Santa Monica equals summer. From the Annenberg Beach House to the Promenade, it's not a matter of if Los Angelenos will visit Santa Monica between Memorial Day and Labor Day, but how many times.
So let's get down to it, where should you be dining? Here are three must stops this summer season.
Santa Monica Yacht Club (SMYC)
No, there's not a secret harbor in Santa Monica you didn't know about, but SMYC will make it feel like you stepped onto a millionaire's mid-century boat. Chef Andrew Kirschner took over the space on 6th Street, previously occupied by La Botte and just down the block from his previous hit restaurant, Tar & Roses.
Need a little wind on your face? The restaurant also has an outdoor patio to enjoy the cool summer breeze coming from the ocean only a few blocks west. The bar program features many rum-based beverages to complete the feeling of an ocean vacation. I can recommend starting with the Seamail, a refreshing blend of rum, lime, pineapple and cava to start and then moving on to the fresh oysters paired with the Smooth Sailing, Jamaican pot stilled rum, orange bitters and green chartruese.
If you only try one appetizer, make it the ceviche. Served in a half coconut, the striped bass blends so well with the coconut water, cilantro and just a little heat from some jalapeno. But who can stop at just one appetizer at a place like this? The yellowtail served with citrus, white soy, whipped ricotta and shiso will be popular with the table and make sure to grab a bite of the charred octopus, it's unbelievably tender.
Still have room for more? Two words: lobster toast. Served with garlic aioli, lemon, dried roe and chive, it's a great summer dish, light and satisfying. And who can skip dessert? It's worth the extra time at SoulCycle to try the Key lime treat. So sweet and tangy, it's the perfect end to the meal.
Little Door Santa Monica
Want to impress someone coming to Santa Monica for the first time? Take them to Little Door Santa Monica. A second location following the popular Little Door in West Hollywood, the Santa Monica spot is practically hidden behind ivy across from the Brentwood Country Mart on 26th Street. The restaurant boasts a rustic patio, perfect for a date or intimate conversation. It appears to be a favorite of locals as well, it was packed when I was there on a Tuesday, not exactly date night.
It's Chef T. Nicholas Peter's Moroccan-French menu that makes this a destination, in addition to Michael Gannon's superb bar program. I highly recommend beginning with a bourbon bellini, which includes Elijah Craig bourbon, peach nectar and Crémant de Bourgogne, although the Perfect Paddy, a combo of Paddy Irish whiskey, Carpano Antica, Dolin Dry and orange bitters, is a solid start as well.
If you're feeling indulgent, the duo of duck foie gras is a rich way to dig into the appetizers. The foie gras is served torchon and as a creme brulee and makes you wonder how long Californians could have survived the ban on the delicacy. Looking for something a little lighter? The fresh goat cheese and pistachio tart is paired with a trio of roasted beets topped with an orange blossom and mint vinaigrette.
I always hate to copy the order of the diner next to me, but when I saw her order the pancetta-wrapped monkfish, I knew I had to do the same. The salty ham and the fresh fish make for an excellent combination, served with tender morel mushrooms.
And as I can never tell anyone to pass on dessert, make sure to tell your waiter to bring over the chalkboard of the day's specials. You can't go wrong if the chocolate and cherry tart is on the menu, but if the strawberry rhubarb tart is still there, consider finishing your meal with the seasonal treat.
Spent the day surfing, biking or even working on Silicon Beach? Make your way over to Ashland Hill for a casual night out just a short walk from the beach.
Occupying the space previously taken up by Wildflour Pizza on Main Street, the restaurant has plenty of outdoor seating where you can watch the sky change colors as the sun sets on the Pacific. A beer and wine spot, Ashland Hill has plenty of hyperlocal drafts on tap, including one of my favorites, the Ballast Point Grapefruit Sculpin IPA.
Chef Bradley Miller, a busy guy who also oversees Ox & Son over on Montana, features elevated gastropub fare that's full of original flavor combos. Start with the avocado and roasted tomato toast. The avocado spread is fresh and well paired with the roasted tomato, goat cheese, thai chile, pickled pearl onion and smoked salt. Looking to add a little heat? Try the red curry deviled eggs. I'm not big on spicy, but this had just enough heat to make it interesting.
Apparently there's some friendly competition for title of "Best Burger" between the staff at Ashland Hill and Ox & Son. The Ashland Hill version is topped with red onion bacon jam, sharp white cheddar, paprika mayo and paired with herb parmesan fries. I've tried both, but I'll leave it to readers to decide which is best, I can't choose.
A full meal at Ashland Hill will leave you stuffed, but try to save space for the blueberry crumble. Topped with whipped white chocolate and ginger ice cream, pair it with the Belching Beaver Peanut Butter Milk Stout (no, I'm not making that name up and, yes, it tastes like peanut butter).
Is that enough to whet your appetite for summer? Then go out and get eating.