Savoring Samples Above the Surf
This past Sunday, high above the sparkling Pacific Ocean on the world- famous Santa Monica Pier, an event that is fast becoming a staple of Southland attractions, Taste of Santa Monica, took place. It attracted throngs of eager tasters from far and wide, as well as local weekend gourmands who are no doubt already culinarily spoilt by living in a city that is now recognized as a genuine diners’ paradise. The visitors, ranging from tourists in tee shirts and shorts to previous revelers still clad in the previous night’s cocktail gowns, enjoyed a feast in portions as they savored the succulent samples on offer.
With 40 restaurants listed as promoting their wares, a great blues band providing the sonic entertainment, a centrally located bar selling beverages of all kinds, and a sunny(ish) day with a mild sea breeze, this year’s event was certainly carnivalesque.
My companion and I arrived shortly after opening time in anticipation of the multitudes expected on the day, and decided to take a somewhat random tour of the tents that had us tasting the food in the most unorthodox fashion possible, with ice cream preceding pasta, and fried rice before fruit salad. It was a frenzy of edible fun for sure, with so many choices available that it turned out to be “mission impossible” for these two adventurers to complete the course.
The Whist at The Viceroy (1819 Ocean Avenue, 310.458.3080) surpassed all expectations with a fantastic roast duck with pistachio and braised greens, while The Lobster (1602 Ocean Avenue, 310.458.9294) served a delicious shrimp and sea bass ceviche that boasted some of the most tender and tasty shrimp imaginable.
Panini Garden’s (2715 Main Street, 310.399.9939) presentations consisted of a choice of chicken pesto or vegetarian basil sun-dried tomato paninis, proving why they remain a prime stop for sandwiches in Santa Monica.
Ma Kai (101 Broadway, 310.434.1511) delicately graced our taste buds with some dainty spicy albacore and crispy onion chopsticks that, although probably the tiniest samples of the day, certainly gave a clear suggestion of the quality menu that they offer.
A special mention has to go to The Art Institute of California-Los Angeles (2900 31st Street, 310.752.4700), whose artisans-in-training did a sterling job in churning out some unique “fusion flavor” ice cream that proved to be appropriately chilling after the aforementioned spicy albacore.
Ocean Avenue Seafood (1401 Ocean Avenue, 310.394.5669) was a great hit with a thoughtful combination of half shell oyster, bay scallops and albacore poke. Hotcakes Bakes (4119 South Centinela Avenue, L.A., 310.397.2324) provided the sweetest sweetness with their addictive cupcakes and brownies.
Another sweet success was SPN for Mahatma Rice (1278 Glenneyre Street, No. 308, Laguna Beach, 949.497.8203) with their sweet and sticky rice, and I must also mention Angelato Café (301 Arizona Avenue, 310.656.9999), whose assorted gelatos, especially the chocolate specimen, were top- notch indeed.
All of the booths that we visited offered tasty, quality samples and certainly put their best feet forward; our one regret was that we could not have visited more of them. This brings us to the fact that the obviously savvy promotion and resulting success of the event in regard to the numbers of attendees may well have turned out to be something of an Achilles heel for Taste of Santa Monica.
With some booths having almost endless lines and a subsequent lack of standing tables from which to eat, in the future it may be prudent to stage the event at a more spacious venue – the Santa Monica Civic, with it’s expansive parking lot, springs immediately to mind. Yes, the Pier is idyllic with its views and ambiance, but if spending half the time staring at the back of someone’s head while waiting in line and searching for that third arm with which to eat is the result, the event kind of loses its charm, I think.