Until recently, when you went to a food court in any mall in America you were greeted by the usual suspects; Cinnabon, Subway and my personal favorite Hot Dog on a Stick, just to name a few. The food is cheap, fast, and processed. Well, America has cried out for justice and it seems their voices have been heard. May 20th saw the opening of The Market in the Santa Monica Place Mall, just off the Third Street Promenade. I didn’t know what to expect, but was pleasantly surprised by this modern, open and airy space that adjoins the 3rd floor dining deck that’s also home to six restaurants.
For me it’s a brilliantly conceived idea. The space houses these independently owned shops offering everything from fresh baked goods, flowers, organic coffees, skincare items to a cooking school. The shops are not enclosed but open, allowing the shoppers to wander in and out of each space creating the feel of an outdoor marketplace.
These vendors are selling products that are organic, artisanal, sustainable, fairly traded, seasonal, and locally grown. That’s a lot of adjectives, but that’s how I love to shop. My friend Marci and I make our first stop at Rockenwagner Bakery because, duh…I love bread. We’re greeted by a very friendly and hospitable Hans Fama Rockenwagner who offered us a sampling of their pastries. We tried several of their sandwiches served on their artisanal breads, and purchased some bread and cookies to go. Their breads are fresh, hearty and full of flavor. This will be my first stop when I return for my next visit.
It was impossible to walk past L’Artisan du Chocolat without stopping in. They offer up their stunning chocolates and macarons made fresh each day at their Silverlake location. Their chocolates are made with no preservatives and less sugar, and come in an array of unusual flavors.
The chef behind Primi Al Mercato is Piero Selvaggio of Valentino Restaurant in Santa Monica. What I found most intriguing about this spot was the two women making fresh pastas right there in the window for shoppers to view. You can purchase these pastas in the retail space, or walk next door to a lovely dining area to enjoy “small plates” of pasta and fresh sauces. Personally I have not found too many places in the Los Angeles area where I could buy such unusual, freshly-made pastas.
I am a true coffee lover, so we had to make a stop into Groundwork Coffee Company. Their coffee and teas are organic and fair trade, and I definitely like to support retailers who offer fair trade products. We purchased some of their “Black Gold” to go!
Norcino Salumeria Cheese Bar is also operated by Piero Selvaggio. Serving charcuterie plates of the most amazing selection of high-quality, imported meats and cheeses, this is a must for my non-vegan friends. For me this place is a decadent treat!
I like to give nice wine as a gift, and Venokado had a great selection of fine wines and champagnes to choose from. They also offered a large selection of modern gifts.
Once you’ve purchased your wine, your dinner, your coffee and dessert at The Market, your last stop should be to Magical Blooms. This vibrantly designed shop offers creative, one-of-a-kind floral arrangements, as well as floral design classes.
And finally, not only does The Market offer its visitors a gourmet shopping and dining experience, there’s also a cooking school in the space as well. Gourmandise School of Sweets & Savories offers 3 and 4 hour cooking classes, chef demonstrations and special events. As a culinary school graduate, I can say I never tire of taking cooking classes and their’s covers a wide variety of topics.
I love to dine out and I love to try everything on the menu. Just ordering a single entree is boring to me. I like a little protein, some carbs and lots of veggies. So when I saw the menu of “small plates” at Santa Monica’s newly opened The Misfit, I thought this is probably the restaurant for me. The Misfit is the creation of LGO Hospitality, and is located in the historic Clock Tower Building just around the corner from the 3rd Street Promenade. There’s a sprawling bar that runs the length of the restaurant serving $9 signature cocktails that sounded amazing. I was unable to give one a try because it was only noon time after all, and I was driving, but I will return for their Happy Hour. The man behind the menu is Executive Chef Bruce Kalman, formerly of Chelsea’s Kitchen in Phoenix.
I was dining with my friend Zonia, and we decided to throw caution to the wind, and just let it rip! We started with the French Dip Sliders, ($12) tender prime rib, perfectly seasoned, and served with a homemade au jus. It totally melts in your mouth and was the perfect size for two.
Our server suggested that we try the Ahi Tuna Burger ($11). I’ve ordered this in many other restaurants and it tends to come out dry and tasteless. Their’s is served pan seared medium rare with a Meyer lemon aioli and avocado. It was so juicy, cooked just right and full of flavor.
As we glanced around at the surrounding tables, we noticed everyone had ordered the shoestring fries ($6). I wasn’t leaving this place without them, and I’m glad I didn’t. These were addicting, crispy not greasy and yummy dipped in the honey mustard sauce. Plenty for a table of four!
However, for me the real hit of the day was the English & snap peas with toasted garlic and Thai basil ($6). As Chef Kalman told us, they purchase all their produce from the Santa Monica Farmer’s Market. The peas must have been picked that day. The dish is prepared so simply and the flavor and freshness of the peas shined through. I would return just for this dish.
I was awestruck at what Chef Kalman could do with vegetables. We ordered the heirloom cherry tomatoes with toasted garlic and herb salad ($6). Again, he allows the tomatoes to be the star of the dish. It’s simply dressed and the garlic and herbs are the perfect contrast to the sweetness of the tomatoes.
For my vegetarian friends I would recommend the spicy chickpea dish ($9) because it’s killer. I could definitely see becoming a vegetarian if I could eat things like this all the time. The chickpea mixture has a real kick to it that you feel in the back of your throat. It’s served with kale leaves, and we composed our wraps with a dollop of chickpea, some cucumber and radish and dunked the whole thing in the pesto sauce.
When you’re serving fresh, high quality ingredients there’s no need to go crazy with sauces and spices. It’s evident that Chef Kalman respects his ingredients, as everything was seasoned with a delicate hand to simply enhance what was on the plate and not overpower it. Not everything though was a winner. Neither Zonia nor I enjoyed the sauteeed greens with blood orange and garlic chips. It happens.
It should also be noted that the service was warm and friendly and very efficient. We felt our business was appreciated. In the ever changing restaurant landscape of Los Angeles, I think The Misfit will do very well.
The Misfit Restaurant + Bar 225 Santa Monica Boulevard, Santa Monica, CA
One should not only focus on the final destination, but be aware of and enjoy the road that gets you there. And what a road it is. Let me preface this story by saying it’s Philadelphia blood that runs through my veins, but my heart beats pure “Angeleno”. I love my adopted hometown. It’s a marvelously multi-cultural city that offers so much in terms of culture and things to do. But it is the city’s physical beauty that I never want to take for granted. So, back to “the road”.
My friend Lauren and I are headed today to Santa Monica. The road we are taking to get there is called Malibu Canyon. It’s a winding, two-lane highway that meanders through the Santa Monica mountains and dumps you onto Pacific Coast Highway. I have literally driven this route thousands of times. It’s scenery is a visual image I wish every human being could see, and one you never tire of. As we make our way through the canyon and to the beach, the scenery dramatically changes, but is equally as beautiful. As we drive along PCH, with Santa Monica Beach off to our right, we’re two people who are happy to have been transplanted here.
Our destination today is R + D Kitchen on Santa Monica’s trendy Montana Avenue. This place is owned by a large restaurant group, the people behind Houston’s which had a location in Woodland Hills near my house.I liked Houston’s so I’m not opposed to eating at a chain-owned restaurant if the food is good. And I will say up front, the food was good. Very good.
R + D Kitchen has the welcoming feel of a neighborhood restaurant. It was jam-packed when we were there, but that wasn’t bothersome. The space is modern, open and airy. The service there was very friendly and efficient. The ice tea glass was never empty and that’s always a good sign.
The menu is small, actually unusually small. So, if your offering your customers a limited variety of choices, you better do these dishes extremely well. From what Lauren and I ordered, I think they accomplished that.
Lauren ordered a Seared Tuna Salad with avocado, cucumber, beets and goat cheese. It came with a deviled egg on the side which was a tasty surprise. I ordered a Shrimp Louie which was a more decadent salad. It’s served with four large shrimp on a mound of crunchy iceberg lettuce with a deliciously prepared Louie dressing. It’s surrounded by a variety of cherry and grape tomatoes and avocado. Now I’ve had this salad in dozens of restaurants and it’s not always a winner. It basically comes down to the quality of ingredients. Everything was very fresh, and I really enjoyed this salad.
Next, we ask our perky server what they have for dessert. She says chocolate mousse or carrot cake. Two desserts, surely you jest! Luckily for us we both agree on the carrot cake with mascarpone frosting. Wow, what a hunk of goodness they put in front of us. A moist carrot-y cake with chunks of pecans, and a frosting with just-the-right-amount-of sweetness. Nicely done!
I definitely liked everything about R + D Kitchen. It’s casual, relaxed atmosphere, professional service and well-prepared food makes this a place I will return to in the near future. Especially since the road getting there is so awesome.
My good friends Lauren and Cindy have hounded me for so long to make the trip to Huckleberry Cafe & Bakery in Santa Monica. Knowing how I love my bread and pastries, they couldn’t believe that I’d never been there. Since we were going to a vintage clothing fair at the Civic Center, we thought this would be the perfect opportunity. Cue the California sunshine, blue skies and cool breezes. It’s February, the dead of winter everywhere else, and it’s 80 degrees in Santa Monica.
I’m an ambience kind of girl. Yes, the food is the focus, but I love when I walk into a joint, and it makes me feel comfortable and welcome. That’s how I would describe Huckleberry. It was the height of brunch service and the place was packed with hip urban types, young and old. We had to wait a little while to get seated, but once we did, the place was buzzing with a mellow energy.
To place your order one must stand in a long line. But this gave me the chance to view everything on the shelves, counters and cases. Oh Lawdy! Breads and pastries everywhere. Huckleberry makes all their baked goods right there on site. In fact, we could see their pastry chefs kneading their breads as the kitchen was open to public view. I felt like I was at one of the elementary school bake sales I used to go to as a child. Amazing crusty breads and ciabatta’s, hearty cakes, cookies, cupcakes and muffins. See, this is what appeals to me. I’m not a fan of fancy French pastries, I love good ol’ homestyle goodies. Like mama used to bake, right?
As I made my way through this line I was enticed by fresh made salads, rustic sandwiches and baked goods as far as the eye could see. What to do, what to do!!! I finally decided on the cured salmon platter, with red onion, arugula, cucumber and cream cheese on country toast. Good choice. Simple, but so darn good. But, I would have to finish off the meal with a sweet. So I opted for a whole wheat scone. Scones can tend to be dry and crumbly, but this hit the spot.
The girls and I finished our brunch feeling very content as we left, and continued on our way for a fun day of shopping.