The new rooftop food deck at the revamped Santa Monica Place showcases the mall’s beachside location and has much more than a fast food court: sweeping city and ocean views, comfy deck seating with a glass fireplace, and six full-service restaurants that are steeped in the current dining trends, like small dishes for tasting and sharing, and chefs with high profiles. Here’s a quick look at the new restaurants at Santa Monica Place:
This is the Santa Monica outpost of a Japanese restaurant started in San Francisco and Oakland by owner Jeremy Umland, a Bronx native who has lived 15 years in Japan, partly as a pitcher for the Seibu Lions professional baseball team. Umland’s Japanese experience is what distinguishes this restaurant, and it shows in playful touches like the sumo wrestling videos on the monitors in the sake lounge and Japanese language lessons playing over the bathroom speakers. Have a Sapporo beer in the small, casual beer garden outside, or dine in the elegant dining room inside. The expansive menu covers everything from ramen noodles to sushi, and a large selection of sake (Japanese rice wine). Chef Roman Petry, who had a stint working at a yakitori (Japanese BBQ) restaurant in the hip Roppongi section of Tokyo, recommends the Gindara black cod robata ($28). Lunch dishes $10-$24; dinner tempura $7-$12, signature sashimi $9-$16, robata (charcoal-grilled) dishes $18-$34. Happy hour 3 to 7 p.m. daily, draft Sapporo $3, cocktails $6, sushi rolls $5, small plates $4.
Skip the circuitous mall escalators and take the glass elevator straight into the lobby of Xino, a sleek, black and red Chinese fusion restaurant with Cantonese-style dishes on the menu. Xino is part of the Straits restaurant group owned by acclaimed chef Chris Yeo of Singapore (the reclining tattooed lady in the panoramic mural adorning the dining room wall is Yeo’s wife). The restaurant’s popular patio area overlooking the Third Street Promenade has four cabanas and parties on til 2 a.m. on weekends. Try the Kung Pao Chicken “Lollipops” ($12), the Char Siu Sea Bass with sauteed snow peas ($28), or the Chinese BBQ Roasted Rack of Lamb with ginger glaze ($26). Classic dim sum is served fresh from the kitchen, not from steam carts. Dim sum $4-$14, 3-course prix fixe lunch menu $19, lunch entrees $8-$19, dinner items $8-$38. Happy hour Mondays to Fridays 4 to 7 p.m., $5 drinks, $3 beer, and $5 nibbles; and Happy hour Fridays and Saturdays 11 p.m. to 2 a.m., drinks only.
Sonoma Wine Garden
The small dining room here is upstaged by the comfortable, open wine bar that extends to an outdoor deck with lounge seating, candles and fire pits. Choose from 30 wines by the glass and nearly 150 wines on the bottle list; the focus is on Sonoma Valley wines but the list is global. On the short beer list, try the lusty Franziskaner Dark Hefe on tap ($10), or a bottle of Bavarian Ayinger Hefe-Weizen ($11). The bar staff is friendly and knowledgeable and can suggest food pairings with your beverage. Oyster Bar choices (three for $8, six for $15, a dozen for $25) and tapas-style dishes like House Marinated Olives ($3) and Truffle Fries with parmesan ($7) are meant for tasting and sharing. Mix and match three cheese and charcuterie items for $12, six items for $20. Lunch specials $15, weekly dinner specials $12-$25, salads $11-$14, pizzas $13-$15, pastas $13-$16, dinner entrees $23-$26. Happy hour 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. Brunch menu served Saturdays and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
A straightforward, gently priced restaurant that aims to accommodate, whether you’re eating family-style or dining with business associates. There are a few tables outside, and inside there’s an inviting classic bistro feeling with high ceiling fans, a white marble countertop, and black and white floor tiles. The thin-crust pizzas have a nice, hand-rolled crust that’s crispy and chewy; a gluten-free crust is in the works. Pizza toppings run from the basic to the unique; signature pizzas include the Heirloom Potato, Caramelized Onion and White Truffle Oil pizza ($10.75 small, $16.25 large), and a Bartlett Pear, Sweet Garlic and Mt. Tam Triple Cream Cheese pizza ($11.25 small, $17 large). An outdoor chalkboard posts seasonal menu items and announces that the popular Warm Brussels Sprouts Salad ($9.95) is nearing the end of its season. The hand-peeled sprout leaves in this salad are tender and sweet, tossed with bacon and caramelized onions.
Pizza Antica is the first Southern California branch of a restaurant based in northern California, not to be confused with another pizza restaurant with a similar name in Marina del Rey, says Assistant Manager Matty Norwood. Salads $7.25-$9.95, pizzas $9.25-$17, pastas $8.95-$16.50, meat dishes $15.50-$18.50, desserts $2.50-$6.95. Happy hour Mondays to Fridays 4 to 7 p.m., $6 appetizers, $7 pizzas, $5 wines, $3-$5 beers.
La Sandia Mexican Kitchen and Tequila Bar
This is the first Southern California location of the La Sandia restaurants owned by Mexico City-born chef Richard Sandoval, a decorated restaurateur known in the industry for his contemporary Latin restaurants. On the menu are standard taco, enchilada and torta platters served with rice and refried black beans ($11.95-$16.95) as well as more creative items. Try the Mushroom Huaraches ($8.95), a dish of mushrooms, caramelized onions and black beans on corn masa, finished with goat cheese and truffle oil, or the Sopas de Carnitas ($8.50) — slow roasted pork and other ingredients piled high on corn masa cakes. Dishes are prepared in the “Modern Mexican” way — traditional fare made with fresh, sometimes unexpected ingredients. The hacienda-inspired interior has blue and white talavera tiles on the wall and a bronze fountain that draws you into a bright courtyard dining room. The tequila bar is a fine place to sit at the communal table and choose from a menu of 250 tequilas. A snifter of Don Julio is $11; Casa Dragones is $34. Lunch entrees $9.95-$19.95; dinner entrees $11.95-$25.95. Happy hour (Hora feliz) Mondays to Fridays 4 to 7 p.m., Mexican beers $3, wine $5, cocktails $5, appetizers $3. Coming in April: a prix fixe Sunday dinner.
First there were Korean taco trucks; now Latin-Asian cuisine takes another step at ZENGO, where Latin and Asian flavors meet on the menu and in the decor. Tables are set with knife, fork and chopsticks; tools you’ll need to sample dishes like Pork Carnitas Rice Noodles ($11), Beef Short Rib Udon Noodls ($11), Thai Chicken Empanadas ($10), and Peking Duck-Daikon Tacos ($12). The outside terrace overlooks Broadway and the Third Street Promenade and has communal tables ideal for mingling. ZENGO is a sibling of La Sandia; both are owned by busy chef Richard Sandoval and partners including opera tenor Placido Domingo. Finding the entrance to ZENGO is a little tricky, since it’s located behind La Sandia. You can ride the elevator from Broadway up to the terrace, or you can enter through a narrow passage alongside La Sandia. Dinner dim sum and antojitos $7-$12, noodles and rice dishes $5-$11, seafood dishes, $13-$16, sushi rolls $10-$14, ceviches $12-$16. Lunchtime prix fixe menu, $20. Happy hour Mondays to Fridays 4 to 7 p.m. and a Reverse Happy hour Fridays and Saturdays, 10 p.m. to midnight, small plates $5, cocktails $6, wine $6, beer $3.