Red O

1541 Ocean Ave. Santa Monica, CA 90401(310) 458-1600 redorestaurant.com

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I know Rick Bayless is a name in the industry, but after that performance his name should be Please Cookless, because nada was bueno. Well, in terms of the food, anyway. The décor and energy (code for noisy) of the place is actually great. And they sport a nice range of tequilas should you want to go that way. They also have a pretty long list of cocktails as well, which I can only assume is designed to get you all liquored up so you’re awareness is impaired about the mediocrity you are about to eat.

Unfortunately the booze wasn’t enough to distract me from the piss poor service. Friendly for sure, but sloppy and slow. She completely forgot our guacamole order and missed on every recommendation, granted the fact that there’s nothing truly great on the menu makes it awfully hard to win in that scenario.

Amid the sea of asi asi (translation: so so) are the goat cheese tamales, which are okay on taste, but very mushy on texture. The duck taquitos, which were dry and tasteless, needing the addition of one of the salsas from the chips to give it moisture and make it worth half its salt. Oh, which reminds me… it needed more salt.

For the entrees, the shrimp and rice was “pretty standard” (to be read like Dr. Evil), the fennel lobster tails were a big ho hum and the NY strip with chimichurri, while the best of the three, is certainly no reason to come here.

Hell, they even managed to fuck up the churros, which are a foodie lay up, if you ask me. Way too hard and dry. And the chocolate and caramel dip wasn’t even close to being rich or flavorful enough to save them. But perhaps I’m to blame for not heeding the warning on the door. After all, “Zero” is right in the name. And that’s what this place is, a flaming red zero.

1 tooth

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Crimson

2901 Ocean Park Blvd. Ste 127 Santa Monica, CA 90405(310) 396-2400 crimsonla.com

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If you hate Tommy James and the Shondels, the University of Alabama football team and Tom Clancy novels about submarines, then your crimson ship finally came in. In the form of hummus wraps stuffed with fresh tabouleh, bursting with flavor. Dip that in a side of their tzatziki and you’re golden. But speaking of gold, their Turkish style grape leaves drizzled with a harissa yogurt are so good I think they should be made mandatory for all other restaurants to emulate. Even their Arnold Palmer was pretty decent, making this an all around great spot for a grab and go, delivery or a casual bite.

I’d elaborate more, but this one is a solid fastball down the middle. And besides, you have too much work to be sitting around reading lengthy blog posts waxing Hemmingway about a dolma anyway.

3 teeth

R+D Kitchen

1323 Montana Ave. Santa Monica, CA 90403 • (310) 395-3314 • http://rd-kitchen.com/locations/santamonica

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Don’t hold this against RnD, but it’s actually the sister restaurant to Houston’s. I know. I know. But hear me out, because she’s one hot sis and an awesome plan B should you not be able to get a reservation at you’re A. So awesome, in fact, that this might just become your new plan A, if only they took reservations.

The décor is pretty standard, like a contemporary version of a Bennigan’s, with lots of booth seating, wood paneled walls and an open kitchen. And the wait staff runs a tag team method of service, which actually proves very nice, because there’s always someone around to take care of you, so no need to flag any one down like you’re a castaway on Gilligan’s Island.

The Jack Rabbit was our cocktail of choice for the evening, a tequila and grapefruit combo that was good, but not exactly memorable, hence why I had to ask my friend what the hell the name was again.

For a starter, with resounding praise, I recommend their deviled eggs (pictured) with a heavenly hit of horseradish. But as sinfully good as they were, even better is the Ding’s Crispy Chicken Sandwich, dubbed their best seller and for good reason. It’s an Ultimate, right up there with the one at Son of a Gun, if you ask me, which I assume you are since this is my blog. But beyond the fried chicken, what makes the Ding sing is the wonderfully soft, fresh-baked bread from Bandera, the generous amounts of slaw and the contrast that’s created between all of the crunchy elements and the pillowy goodness of that bun.

The other entrée we tried, the salmon, was also good, but not quite at the same level as the Ding. Served up with a sizable mountain of mashed potatoes and sauteed greens.

Sadly we were so full at this point that we didn’t order dessert. But happily that didn’t matter, because our server wouldn’t hear of it, tapping into her inner Jewish grandmother by bringing us their warm, chocolate chip, oatmeal cookies on the house. Which were hard to resist, because A. they were warm and B. they were free. So that helped a lot. Enough to have me debating between three and four knives. But I lean four because it’s a chain. And for a chain, that’s worth a golf clap right there.

4 teeth

 

Herringbone

1755 Ocean Ave. Santa Monica, CA 90401(310) 971-4460herringboneeats.com

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I struggle a bit to understand this one. The wait to get in is almost as big as the dinning room, which is so cavernous it’s almost to the point of making it feel like a Rain Forest Café, but for seafood. And while it is done far more tastefully (not saying much), with touches like the puffer fish tree at the foyer or the various nautical elements at every starboard turn, it can’t help escape the vibe that it’s a chain. Yet within chain-dom, there are obviously good chains and bad chains and Herringbone definitely falls in the better camp of the two. But to be fair, a chain is still a chain at the end of the day, so leave your expectations at the door, after all, it will have to wait for a table like everyone else.

To start, I opted for the Grow a Pear cocktail made with jalapeno, gin and cucumber. It was refreshing and light enough to go with anything on the menu. And I put that theory to the test, trying it with a host of starters, my favorite being the heirloom tomato salad, which I found to be the best thing of the night (not good for a “seafood” restaurant). Made with perfectly ripened orbs of red, sprinkled with herbs, drizzled with olive oil and complemented by fresh, creamy chunks of mozzarella, caprese style.

The whole fish ceviche (pictured) was also nice, but mostly as a result of its novel prep, in whole fish form. The flavor of it, however was a little par for the course and nothing exceedingly fresh either.

Working our way from good to meh, the Buffalo octopus was just okay for me. Decent Buffalo flavor, but the pus itself was overcooked. Also could’ve been a bit spicier if you ask me.

But the worst by far was the Baja crab, or should I say Baja crap. Don’t let your waiter try a peddle this loser dish on you. It tastes like overcooked rice speckled with shreds of canned crab and a few squirts of Tabasco.

For my entrée, the scallops were passable, but not very well balanced because after three scallops in, I found that I had finished all of the surrounding goodies, leaving me with one scallop abandon on the plate.

Just as the ship appeared to be sinking, however, somehow Herringbone managed to raise the Titanic with their wonderful lemon poppy begniets. Kept light by the lemon. Kept awesome by the contrast of hot and cold with the addition of ice cream. But as great as the bookends were, the laggards in the middle cost this place dearly.

2 teeth

One Pico

1 Pico Blvd. Santa Monica, CA 90405 • (310) 587-1717 • bytheblueseasantamonica.com/restaurants-pico.html

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Shutters on the Beach is an anomaly of a hotel. It’s quaint, yet massive. Low key, yet cool. Cool, but not trendy. And while I do love it, I also hate it. The valet circle is such a debacle I wish someone would carpet bomb it and start anew. The layout of the hotel is more confusing than The Grand Bazaar in Istanbul. The bar area, a.k.a. lobby, is so understated that no one ever states anything about it. And their fancy restaurant, One Pico, is less impressive than the casual, much cheaper option below, Coast.

Now, apart from having a pair of mediocre meals there, my other gripe is the name. Sure, I get that it’s the hotel’s address, One Pico Blvd., but who are we kidding, they purposefully made the word “pico” diminutive so that the ONE is center stage, clearly going after a double entendre, that in my opinion failed misérable, because if ever there was one restaurant to go to in Santa Monica, this would not be it. It’s your typical hotel grub with a jacked price tag.

But if you really feel like staying in, my advice, at least walk over to the sister hotel next door, Casa Del Mar and eat at Catch. You can still put the bill on your room even if you’re staying at Shutters and I give you my ferocious word you’ll be MUCH happier with your meal. Not to mention happier than the chef at One should they ever read this review and see that I’m giving One… only two.

2 teeth

Catch

 Hotel Casa Del Mar • 1910 Ocean Way Santa Monica, CA 90405 • (310) 581-7714http://www.bytheblueseasantamonica.com/restaurants-catch.html

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Catch is quite the…well, catch. Easily the best restaurant of the Pico-Ocean Hotel Trifecta (Casa Del Mar, Shutters & The Viceroy). One, Coast and Whist simply don’t hold a candle.

For lunch I strongly suggest the lobster BLT. Now obviously it’s pretty hard to screw up lobster and bacon on a bun, but there are nuances that differentiate goodness from greatness. The lobster is moist and tender. The bacon crisp. And the avocado creamy. All met with the sweet airiness of the brioche and you’ve got the makings for a super sammy. Creamy and crunchy. Savory and sweet.

For dinner you will be surprised to hear that the sushi is pretty on point. Granted in LA you can almost get great sushi at a gas station, so perhaps it’s not that surprising. The rest of the menu isn’t half bad either, offering up things from land and sea like a delicious grilled octopus and a watermelon, feta salad that’s more refreshing than meeting a waiter in LA who isn’t also an actor.

3 teeth

The Ultimate Tofu

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Unless you’re a vegetarian or vegan you probably don’t think it’s possible to swoon over tofu. And to be fair, the degree of difficulty is most certainly steep being that it’s basically a flavorless curd brick. But to some, it’s also a blank canvas. Here are two masterpieces painted on that canvas…

Sushi Roku – Santa Monica, CA

In the midst of such a tempting menu filled with stone-seared kobe beef and baked lobster rolls its hard to pull your eyes away long enough to notice the seared tofu appetizer, much less bother to even give it a second thought. But for those who do, I promise you will not be sorry.

Marinated in a wonderfully savory miso sauce and draped in a blanket of shitake mushrooms, the tofu takes on such a substantial flavor you’d almost swear you were eating meat. And this isn’t like when you get “chicken” or “meatloaf” at other places that are a poor man’s version of the original. This dish makes no apologies about being tofu. And then smacks you upside the head for having been prejudice in the first place.

Momofuku Ko – New York, NY

If no one told you there was tofu in this dish, you would never know it, swearing on your life that it was creamy cheese inside those perfect pockets of pasta. But being wrong never tasted so right. And the sweet corn ragu they smother it with will have you dancing like a giddy school girl on prom night- and that’s not just the increased estrogen levels talking either. It’s just that mind-altering good.

Blue Plate

1415 Montana Ave. Santa Monica, CA 90402 • (310) 260-8877 • blueplatesantamonica.com

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Great addition to the walkable Santa Monica scene. Think of it as a little taste of Cape Cod far, far from home. From the decor to the food, this place has it down.

They also have good beer, fresh oysters and terrific red curry mussels (be sure to ask for extra bread to sop up the sauce- like an entire loaf maybe). And stick the landing with a pretty amazing Key Lime Pie. That’s the makings for a pretty happy mouth right there.

The only let down is the Lobster Roll. Not that it was flat out bad, I mean c’mon, it’s lobster meat piled on a hotdog bun, but compared to the Northeast, it’s just “eh.” However, if you’re nursing a lobster roll fix and the only thing that will cure it is more cow bell, then it will definitely suffice.

3 teeth

Via Veneto

3009 Main St. Santa Monica, CA 90405 • (310) 399-1843 • viaveneto.us
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Caught between Capo and Piccolo, Via Veneto is yet another extremely strong, authentic Italian right on Main Street in Santa Monica. They have a great wine list, very good service and a simple, but nice décor.

For eats, I highly recommend doing a split ravioli order as they have some of the best I’ve ever had. Try the lobster and the asparagus as a dynamic duo. Or if you’re into three-ways, add the sweet potato as well- they’re all good. But believe it or not, the asparagus reigns supreme.

They do many other things well too. From carni to antipasti to salads like the caprese. But none of them can even touch the ravioli. So if you don’t think you’re in the mood for ravioli, don’t go. It’d be like going to Disneyland when you’re not in the mood to be around kids.

4 teeth

Cha Cha Chicken

1906 Ocean Ave. Santa Monica, CA 90405(310) 581-1684chachachicken.com

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Perched in the middle of a Bermuda Triangle made from posh Santa Monica hotels like Shutters, Casa del Mar and The Viceroy sits a bit of an odd bird. A chicken to be precise. Named Cha Cha. Which is technically Cuban by origin, but they serve pan-Caribbean fare, including jerk chicken. And it’s served up with such islandy vibe you almost feel like you’re on an island. The weather obviously helps a lot with this, especially because it’s only outdoor seating, similar to Cora’s down the block.

But what makes Cha Cha so odd is that it almost looks like a shack. Not unlike Chez Jay’s, also down the block. But Chez at least has the excuse of having been the first establishment on Ocean Avenue, so one might consider it grandfather in. Whereas Cha Cha came along much later, only about 15 years ago. But whatever works, right?

And it definitely works. As a fun, affordable departure from the more refined eating destinations that are abound in Santa Monica and Venice. Among the pan-Caribbean offerings, you’ll find a few Mexican influences that find their way into their “pan” as well. For example the jerk chicken enchiladas. Call it Jamexican. Served with a spicy-sweet pineapple habanero sauce. Get it with beans and rice, along with some fried plantains and you’ll be dancing the cha-cha. Mostly because in LA Caribbean eats are hard to come by. But by East Coast standards Cha Cha is just So So. The flavors get a little mushy and the jerk could stand a little more Cha, if you catch my drift.

3 teeth