During this past holiday season I took a few moments to reflect upon the numerous eateries that I had visited and reported on during 2007, and realized that it is easy to take for granted the abundance of dining choices we have in lovely Santa Monica and the surrounding areas. From traditional American and Mexican cuisine, the freshest of fresh sushi, colorful Italian, Middle Eastern, Central European, and original fusions of all of these and more, Santa Monica can justly be described as a taste – seekers Shangri-La.
In the January winter of ’07, I remember enjoying the colorful ambience of Lula Cocina Mexicana on Main Street. The brainchild of Irish expatriate Gerri Gilliland, Lula’s, with its turquoise, yellow, and blue walls, and super-colorful “day of the dead” artwork, brought a summer sizzle to the brisk beach air. Their daily special of grilled salmon topped with tomatillo sauce, rice cooked with a hint of spinach and cilantro, and black beans brought a sizzle to my palate on that day for sure.
Health became a culinary habit for me in February when I discovered a nifty nugget of gold at the end of the rainbow, well, Rainbow Acres on Washington Boulevard in Marina del Rey to be precise. Part deli and salad bar, and part health food store, Rainbow Acres reminded me how simple, fresh organic produce, uncomplicated and healthful recipes, and, of course their signature blended veggie juices, can all be a tempting and smart, choice for daytime nourishment.
In March I enjoyed a taste of Thailand at the very good, very fresh, and very inexpensive T’s Thai at 1215 4th Street in downtown Santa Monica. With its casual café-style ambience, Buddhist God effigies, the ubiquitous (for Asian establishments) tropical fish tank on the counter, and the ever-popular menu translation error (“sliced of meat with mixture of green chili and basil”!), T’s Thai satiated me with some authentic dishes including chicken sate, mixed vegetable fried rice, and a delightful pineapple curry with tofu. Very good indeed!
As April hosted spring, Middle Eastern gem Sham hosted an Arabian-inspired Mediterranean feast for a colleague and myself. I remember that these guys really showed me that they know their craft, know their recipes, and know that fresh ingredients make all the difference. The hummus and spreads were delectable, stuffed grape leaves supreme, and shish taouk (skewer of chicken marinated in garlic sauce and grilled on an open fire) warm and tasty. With genuine Turkish coffee and the 1001 Nights décor, Sham was the real deal.
Too early for an Indian summer, June saw me enjoying an Indian lunch at that bastion of spice emporiums, Akbar Cuisine of India. In search of some serenity to break up a busy day, I remember having my heart warmed with a deliciously hot prawn madras lunch special. With a four-out-of-five on their spice meter, a robust sauce, fresh prawns, fluffy pilau rice, a mild lentil curry, nan bread, and Katchumber salad, the prawn madras and Akbar proved to be a perfect mid-day retreat from the hustle and bustle of modern life.
Joe’s Restaurant on Abbott Kinney gave me the chance to taste some French-Californian cuisine at its best. This fine example of a perfectly managed eatery caressed my weekend brunch palate with a superb house smoked red trout, poached eggs, dill and onion toast, dill hollandaise, and trout caviar, preceded with a delectable chilled carrot soup. With great service, great food, and great character, Joe’s came through in spades.
My autumnal gastronomic desires were celebrated with a visit to that carnival of Caribbean cuisine, Port Royal, located at 1412 Broadway in Santa Monica. Authentically rustic, this Jamaican gem featured a stew-style tasty curry chicken, served with rice and red peas, steamed vegetables, and fried plantain, a friendly ambience, and the dulcet tones of Bob Marley piped around the room. Very cool!
I ended the year with a couple of fine brunches this past December at the OP Café (OP for Ocean Park, of course) and Brickhouse Kitchen. At the OP, the fresh garden omelet with zucchini, tomatoes, mushrooms, onion, and spinach, served with home-style potatoes, was delectable, while the eclectic Brickhouse Kitchen offered a tofu scramble that was an absolute gem, consisting of broccoli, green pepper, onions, tofu, and brown rice, all swimming in a very tasty teriyaki sauce, with fresh avocado on the side.
With a new year, a new appetite, and some new gastronomic experiences to savor, I look forward to many a fresh plate for The Beach Gourmet in 2008.