Venice/Santa Monica | 99 Essential Restaurants 2015

Venice/Santa Monica

Father's Office

photo by Anne Fishbein

Yes, you know about the burger. So does everyone else. But at the heart of Sang Yoon’s dual-location beer bar is also the city’s finest gastropub (applicable well before that term was overused into oblivion), a place where the idea of pairing smoked eel salad with an imperial porter, or roast bone marrow with a Belgian sour, shifted from oddball to essential. Father’s Office doesn’t rest on its laurels, however. The roster of craft beers remains pleasantly diverse enough to challenge beer nerds, and the kitchen’s nightly specials are continually worth the visit. If nothing else, there’s always the burger and fries. Sans ketchup, naturally. —Garrett Snyder

Gjelina

photo by Anne Fishbein

There may be no restaurant as emblematic of the breezy, stylish Venice lifestyle as Gjelina, no place where the people are more beautiful, the vibe more Cali-chic, the food more true to our gourmet/carefree aspirations. The pizzas have crispy edges and are topped with ingredients such as burrata and wild nettles; the vegetable dishes might include roasted fennel with white wine, blood orange and fennel pollen; the rib eye is from Niman Ranch; the wine list is long and engrossing. The magic trick of Gjelina is that food this serious (and it is, seriously good) can be served in a room so effortlessly casual, the brick back patio all leafy and twinkly, the crowded dining room looking like a wood cabin met the beach and they fell in love. You only have to walk past this restaurant and see the crowds of people waiting outside, and peek through the windows at the people snacking on charcuterie and bowls of house-made pasta, and you’ll find yourself thinking, “I want to be them. I want to be there.” You’re going to have to wait a long time for a table, but the good news is that you, too, can be part of the fantasy.— Besha Rodell

Mélisse

photo by Anne Fishbein

It’s easy in this brave new world of eating to become jaded about luxury fine dining, to forget the pleasures of eating in an elegant room with formal service (Captains! Sommeliers and assistant sommeliers! Runners who swoop in to drop food or bus your tables as if they’re performing ballet!). If what’s so great about dining in this manner has slipped from your memory, it really is worth a trip to Mélisse, Josiah Citrin’s modern French restaurant in Santa Monica, to refresh your memory. Here, you can revel in extravagances such as caviar service, or a table-side filleting of Dover sole or carving of truffle-stuffed chicken, or Citrin’s “carte blanche” menu, which spans 15 courses and will cost you a cool $275 per person. But even if you don’t have quite that much cash to throw around, it’s worth coming here for one of the less extravagant tasting menus on a special occasion, to see what Citrin can do — his soups so much silkier than anyone else’s, his sauces so much more refined. For being one of the most expensive restaurants in, well, the country, Mélisse has an exceedingly reasonable wine list — don’t get me wrong, you can easily spend a month’s salary on booze here if you want, but there’s treasure to be found on the lower end as well, and a staff that’s happy to guide you. For about double what you’d spend at many of our more trendy eateries, you’ll leave with the warm glow of a rare experience, one that has been perfectly calibrated from the second you stepped through the door and finishing with the gorgeous plate of petit fours delivered with your check. —Besha Rodell

Rustic Canyon

photo by Anne Fishbein

Kanye West once boasted that he had forgotten better rhymes than most rappers had ever thought of (to paraphrase). After multiple visits to Santa Monica’s Rustic Canyon — and a few months staring longingly at head chef Jeremy Fox’s Instagram — you develop the sense that the former chef of Napa’s Ubuntu has similar creative qualities. The best dishes on the menu seem to be available for the briefest glimmer of time, such as a soup of deeply caramelized sunchokes offset with ripe persimmons, or a gorgeous plate of roughly torn falafel and Monterey squid accented with aioli nero. Rustic Canyon also has more consistent pleasures: The dark and handsome dining room remains one of the best places in the city to unwind with a plate of charcuterie and wine from an offbeat producer you’ve yet to hear of, and then end with a stellar seasonal dessert from the mind of Laurel Almerinda. —Garrett Snyder

Superba Food and Bread

photo by Anne Fishbein

Restaurateur Paul Hibler’s second restaurant in the Superba family is one of those places that embodies the personality and carefree style of Venice so perfectly, it became that city’s de facto living room (or maybe breakfast nook) as soon as it opened. A former auto body shop, Superba Food and Bread was opened up and glassed in so that it feels as if the building is made of pure air and light — an accomplishment made all the more impressive by the jumbled urban streetscape of Lincoln Avenue just outside its door. An all-day affair, it’s not just a restaurant — it’s a cafe, a patisserie and a bread bakery, as well as a pretty great place to grab breakfast, lunch or dinner. There are house-baked bread and pastries, and the kitchen turns out the kind of pseudo-healthy, ultra-fresh California cuisine that makes full use of grains and veggies, while also leaving room for daily specials that include a gourmet version of a Big Mac. There are things on toast, small plates and (often Mediterranean-influenced) larger plates, wood-grilled vegetables and meats cooked on a rotisserie. Mainly, it’s just a laid-back place to hang out and sip a macchiato or glass of wine while basking in that oh-so-Venice vibe.— Besha Rodell

Tar & Roses

photo by Anne Fishbein

With Tar & Roses, chef Andrew Kirschner has done something quite rare: taken the food of the moment and elevated it beyond what we expect, beyond — probably — what he needs to do to keep the room packed (and it is very packed). Kirschner has a way with contrasts, on the vegetable portion of his menu and beyond. A serving of Jerusalem artichokes seems almost ludicrously generous in nature, dotted with goat cheese and showered with hazelnuts. It’s stunningly delicious. Crostini with sardines and lush avocado comes topped with fistfuls of cilantro and pickled onion for tang. Risks are taken, meats that other chefs have forsaken (such as venison and lamb heart) are prized and elevated here. In the restaurant’s two-year journey, it has become one of the most interesting, reliable and often thrilling places to eat in Santa Monica. —Besha Rodell

The Tasting Kitchen

photo by Anne Fishbein

The Tasting Kitchen is a bit of a fantasy, the type of impossibly trendy yet welcoming place that might appear in an expensively made romantic comedy, the type where a gaggle of good-looking offspring return to Diane Keaton’s breezy Venice house, wear a lot of cashmere and fall in love with various hunks who stare into their eyes over candlelight at a beautiful restaurant, just like this one. Casey Lane’s Abbot Kinney eatery is still the toughest reservation in Venice, six years after opening. The reasons are many: the room, which envelops you in its warm glow; the cocktails, which are seasonal and so carefully made; Lane’s cooking, which merges Italian inspiration with the best of California’s bounty. That means a wide selection of charcuterie, a full list of gorgeous pastas, and entrees such as porcini-crusted hangar steak, or roasted duck and liver with apple marmaletta. Book early, don your most effortlessly beautiful cashmere and indulge in the fantasy.— Besha Rodell

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