Friday, September 30, 2016

Summer House Santa Monica

I seem to have been going into the last several restaurants that I have gone to skeptical.  I really hope that it doesn't become a trend.  I received a gift certificate from friends to any Lettuce Entertain You Restaurant for my birthday.  While I was happy to receive it, I tend to be a little skeptical of most of the restaurants in the group because, while the food is generally pretty good, it also feels kind of dumbed down to me.  I took some time to consider which restaurants in the group I would feel least skeptical about that I haven't been to.  From the much shorter list, I chose Summer House Santa Monica, a California Wine focused restaurant in Lincoln Park with an casual vibe and a very eclectic menu.  The space is very open with the front of the restaurant with garage doors opening onto a patio.  The walls were white slat boards that reminded me of a seafood shack on the beach.  The floor was cement and much of the furniture was similar to patio furniture.  The look was very casual which extended into the dress of the wait staff, blue jeans and navy blue gingham shirts.  Much of the dining room had a large skylight, the rest was open with exposed ventilation and trellises.  The wine list features a lot of reasonably priced California Wines as well as cocktails and beer.  While there was some nice looking wine on the list, I wasn't in the mood for wine and ordered a cocktail to start things off.  My drink was called High Tide and featured Few Breakfast Gin, North Shore Aquavit, St. Germaine, Lemon, Tarragon, and a Cucumber garnish.  While it wasn't listed, I think it also had some tonic water, because it was sparkling.  In any case, it was cool and very refreshing and I enjoyed it while I perused the food menu and waited for my order.
Looking at the many choices on the menu, it took a little thought to decide on how I wanted to construct my dinner such that it was something that I might like and actually made sense.  I decided start with Ahi Tuna Tostadas which came, in addition to the raw Ahi Tuna and crispy Corn Tortillas, with Watermelon, Thai Chili, Avocado, Crema, Cilantro, and Lime.  The plate came with five tostadas built on tortilla chips about the size of Tostitos.  The chips were very crunchy and the tuna was tender, flavorful, and fresh.  It did taste good, although admittedly, the watermelon did get lost among the other flavors.
One of the categories listed on the menu was Little Vegetable Plates.  It didn't look like I would be getting much in the way of vegetables with my other plates, so I decided to order some vegetables.  Among the choices were Caramelized Brussels Sprouts, Roasted Cauliflower, Fire-Roasted Beets, and Elote-Style Sweet Corn.  In my mind, considering my dinner, I thought that the Brussels Sprouts would have made the most sense, but I frequently have Brussels Sprouts when I go out, so I decided to go in a different direction and ordered the Fire-Roasted Beets.  The beets did have an obvious pairing with Goat Cheese, but there were some surprises with Hass Avocados and Red Apples.  Everything was topped with Watercress and then served with a Mustard Vinaigrette.  I like beets and think the pairing of beets and goat cheese, while obvious, is also very good.  The bitter greens also make sense.  The apples and avocado, while a surprise, paired very well, the sweetness of the apple pairing well with the earthy sweetness of the beets and the texture and flavor of the avocado pairing well with the goat cheese.
With my entree, I could have gone any number of directions from sushi to seafood to sandwiches to fish tacos.  I decided to split the difference somewhat and went with Orecchiette and King Crab, which was served with Candied Lemon, Chives, Lardo, Parmesan, and Fresno Chilies.  This was excellent and may have been my favorite dish.  The aroma of crab was obvious when the plate came out and the candied lemon showed prominently and paired well with the crab.  The orecchiette was perfectly al dente and liberally coated with parmesan cheese.  The slow medium burn from the Fresno chilies made for a nice finish.
Sitting with the idea of a casual restaurant, the desserts were similarly casual with an Ice Cream Sandwich, a Chocolate Cake, a Roasted Apple, Ice Cream, and a Cookie Counter.  Nothing on the menu was really speaking to me, but I did want to finish with something sweet so I settled on the Handmade Ice Cream Sandwich.  It was made with two Malted Chocolate Chip Cookies, Vanilla Bean Ice Cream, and lots of Chocolate Chips.  When it came out, I was surprised at how large it was, about 6 inches in diameter.  There was also a lot of ice cream which was liberally covered with chocolate chips.  I was again surprised at the crunchiness of the cookie and the softness of the ice cream.  This did make it a little difficult to eat, because biting into it tended to squeeze the ice cream before the cookie broke, so you had to watch to make sure you didn't lose any ice cream.  Having said this, it was very good and a lot of fun to eat and there were plenty of chocolate chips that jumped off to eat on their own.

I will say that while the food was good and the staff was friendly, I had a little problem with the pricing versus the casual atmosphere.  A casual restaurant should be a little less expensive.  While the food served was appropriately priced, it was too nice for a casual restaurant.  While I may return, because it is friendly and the food is good, it won't be a solo endeavour.     

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