A veteran travel writer’s take on where the LA diner is transported…
Plan Check (Santa Monica) is a new-American comfort food haunt made even tastier by its open-air social-atorium that’s chock-full of LA’s best characters, from bushy-bearded dudes wearing ski caps to those opting for designer t-shirts/store-ripped jeans/flip-flops. Everyone let’s their hair down at this upscale-casual industrial hangout where the soundtrack is human laughter. Debuting with the dynamite crab dip (masago, charred tomato, nori, toast) creates a leadoff moan, while the stuffed mushroom (roasted portobello, swiss cheese fondue, crispy kale, roasted garlic steak sauce) adds only silence. The craft beer (hello santa monica brew works Witbier) inspires system-wide comfort, too. The nine-seat bar slings signature cocktails including Plan Check Penicillin (el silencio mezcal, ginger, lemon, agave, fennel, and a “buzz button” that makes your tongue tingle) and the creamy El Pomelo Rose (more el silencio mezcal, pamplemousse rose liqueur, campari, agave, lime, egg white, edible bouquet). The mixology mastery here—happy hour made easy—adds digits to the sidewalk-strolling would-be models. Wait, entrees too? Make room for the Lobster Pot Pie (curried lobster bisque, beets, green beans, corn, carrots, potatoes) because you’re going to be here for a while. – – – – –
BOA Steakhouse (Santa Monica) is not your grandfather’s stogie-scented hangout, yet. While waiting for the steak to blow you away, beware of the unstoppable three-tier Chilled Seafood Platter (you name it, it looms) accompanied by a trio of dipping sauces and a seared tuna ceviche offering as the tower’s cone. The 17-page drink list is not short on revealing there’s something for everyone here; also a Wine Spectator award-winning list (hats off to The Prisoner, a Napa Valley Zinfandel-Cabernet). The modern-day cuisine also reverses trend with prime Omaha beef options including a “40 Day” Dry Aged New York Strip and Center Cut Filet Mignon (the choice for savants leaning toward weller-done). Other selections include Certified Organic Beef and Premium American Wagyu, all served with a choice of rubs and house-made sauces, including BOA’s own J-1 sauce. Traditional steakhouse sides like the tableside-made Classic Caesar Salad and Mac-n-Cheese help to weigh down your to-go bag. If you’re able to look away from what’s happening on your table, take in the colorful ambience, floor-to-ceiling wine racks, and outdoor or indoor options to behold the ocean across the street—everyone else is! Gluten-free diners warmly accommodated. And oh yeah, grandpa’s drink is waiting in the form of an El Olvido (patron silver, pineapple, poblano chile, Mexican honey, smoke-infused bitters). – – – – –
Sushi Roku (Santa Monica) brings the high-end LA sushi experience back down-to-earth (since debuting in Hollywood in 1997). With a dash of contemporary California cool (jalapeños, olive oil, on so on), fresh fish handpicked from the world’s pristine waters are melded with an artistry achievable only by a seasoned sushi chef. The Yellowtail Diced Chiles (yes, spicy) and the Albacore Sashimi (ponzu, crispy onions) immediately showcase this innovative twist on Japanese tradition. The signature rolls dazzle, enter the Katana (spicy tuna, shrimp tempura, tuna, yellowtail) while the mainstays like the Softshell Crab roll won’t disappoint. Digging deeper into the menu, the freshwater eel (unagi) broke new ground for my palate. Circling back to the cold appetizer menu to sample the Fluke Kumquat Sashimi (yuzu vinaigrette) and Blue Crab Tartare (with uni & caviar) made time and place stand still—until the hot waitress returned. Exotic but casual, 100 seats share four setting options, that include an open-air patio, a 20-seat cocktail bar, and a 10-seat sushi bar. Either way, you’re within easy reach of a specialty cocktail like their Skinny Bulldog (bulldog gin, veev acai spirit, cucumber, lime, agave, sea salt). I was not embarrassed to raise my hand for a second miso soup. Ps, the name Sushi Roku is via the Japanese slang word for “rock,” implying “rock and roll sushi.” * The three restaurants above enjoy ocean-breeze locales near the same waterfront intersection (Ocean Ave @ Santa Monica Blvd). – – – – –
Westwood’s Napa Valley Grille experience is a morphing of crisp décor, wine excellence, and fantastical starters like their Crescenza Cheese & Serrano Ham Tartine (pickled onions, arugula, raisin-pecan bread). The words Napa and Valley together ups any ante, and this inspiring space does not fail LA. The multi-room indoor/outdoor space can comfortably seat 370 diners. The long and handsome 20-seat bar is as inviting as any table in this sweet-sixteen-year-old institution that just got a $2 million facelift—which means new menu and new vibe mingling with its old-style neighborhood charm. Brick-oven flatbreads include the Roasted Vegetable (brussels sprouts, heirloom carrots, cauliflower, garlic, basil) and the Seasonal Harvest salad takes no prisoners (roasted kabocha squash, green dragon apple, glazed walnuts, mixed greens, maple-olive dressing). You can up your degree in wine to in-the-know here—the leather-bound wine guide for servers includes tasting notes highlighting the nose and palate of every choice on the list (borrow one). Their cozy wine cellar seats eight guests. Along with a curated selection of international wines, this grill also proudly showcases its private selection from the Tavistock Reserve Collection. While you’re at it, pair something with their sensational Cast Iron-Seared Sea Scallops (sweet corn purée, charred hearts of palm, ginger-citrus vinaigrette). Seeking a walk on the wild side? Their designer cocktail, the Spaghetti Western (lime, Giffard orgeat almond syrup, Solerno, Milagro Tequila Reposado) has your name on it. Need to keep it simple at lunch? The Grilled Wagyu Cheeseburger (Monterey cheddar, caramelized onions, brioche bun) is misdiagnosed as simply a cheeseburger.