Feeling like a cozy version of the Marketplace in San Francisco's Ferry Building, the Market at Santa Monica Place hosts vendors selling quality food products including cookies (The Cookie Curu), ice cream (Beachy Cream, N'ice Cream), charcuterie and cheese (Norcino Salumeria Cheese Bar), sandwiches and pastries (Rockenwagner Bakery), coffee (Groundwork Coffee Company), chocolate (L'Artisan du Chocolat), wine (Venokado) and two full service restaurants (Primi Al Mercato and The Curious Palate).
All the food and beverages sold in the Market are high quality and pricey, in keeping with the overal tenor of Santa Monica Place.
Last week, my wife and I stopped by The Curious Palate for dinner. I had come for lunch a few weeks before to try the miso short rib wrap, a sandwich originated by owners Mark Cannon and Elliot Rubin at their original, very popular Mar Vista sandwich shop.
The wrap and crisp French fries were delicious. Now I wanted to try the dinner menu.
As you can see from the printed menu and—more impressively—from the wall-sized blackboard at the entrance to the restaurant, Cannon and Rubin take farm-to-table seriously.
Like Gjelina in Venice and the Lazy Ox Canteen downtown, The Curious Palate serves good tasting food in an unpretentious, casual setting. There is seating at the bar facing the open kitchen, at tables along the side wall or outside on the small deck.
The lunch menu, which is served 10 a.m.-4 p.m., has many of the favorite sandwiches from the Mar Vista store and adds entrees including burgers, fish n' chips and ribs.
A selected menu is served all day, but starting at 6 p.m. the dinner menu takes over.
Executive chef Tim Morrill serves up smart, well-conceived, artfully executed food.
If you can visit the restaurant during the "Taste of Santa Monica Place"—continuing through Sunday, Aug. 14, you can sample the menu at a bargain price ($20 at lunch, or $30 at dinner for three courses).
With my wife, we shared an early dinner before a movie. From the tasting menu, we ordered the crispy calamari, the big eye tuna and the cake and ice cream dessert.
Lightly dusted with a mix of flour and Japanese panko, the calamari have a chewy crunch and nice heat from a chiffonade of fried basil, flowering thyme blossoms and shishito peppers and the spicy topping of crumbled olives.
The second course choice was big eye tuna or beef tenderloin in a beef cheek sauce seasoned with peanuts and creme fraiche. We opted for the tuna but not before chef Morrill kindly gave us a taste of the beef cheek sauce—delicious and richly flavored.
The blue fin tuna was cooked perfectly. Outside, the flesh was seared and, inside, it was still raw, protecting its sashimi-quality flavors.
Silver pearl barley risotto was a nice accompaniment, as was the puree of sweet corn cooked with cream, butter and thyme. An especially nice touch was the pairing of a second, chimichurri puree with contrasting color and heat.
The third course was a dessert plate with two cake rounds, a large scoop of home made almond-rum raisin ice cream and two fruit purees—strawberry and nectarine. The tang of the fruit balanced the sweetness of the ice cream and complimented the delicate cake.
Overall, the food at the The Curious Palate is exceptionally good and a great value, on a par with many fine dining restuarants.