwy,
Huntington Beach, CA 92648
Hyatt Regency Huntington Beach
21500 Pacific Coast Hwy,
Huntington Beach, CA 92648