Who doesn’t love the Los Angeles foodie scene? If you’ve driven Route 1 from north to south or in the other direction, LA has likely been on your American bucket list whether you live in the states or not. With Covid restrictions which has impacted restaurants far and wide, we weren’t sure what to expect on our first return trip to LA. So, like most cities and towns around the globe, some restaurants have had to shut their doors, but many are ploughing through including some of the city’s epic eateries.
Our top 5 picks from our first trip on an airplane (thanks Alaska Air for a seamless worry-free experience) since we’ve been vaccinated, include healthy venues based in Santa Monica and Marina Del Rey only. Our trip was short, so we didn’t have time to venture into other neighborhoods like Century City, Beverly Hills, West Hollywood and beyond. That said, you can see reviews of other LA “bites” and cafes in our Restaurant Section and be sure to read our Beverly Hills Foodie Guide from a few years ago as well.
From tree house to Santa Monica, Rustic Canyon has emerged, grown and adapted over time. Rustic Canyon is a great name for it, since the place does indeed combine rustic with fresh organic ingredients and a casual laid-back vibe. They offer farmers’ market-inspired dishes with organic ingredients from local farmers, ranchers and fishermen all whom have sustainable practices. In the Spring of 2019, they earned a Michelin Star, upon the guide’s return to Los Angeles — bravo bravo.
Their wine as we noted below, is unique, focusing on small producers whose stories are authentic and pure. With over 500 selections by the bottle and a rotating 30 options by the glass, we were thrilled by the choices. Unique appetizers drew us in, from milo & olive bread with Enzo’s olive oil & balsamic to lavender almonds. The ingredient blend of all of their dishes draw upon that uniqueness that sets them apart among the maze of Los Angeles restaurant options. For example, how about spring peas with horseradish, buckwheat and fresh cheese or Amberjack Crudo with California kiwi and Beylik’s tomatoes?
We did however go for their beef tartare which they serve with duck bresaola and grilled potato bread — what a combination right?
They also had a Sonoma Lamb Belly on the menu with stonefruit sauce — so unique, how could we resist? They start with unripened green nectarines which they confit over five days after which they are “smashed down”. The lamb is cured and other delicious spices are added including fennel pollen and dried rosemary.
We also tried their Baja Striped Bass with onion butter and fava beans, perfectly paired with a Chardonnay — sans the butter and oak.
Beautifully presented right?
We very rarely eat pasta anymore or any starchy dishes for that matter, but if you’re a noodle lover, then they offer a delicious sourdough linguine ‘cacio e pepe’ with Monterey Bay sea lettuces. Super healthy right? And, to boot — it’s gorgeous to look at as well.
Our top pick however goes to their Bone-in Pork Chop with smoked trout roe sauce. Lest not forget the touch of tarragon as well — OMG! This was a stand-out, something I am savoring in my memory days later.
Let’s move onto their desserts because we can and because we did. Given how many people we know have dietary restrictions, we are grateful that despite our leaning towards organic, veggies and sustainable minus the sugar and salt, we an still eat most things, which is a gift given how many restaurants we review over the course of a year.
Their desserts are as interesting as their mains and appetizers. If you want something simple, then go for the Honeycomb ice cream or sorbet but we had to try the Pavlova with Lemon Curd and White Chocolate and their strawberry shortcake version, which they call Sourdough Biscuit with Gloria’s Strawberries.
Fresh and memorable, we would definitely return. Their indoor dining was still somewhat restricted however as the summer marches on, no doubt they’ll be opening up more and more, with additional seating options indoors. Our experience was in their outdoor courtyard which was a tad windy at the time but there’s plenty of heat lamps and we never got chilly because of it. Two thumbs up.
Coffee finished our meal and with a nip in the air, it was a perfect ending to a perfect meal.
At the time of our visit in late May, Andy Doubrava was the Executive Chef and Nestor Silva was the Executive Sous Chef.
1119 Wilshire Boulevard
Santa Monica, CA 90401
Beachside Restaurant & Bar
Overlooking Mother’s Beach, Beachside Restaurant & Bar is a fabulous waterfront dining spot in Marina del Rey that offers fresh Californian cuisine combined with relaxing beach views. Think of it as a unique al fresco dining experience with a warm and inviting ambiance.
We were surprised at how much we loved our experience here, not because we read anything to the contrary but it’s always hit or miss when you dine at a hotel restaurant, depending on the property of course. We had such an enjoyable brunch here that I must say….it was difficult to leave. And, because it’s right on the beach, you can dig your heals in the sand after or before your meal, which we also did.
The service was incredible as were the offerings, making it both relaxing and fun. What was the standout dish? A few actually. You see, they offer both an A La Carte menu as well as a Brunch where you can feast for $55. They start you off with a Black Cold Brew Coffee Liqueur cocktail with screwball peanut butter whiskey (yes really), bananas, vanilla and sweet condensed milk. If you’re not a sweet drink lover (I have to admit: I no longer am), it may not be your cuppa tea, however we all put a shot of it in our coffee and it was a perfect combo. Oh yay!
Next up was a wooden board of bread offerings, with mini pastries and house made seasonal fruit preserve and whipped butter.
Then, you have a choice of Stone Fruits (vanilla bean soaked stone fruit with Greek yoghurt, lavender honey and pistachio) or the Watermelon and Heirloom Tomato salad served with Arugula, Feta, Gazpacho and aged balsamic. Although the latter was tempting, the lighter salad option egged me on and so I had to try it. It’s not only delicious, but exquisitely presented as well.
If you’re a plantain lover, then move over because their Maduros are served family style with mole, bacon and smoked crema. Okay, so it’s not the lightest choice but it was heavenly.
Then a little break for a small Tortilla Soup before your hot and savory main. In this case, they served it with a pablano crema, tortilla chips and cotija cheese.
The soup can be a bit spicy but that’s only if you order one of their Bloody Marys which have a kick – oh so yum though.
Their cocktail and wine list is very extensive, so whether you want a Margarita served several different ways, an old fashioned, a rum punch, a Mezcal and Campari creation, or a drink served with something stronger like Bourbon, there’s plenty to select from at Beachside. They even offer a wide range of Vodka, Gin, Rum, Bourbon, Rye and Scotch options as well. Since we remain partial to wine, we were thrilled to find both the Decoy and Ferrari Carano Chardonnay on the menu by the glass. And since Beachside is known for their brunches, they have some wonderful Prosecco, Sparkling Rose and Champagne offerings as well. Don’t drink alcohol? From Arnold Palmers and Iced Teas to Soda, mocktails and juice, they’ve got you covered.
So, what did I get for my main hot and savory dish you wonder? I opted for the Bistec Encebollado and Egg ‘creation’ because creation is exactly what this dish is, from the base: Cumin Rubbed Flatiron Steak to the sunny side up egg that accompanied it, to the yuca, maduros and smoked plantain crema with chimicuri that was on the side. OH YES!!
They also offer French Toast and Fried Chicken (this is a must for our next visit), Chilaquiles and Crab Cake Benedict as well as KFD and Waffles, served with a crispy fried duck leg and an ancho chili graze with maple ‘fluff’ — yes, really. Ruth ordered the Crab Cake Benedict, pictured below.
Anthony was craving something sweet, so he went for the Toasted Hazelnut with Chocolate Ganache Crepe which they serve with Banana Syrup. Sure, it’s a bit decadent and sweet, but if you have a sweet tooth or chocolate is on your mind, how can you resist this dish?
If you do go for the brunch menu, they bring you a jello shot at the end. For those who want something lighter, you can order just a main entree of course, and there are plenty of options, including a traditional egg scramble (perfect for brunch), burgers, a whole roasted Branzino dish with pistachio dukkah, stone fruit and more. Rather than have a dessert with the volume of food we had already experienced, we ended our afternoon brunch with cappuccinos which totally hit the spot.
The vibe is definitely oh so chic with great views of the beach on the patio and soft lounge chairs and couches to sit in while you wait for your table, and inside, a trendy bar with tons of great art that adorn the wall, both in the restaurant and the hotel.
Below, the bar scene.
We loved the side area of the outdoor dining at Beachside — super casual but so relaxing partially under covering and partially not, surrounded by palm trees, one of my favorite things about outdoor dining in LA.
Afterwards, we spent time on the beach soaking up the sun and the wonderful vibe.
At the time of our visit, the executive chef was Victor Morales. We can’t wait to return to Beachside on a future visit for more leisurely time on the beach with divine fare.
Beachside Restaurant & Bar
4175 Admiralty Way
Marina Del Rey CA 90292
Cast & Plow @ the Ritz Carlton
Let’s move onto a bit more established and conventional — the Ritz Carlton. As you know, we’ve reviewed plenty of Ritz Carlton restaurants over the years and some are dressier and more refined and others tend to be more casual. In Marina Del Rey, the latter is a better choice for those who live here and for those who visit.
Casual it is, but not without the other great perks that come with a Ritz Carlton experience: incredible service, a great wine list and ambiance that keeps you there well into the evening. As you enter the hotel of course, you’re greeted with a modern flare throughout the lobby area as well as into the indoor dining and seating areas.
The bar area is incredibly modern and for those who want to catch up on a game, TV’s are on but they don’t overtake the bar area nor the vibe itself.
The artwork is incredible as well and if you’re an art lover like we are (or a collector), then you’ll want to spend some time browsing through the hallways on your way to the bathroom or just because the curation is amazing.
Rather than dine inside even though they’re open for indoor dining now, we had to sit on the balcony because the ambiance is incredible with views of the harbor. On one side, you face the yachts and the other is protected so although you’re outdoors, the tables are set up in a way where it’s impossible to get cold.
Not only is the table set up design protected, but there is a heater in the middle of your table and another on the ceiling so it’s always toasty warm. I mention this because not all outdoor dining experiences are pleasant if the heat lamps aren’t strong enough or the sitting areas are not protected in other ways. We’ve all been there. You’ll even notice the toasty fire flame in many of the foodie photos below. Now, let’s move onto the food because it’s soooo delicious.
Cast & Plow is committed to fresh, organic and locally grown raised ingredients, a trend in the greater LA area. If you’re there in a small group, there are plenty of sharable options for the table, such as frites with jalapeno aioli, marinated olives, herb brioche with sea salt and organic butter, a cheese and charcuterie board, hummus and plenty of salads.
Wondering what this beautiful gem is? Meet the Black Cod with Mirin Caramel, Citrus and a radish salad – incredible, right?
Another great option is the Tuna Poke which they serve with Meyer Lemon Creme Fraiche, heirloom cauliflower, crispy ciabatta and mustard seeds. Unique right?
The chef decided we couldn’t leave without trying their very popular Fried Cauliflower Manchurian, which is a great option for vegetarians. They serve it with a cucumber-mint salad, black sesame and a yoghurt sauce. Yum, right? This is all after it has been soaked in buttermilk, giving it a unique taste.
Why is Burrata always on the menu at California restaurants? Just when I try to eat less cheese, burrata hits in the face and I can’t resist. Who can? Here, they serve it with green olives, tomatoes of course and tossed in a basil vinaigrette.
They actually offer a Fresh Lobster (poached in butter – OMG, right?), with apple fennel puree, cipollini, onions and hazelnut crumbs, but the Seared Scallops were recommended and who can say no to scallops done well? They serve them with a ginger sweet potato puree, candied bacon, saba and brussels sprouts. Let’s just says that it tasted as divine as it looks.
Moving onto something a little lighter, we shared the King Crab among us (again, the chef’s choice).
Another favorite of the evening was their Wild Organic Salmon which they make with Romanesco, Almonds, Orange Cream and Cali gremolata. It did indeed feel as if the food kept coming (and coming). Who am I to tell a very talented chef, no mas? And so we didn’t however our waiter had gone through many plate tastings before so asked the chef to reduce the size of each plate so we could sample more dishes but not full sized plates. Great idea Walter – thank you for taking care of us!
Our waiter and chef both suggested we taste their Beef Tenderloin which was surprisingly light even with the smoked bacon and port wine sauce addition. They accompany it with seasonal roasted farmers’ veggies which gives the beef a lovely balance. We paired this with the Hall Cab from Napa and the Smoke Tree Pinot Noir from the Sonoma Coast. Why the latter with a beef dish? You’re probably thinking it’s too light however it really complimented so many of the other dishes as well. And, let’s remember we started with Sancerre and the Cakebread Chardonnay which worked with many of the appetizer choices. Bravo bravo!
Other offerings worth mentioning include the K-Town Duck Breast with braised red cabbage, a Curry Falafel with charred tomatoes and lemon yoghurt, a Red Quiona Bowl (great for vegetarians), Crab Salad sliders and Caesar Salads. If you have kids in tow, there’s also Chicken and Grilled Cheese sandwiches as options as well as burgers.
As for the experience? In addition to fabulous food, wine and service, just look at the exquisite ambiance by night (below).
Tons of support for California farms as well, including Drake Family Farms where they get their goat cheese, Maggie’s Farm in Agoura Hills where they get their salad greens and they bring in the Brandt Beef from Buena Park. Berries come from Harry’s Berries in Ventura, the butter comes from Straus Family Creamery and their sheep milk yoghurt comes from Bellwether Farms, the latter two based in Petaluma California, north of San Francisco. The executive chef at the time of our visit was Eric Duchene.
Would we return? You betcha. There’s also validation if you park your car with them at the valet as well, a nice added benefit.
Cast & Plow
4375 Admiralty Way
Marina Del Rey, CA 90292
FIG Restaurant @ the Fairmont
We love seasonal, fresh and organic so was thrilled that we had an opportunity to review FIG, which is located in the Santa Monica Fairmont Miramar. A bistro committed to fresh, seasonal cuisine, the menu features diverse Southern California bounty, sourced from multiple weekly visits to the local farmers markets and from specialty foragers that comb the coastline for hard to find items. Although the menu changes depending on the season and other factors, there’s their classic perennial favorites like the Lobster Cobb Salad, which I had to try of course and something they refer to as Mary’s Chicken.
Executive Chef Jason Prendergast was trained in the classic French tradition and it shows in both the presentation and the blend of spices and sauces that are used. Like so many wonderful organic restaurants in the Los Angeles area, they focus on sustainability and here, they get ingredients from local farmers, ranchers and fishermen. Plus, the ambiance is ‘killer’ as well, whether you dine on their porch area with beautiful greenery above and around you, outside overlooking the patio or at the bar.
They started us off with donuts, but they tasted more like begnets, not exactly New Orleans style, but light nevertheless. Anthony finished all of them off before he finished his coffee – can you say delish?
Of course whenever Burrata is on the menu, I have to try it and try we did. When you live with an Italian, burrata is always part of your life and so is oregano, olive oil, basil and tomatoes.
Truth be told, I haven’t had oysters in perhaps three years, the last year and a half because of Covid lock-downs and us not dining out all that often. OH, what a treasure it was to have a date with oysters on this trip. They give you a few different dipping options, including red wine-shallow mignonette, hot sauce, a Habanero cocktail sauce and horseradish, which definitely gives your oysters a kick.
Moving onto some of their lighter options before diving into some of their heavier but equally scrumptious offerings. Epic at FIG as I understand it, their Lobster Cobb is a local favorite. They top it with crumbled egg, smoked bacon, charred corn, cherry tomatoes, avocado and boursin cheese, all tossed in a lemon tarragon dressing. Oh so divine!
Also deliciously light and a must try is their Mexican Shrimp Ceviche, which is garnished with radish and cilantro and includes heirloom tomatoes (my new favorite), and chile lime tostadas. And, just look at the presentation!
Above and below, FIG’s Mexican Ceviche paired with a lovely Santa Maria Valley Chardonnay. They also had a divine Sancerre on the menu as well — the Domaine Michel Girault “La Silicieuse” from France.
Attached to the railings that surrounded the pool were plants and herbs — behind us sat fresh rosemary and lavender, so fresh we could smell it while we dined. Yes, really.
Want something a little more decadent, then try their fried chicken or warm strawberry rhubarb crumble for dessert. They have plenty of heavenly brunch offerings as well, including more traditional items such as eggs benedict, smoked brisket hash, kimchi fried rice, burgers, spicy fish tacos, selva shrimp or burritos.
If you want sandwiches and fruit to go, they can accommodate as well.
We really loved the ambiance and the service was top-notch (truly!). We felt welcomed and embrace, catered to each phase of the meal. They also have Sangria if wine is not your thing. They also offer a great Rose champagne, Lambrusco and a divine Nebbiolo as well.
We also loved their pressed juice offerings. I tend to stay away from orange juice so didn’t sample their orange, apple, aloe vera, turmeric, lemon and black pepper blend, but devoured two of their Green Juices that afternoon — they make it with cucumber, celery, spinach, lemon, kale and parsley (none of the sugar, but all of the goodness). You could say that their Green Juice blend had me at hello.
At the time of writing this review, the chef was Jason Prendergast.
101 Wilshire Boulevard
Santa Monica CA 90401
We also discovered Urth Caffé but this time around, for a take-out brunch instead, hence using their images for a better presentation than what we were able to capture in late May. This ever so healthy European-style café offers exclusive organic, heirloom coffees, fine teas, exquisite desserts, and health-conscious food.
They have nine locations in the United States and offer great options for breakfast, lunch or dinner that is all about quality, sustainable, farm-fresh, and organic ingredients, many of which are delivered straight from the farm. Their eggs for example come directly from a family farm where the chickens are raised old school style, cage-free, and vegetarian-fed. Bravo.
The ambiance is great as well: think artsy euro-styled unique pieces of stone, wood, glass and hand-painted tiles so you feel the warmth and authenticity of the place as you casually experience your to-die for meal.
Imagine warm bread pudding (your choice of plain, cinnamon raisin or seasonal pumpkin) served with topping choice of slow-roasted apples or caramelized bananas, with steamed milk?
Healthy and organic parfaits all the way….Greek yoghurt with berries and of course, if you want gluten-free, they’ve got you covered. It’s Santa Monica after all.
Below, the purest organic Brazilian acai fruit sorbet served with fresh-cut fruits, granola and your choice of a topping: chia seeds, coconut, or cocoa nibs.
Their eggs are so fresh that if you’re an egg lover, you must try one of their countless dishes that include them, whether its a scrumptious omelet or this decadent choice below. Meet the toasted, sprouted ancient grain bread, lemon mascarpone, fresh avocado, natural smoked salmon and wild arugula, topped with soft poached eggs, chopped salsa with capers and fresh dill. They serve it with sliced seasonal melon.
Urth Caffé also sources the finest imported black, green, white, and oolong teas from the most famous tea gardens of the world.
Two thumbs up. If healthy and organic is your thing, make sure is Urth Caffé is on your list. There are a bunch of locations in the greater LA area including the airport and Melrose, as well as other spots up and down the coast, such as Laguna Beach and then inland at Pasadena. We tested the Santa Monica location during this particular trip – details below.
2327 Main Street
Santa Monica CA 90405
It’s been awhile since we’ve flown anywhere because of Covid and our typical flight patterns before the pandemic consisted mostly of short legs to Arizona or Idaho and cross country from SFO to JFK. We had never flown Alaska Air for long distance flights and only occasionally for short ones. Recently, we learned that this down-to-earth airline has a lot more routes than we originally thought.
For this LA jaunt, we were fortunate enough to be flown first class from SFO to LAX – bravo! What a way to go as the world is beginning to open up more and more. Those who have been vaccinated are feeling safer to venture out into the world again and we are also seeing the number of Covid cases dropping.
It was such a short flight that there was no drink or meal service so we didn’t have a chance to try out their food but the flight was smooth sailing and their first class seats have plenty of leg room. During these transitional times, the main plus is more distance from others because of the larger seats and while not always the case, it tends to be less crowded than it often is in the back of the plane.
You see, SFO to LAX is a frequently traveled route because the flight is less than an hour, making it even commutable for people who collaborate with others in both cities.
In addition to business travel, family travel and romantic getaways are also popular for the SFO to LAX route. Why? Disneyland and Magic Mountain are both in the region and it’s also a stone’s throw from coastal towns like Pismo Beach, Newport Beach and others.
Additionally, the greater Los Angeles area has plenty of great romantic hotels, resorts and inns. Plus, southern California is full of amazing restaurants and who doesn’t want to get away for a long weekend to eat? We just did and our palette is still remembering the tasty dishes of LA. So, whether you travel for business, family or pleasure, Alaska Air has plenty of destination options.
Bottom line: we look forward to traveling with Alaska Air again, next time on a longer flight so we can truly experience First Class with the bells and whistles you tend to get on non-commuter routes. I didn’t realize they flew direct to Florida from the west coast and to other fun destinations like Sun Valley, Seattle, Bozeman, Santa Barbara, Portland and even Hawaii.
Who knew? Check out their route map here. #iFlyAlaska.
If you’ve been reading WBTW for awhile, you know we’re fans of Buick and on both American coasts and have experienced both cars and SUVs over the years, whether that be romantic getaways or family travel experiences. In other words, they make cars suitable for a variety of travel needs. Truth be told, we have had the most experience with the Buick Encore, a vehicle we absolutely love. On this trip, it was the Buick Encore that transported us from one activity to another, and one restaurant to another. It was an eating frenzy and we loved every minute of it.
The Buick Encore GX Essence is our favorite of the Encore models, which is one of their more luxe options. Why? Many of the Essence models come equipped with what they refer to as an Advanced Technology Package, largely because those who will be drawn to an upscale Encore will want the tech bells and whistles as well. The package includes features like 4G LTE Wifi hotspot capable, a six speaker audio system with amplifier, Buick’s Infotainment system with an 8 inch diagonal color touch screen, Bluetooth streaming audio for music connection, Wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto capabilities, USB ports and more. You can also pair two phones simultaneously.
Other nice add-ons can include noise control and active noise cancellation, and if you go with what they refer to as a Buick Drive Confidence Package, things like automatic emergency braking, front pedestrian braking, lane keep assist with lane departure warning, forward collision alert, following distance indicator and IntelliBeam auto high-beam assist are also included as well.
Going with an Encore Essence also means that the car will have luxury leather seats. The one we toured LA in also had a moonroof which is a must have if you’re in California during the warmer months. And of course, OnStar is an integral part of the vehicle as well and if you purchase a new one, you receive a few month trial — same with Sirius XM. OnStar is a great option if you’re traveling as a family or solo because it gives you that added confidence knowing that an Emergency-Certified Advisor is ready to help no matter what happens out on the road.
It’s been awhile since we’ve toured in a Buick — the last one was the Enclave a few years ago but we hope to have another opportunity for a longer road trip later this year now that many of the Covid-restrictions are lifting and it becomes easier to explore our favorite U.S. destinations. Let’s just says that the Encore was a perfect vehicle for LA because it’s slightly smaller, making street parking easy.
Be sure to visit our Los Angeles “city” section for additional posts and photos on the area.
NOTE: we teamed up with partners and were hosted on this trip including Alaska Air, Buick, the Santa Monica Tourism Board and the Marina Del Rey Tourism Board but all opinions expressed are entirely our own.