If you haven’t been to the new Santa Monica Place yet…better go now! The Place is a virtual haven for foodies. The new Market, which opened May 21 boasts some new artisan shops on the top floor next to a bevy of new restaurants, called the Dining Deck.
Sample painted hand-made chocolate at L’Artisan du Chocolat, taste eclectic wines at Venokado, taste premium cheeses at the Norcino Salumeria Cheese Bar or purchase a bouquet of flowers at Magical Blooms. We happened to stroll in to this opening on a date night and were pleasantly surprised. While Santa Monica boasts some amazing restaurants and “foodie sources” including the best Wednesday Farmers Market in all the land, I had lamented about the tear down of the “old mall” as an environmental waste. Now I am singing its praises.
We were looking for dinner with a sunset and decided to try out the Sonoma Wine Garden on the top floor with a view of the ocean. It’s a gathering place during Happy Hour where throngs of beautiful young people come to sip expensive wines and enjoy the sunset. So you get great people watching, a great sunset and a nice dinner all in one. We ate in the bar at a high table and soaked in the ambience as we dined on corn risotto and an arugula pizza. My meal was good, but not up to the standards of another restaurant I had sampled a few weeks earlier…True Food Kitchen. In all fairness though, we were eating in the bar, not in their main dining room!
I had been invited to the opening of True Food Kitchen at Santa Monica Place for lunch on May 6. The name doesn’t say much to me about what type of cooking to expect, but they call it Globally Inspired Cuisine. Cuisine says to me that it isn’t a coffee shop. It turns out that Dr. Andrew Weil, best-selling author and renowned health expert is behind this creation. This is the fourth in a chain following a branch in Newport Beach and two others in the Phoenix area, where Weil conducts his business from.
True Food Kitchen is next to Nordstrom in Santa Monica Place. It has a quiet location on the first floor – not the dining deck - light, airy and a contemporary design that reminded me of stepping into a grassy Hollywood set. It has an open kitchen with all the newest equipment on display, which enhances the feeling that you will be eating good, healthy, clean food.
We were seated near the back of the restaurant where I was immediately drawn to the chef preparing the Fava Bean & Ricotta Ravioli, which I had to have. He was artfully stretching the pasta dough through the machine and dusting with flour as he went. The result was long beautiful ribbons of pasta that he filled with the fresh fava beans that were waiting to be shelled.
Our server, Natalie offered us a cocktail, which I gladly accepted. These were no ordinary cocktails. I was served a Ginger Margarita made with St. Germain Elderflower and Ginger Agave Syrup and my guest was served Red Moon, appropriately named and made with Blood Orange, Yuzu, Agave & Soda. Christine called it “very refreshing”. We were impressed already!
Our first course arrived – the Shrimp Dumplings. These might sound like an ordinary Chinese menu item, but look at the presentation. Beachwood Mushrooms, Kombu seaweed, ginger and garlic comprised the sauce that these dumplings were swimming in. We were hooked!
The colorful presentation of our entrees knocked our socks off. Christine enjoyed the Spaghetti Squash Casserole, while I dined on the Fava Bean & Ricotta Ravioli. But I had one issue with my dish – it was not ravioli (a filling between two sheets of pasta), but a tortellini which is a square of pasta that is stuffed, folded into a triangle with the outside ends brought together. Did I care? No! It was delicious! I loved the Tat Soi greens that topped the dish. They added flavor, color and some healthy fiber to the dish. You can see the flecks of mustard grain in the sauce which is an emulsion of olive oil, lemon and garlic.
I tasted Christine’s Spaghetti Squash Casserole, which is not a whimpy vegetarian dish. The spaghetti squash is the receptor for the flavor ingredients that are added to this dish including fresh mozzarella, organic tomato and zucchini.
Before our dessert arrived, Manager, Matthew Bouvet wanted us to try the Tuscan Kale Salad made with organic black kale. Kale is a superfood, but it takes some effort to make it tasty. He explained that they use destalked organic black kale from a special farm and they dress it with olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, chili, breadcrumbs and parmesan. WITHOUT cooking it. A ten minute marinade tenderizes the leaves. We were surprised at how tasty this dish was, but it did take some selling on his part to get people to try it.
The desserts were heavenly. We sampled the Almond Olive Oil Cake with Blackberries and Greek yogurt along with the Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp with Vanilla Ice Cream. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t like a fruit crisp with ice cream, but the Olive Oil cake was Yummmy!
The cake soaked with the Blackberry sauce had just the right balance of moisture and sturdiness to hold up to the toppings. We eat a lot of yogurt at our house, but I’d never served greek yogurt on shortcake, which was a great idea to cut calories and fat over whipped cream.
I’ll return to True Food Kitchen again. It’s definitely Fresh Food that you can eat in a FLASH, but take time to linger and enjoy every bite.