At long last Santa Monica has stepped up the Westside food game with new gastronomic eateries that rival any other pocket of the city.
Cadet French inspired share-plates restaurant on Wilshire was the first in a sea of game changers to the area. Many mouth-watering dishes pop out of the wood-burning oven at this cozy spot from Chef Kris Tominga (The Hart and the Hunter) and Jeff Weinstein (Freddy Smalls). One of the most decadent is the layers of mashed potato in a mini-skillet that is a cross between a gooey fondue and a scallop spuds dish with a torched French cheese crust. For lighter appetites try the ember roasted black cod or an Asian pear and kale salad. Thankfully, they are now open for lunch, so you can enjoy roasted cauliflower salads, tartines with bacon and avocado or beef tartare, or a comforting croque Madame along with a glass of rose for mid-day pick me up. http://cadetsm.com/
Aestus is hands-down one of the best dining experiences in the city -and now you can enjoy it seven days a week. Tucked away in a quiet corner of Wilshire only a few blocks from the beach, chef Alex Ageneau (Patina), and owner-wine director Kevin O’Connor (Spago) keep the pace moving during the buzzy dinner service at this retro-chic gem. Standouts include the squid ink capellini with crab; grass fed flat iron steak with sunchokes; roasted carrots with goat cheese; steak tartare hiding under a thin layer of sliced beets; farrotto – which is cross between risotto and farro with fava beans and topped with a poached egg; or the smoked trout with roe dip that might just take over the whole meal once you start dipping it into the crusty bread. http://www.aestusrestaurant.com/
Ox & Son is a cool new wine bar style eatery on Montana by The Forkin’ Awesome Hospitality group who seems to have taken over the Westside lately – they are also responsible for homey Arts Table down the road and the more casual alfresco Ashland Hill on Main Street. Make note: the latter has one of the best burgers and skillet-style mac-n-cheese dishes in town. At Ox & Son you’ll want to order the truffled quail egg dotted beef tartare that looks like a Jackson Pollack painting; sticky pig cheeks and black rice or the chicken fried duck confit conceived by Executive Chef Brad Miller. The crust is a little thick – so be prepared, but it’s nothing a South African rose can’t help to cut through the richness. http://oxandson.com/
The Independence took us by surprise. We were expecting another fun burger-style joint with a great bar – and we got that, but also an inspired multi-layered menu with Chef Tom Block at the helm. Lunch highlights include pho and a smoked pork torta with mozzarella and avocado. For dinner start with smoked whitefish toast, grilled octopus or venison ragu. Larger dishes encompass a bone-in NY strip steak; wild halibut with drizzled with smoked buerre blanc; and stuffed Idaho trout. Not your typical pub-grub fare for certain. Sip cocktails concocted by master mixologist Vincenzo Marianella from highly regarded Copa d’Oro down the street. http://www.independencetavern.com/
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