Two Hot Restaurants to Try in Santa Monica

February 13, 2017

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Rose Cafe 2

Written by Gary Walther

In a sense, Casa del Mar and Shutters on the Beach are islands. Yes, they’re on the beach in Santa Monica—the only two hotels on the west side that are really on the beach—but they offer the guest an “island” of lifestyle: cuisine, fitness, pools, great views, lobby lounges that are islands themselves: perfect meeting spots, or a destination with wing-chairs and comfy couches so you can finish that Tolstoy novel. You never have to leave.

But as any experienced island traveler knows, you have to get off-island now and then to appreciate on-island. In that spirit, we offer reviews of two favorite restaurants near Casa and Shutters: one a five-minute walk, and the second a bike-ride away (the hotel offers bike rentals).

ROSE CAFE

This Venice classic (opened 1979) certainly hasn’t lost its bloom since it reopened in late 2015 after a renovation. If anything, it’s more fragrant now that Chef Jason Neroni is in charge of the kitchen.

Formerly the chef at Superba Snack Bar, which he made just that, Neroni has rounded the bases of top restaurants here and abroad: Chez Panisse and Spago in California; Le Cirque, Blue Hill, Alain Ducasse at the Essex House, 71 Clinton Fresh Food, and 10 Downing Food & Wine in New York; and Arzak, Mugaritz, and El Bulli in Spain. (Neroni started at 16 in the catering unit at Disneyland, just so he could get into the park for free.)

The restaurant, an all-day dining establishment 10 minutes by taxi from Casa del Mar and Shutters on the Beach, occupies a cinderblock, shoebox-shaped building just off Main St on Rose Avenue. It’s a long space divided into bar (40 feet long), counter, and waiter-service sections, and with outdoor annexes (dining patio and a beer garden). Muscular 2-x-12 roof beams are still visible here and there above the new ceiling, supported by blue steel I-beams. Large, square 20-pane windows let in lots of light and add to the light industrial feel of the room. Old Venice (pre-gentrification) is given a tip of the hat in a checkerboard of murals by artist C. R. Steyck, a regular at the original Rose, on one wall.

The menu emphasizes local ingredients, but with spins drawn from Neroni’s long experience abroad (ramen made with a braised-bacon infused broth, for instance). Bacon, in fact, is a Neroni specialty.

“I thought I’d had bacon until I had chef Neroni’s,” said my server with an urgency that left me no choice but to try the Rose Breakfast Burrito. Indeed, the meaty, tangy, salty cubes of it, embedded in a geology of scrambled egg, avocado, smoked cheddar, peanut-poblano molé, and fried potatoes, was so good that I wondered if it should be available only by prescription.

Rose Cafe is a hot spot for breakfast and the menu in the server section is a kind of culinary Olympics: Juniper-braised bacon in the Breakfast Sandwich, a fried duck egg and pickled Fresno chilies in the avocado toast, Vietnamese cinnamon in the oatmeal, and a wild mushroom toast that shows off a Neroni sideline, his mushroom farm and vast mycological knowledge. The baguettes are made in the bakery adjacent to the kitchen—loaves tanned and browned to a T floated by—as are all of the pastries.

Indeed there’s an “it’s done here” ethos that pervades the menu, exemplified by the stack of wood at the back of the kitchen: It’s oak and almond and it fires the rotisserie just to the left of the pile and the smoker out back.

If you’ve already had the pleasure of dining at Coast and Terrazza, try Rose Café, great for breakfast and lunch. Rose Cafe is also a scene in the evenings for happy hour or a casual dinner.

220 Rose Ave.
Venice
rosecafevenice.com

Herringbone SM 2

HERRINGBONE

One of LA’s best-known seafood restaurants is just a five-minute walk from Casa del Mar and Shutters on the Beach. Chef Brian Malarkey has brought Herringbone to the ground floor of the Seychelle, a residential building on Ocean Avenue South, which is coming to be known as Santa Monica’s Restaurant Row. Herringbone is a crowd-pleaser—big, noisy, fun, with a menu full of standards with a twist (mussels Tikka Masala, a grilled pork chop with grilled stone fruit)—and a raw bar, here called a “Salt & Brine Bar.”

The seafood side of the restaurant, its hallmark (emphasis on line-caught fish), is sure-handed. The Hamachi crudo had a tang of black garlic, lime, and yuzu vinaigrette and the Ono tartare (compressed pineapple, shimeji mushrooms) a sharp spice kick that made me say to myself “again, please.” The Diver Scallops (roasted corn, crispy pork belly) are melt-in-your-mouth, while the seared Ono is the opposite: meaty and firm.

The dining room is a commercial-scale space, with the high ceilings used to flaunt building anatomy: pipes, ductwork, and vents à la New York restaurants of the ’80s. There’s a touch of green in the form of a living wall, and a touch of malarkey in the pilot whale skeleton (a reproduction) hanging above the bar. There’s also a touch of genius in the endless Rosé ($25 per person) offered at brunch (11-2) on weekends.

First enjoy cocktails at Catch while watching the sunset then head to Herringbone for dinner and conclude your evening with a nightcap at Shutter’s lobby lounge.

1755 Ocean Avenue
Santa Monica
Herringboneeats.com/santamonica

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