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BEACH GOURMET: Cèzanne at Le Merigot: Classic Art

Le Merigot Beach Hotel in Santa Monica is the epitome of luxurious splendor and is renowned for its tradition of cherishing guests with superlative service as they are caressed by Santa Monica’s sea breeze.

Just west of the impressive lobby in Le Merigot Beach Hotel sits Cèzanne, the centerpiece restaurant headed by Executive Chef and culinary artist Desi Szonntagh, whose creations are founded upon a philosophy of freshness and originality.

I recently visited Cèzanne for a weekday lunch, accompanied by the Mirror’s own Beverly Cohn, to sample the food, shoot the breeze and enjoy the Old World, European-influenced service that has become a distinguishing quality of Cèzanne.

The décor here is spirited, dramatic and comfortable, and, combined with the professional and supremely courteous attendance of our server, Peter, created a placid air of serenity and class reminiscent of those beautiful luxury cruise liners of the 20th century.

The lunch menu is a palette of creative and colorful dishes, crafted with a defined French slant, as well as some variations on traditional themes, such as a Chinese Chicken Salad (Napa cabbage, shiitakes, bell peppers, crisp wantons, cashews and spicy sesame dressing, $14.75) and a New York Steak Sandwich (prime sirloin beef on a baguette, Maui onion crisps, arugula salad and French fries, $16.50).

As we waited to make our choices, Peter brought us some fresh bread, olive oil and balsamic vinegar that kept our palates entertained until the appetizers arrived.

For this first course, I chose the rather refreshing-sounding Gazpacho of Fresh Tomatoes, Cucumbers and Hearts of Palm with extra virgin olive oil ($8.00), and Beverly chose a Caesar Salad, sans Caesar but with olive oil ($9.50), that she described as crisp, with the olive oil being “aromatic and fresh.”

The Gazpacho (a cold soup of Spanish/Portuguese origin) was refreshment defined, with the tomato base chilled and smooth, and robust slices of cucumber and dainty morsels of hearts of palm further contributing to the crisp theme. Very nice indeed.

For the main course, I was initially enticed by the Sautéed Crab Cakes with Sauce Remoulade (served with Haricot vert, asparagus, artichokes and red bliss potatoes, $22.00), but really had a subconscious urge for salmon going on, so I happily opted for the Grilled Salmon with Chinese Mustard, Baby Spinach and Sauce Vierge ($16.50), while Beverly went Northern Pacific with the roast Alaskan Ling Cod ($17.50) that is typically served by Chef Desi accompanied by white beans, tomato and pesto; however, he kindly substituted a white bean and pasta side for the pesto, with seasonal vegetables also present.

My salmon arrived moist, very flavorful and superbly grilled; the medley of mustard, spinach and the Mediterranean-slanted Sauce Vierge provided a very fresh dining experience. With a lot of the kitchen produce procured from local farmers’ markets, it was clear that fresh and healthful dishes are an important part of this chef’s menu.

Beverly gave me a sampling of her dish, and I immediately noticed the different characteristics of this saltwater fish as opposed to the salmon. Again, it was well prepared and flavorsome, the cod flaky and falling from the fork, while the pairing of pasta and small white beans, and a rather delicious side of seasonal vegetables, worked well to compliment the fish.

With some lively, light and laughter-infected conversation, delicious food and delightful service, I am very glad that I visited Cézanne, as this lunch reminded me that oftentimes we locals forget that we are blessed with some real dining gems contained within our beachfront hotels.

Judging from the food I tasted here, I am quite sure that the culinary art created by Chef Desi Szonntagh would have pleased the eyes and taste buds of Paul Cézanne himself.

Le Merigot, 1740 Ocean Avenue, 310.395.9700.

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