Michael's Santa Monica has been serving diners for 37 years, but is fresh off a small face lift which includes the installation of whiz kid chef, Miles Thompson, formerly of Allumette.
Michael's Restaurant has been in Santa Monica longer than any Millennial has been alive. During all of this time, I never managed to dine there. I'd heard of the well-regarded local chefs who spent time in the kitchen like Nancy Silverton, Jonathan Waxman and Mark Peel, but it always seemed like a pretty "grown-up" place to go back in the day. Then I think it went through a been there, done that, dated period. Now Michael McCarty, the name and brain behind the restaurant, is giving it a new life with a new chef, and that's what finally got me in the door.
The chef with the pull is Miles Thompson. He's not even 30 years old. Yes, there are probably pans older than him at Michael's. Thompson is no newbie to the Los Angeles dining scene though. He was the mastermind behind culinary gem Allumette, who Bon Appetit put on its best new restaurant list in 2013. Prior to that, he worked at other LA hot spots like Nobu, Animal and Son of a Gun. So I was curious to see what he would do at old school Michael's.
In case someone else has never been to Michael's like me, there's a beautiful patio out back where you can dine al fresco. There's also now an expanded bar and large communal tables if you have a big group or feel like making some new friends. I met a friend for a drink there just so we could see how things looked. After reviewing the menu, we knew we had to at least try a dish or two.
There's a short, but inventive cocktail menu of about 6 drinks. Before Sunset is a winner with aperol, dry vermouth, amaretto (haven't seen this guy in a while), fresh lime and soda. Having just been in Italy, I was still in an aperol state of mind and definitely wasn't disappointed with this one. I always worry about an overly tart drink, but this one was perfectly balanced and mighty refreshing. There's a nice whiskey drink on the menu, as well as a decent selection of Mezcal.
When I saw chicken hearts on the menu, I knew we had to try more than one dish off the small plates menu. I'm not seeing nearly as much organ meat in LA as I'd like. 5 years ago, in Paris, offal was everywhere. I think people are afraid of it here, but healthy Angelenos listen up, organ meat is a nutritional powerhouse, loaded with A and B vitamins. Even if none of that matters to you, you need to try Thompson's chicken hearts. They're pillowy bites, bursting with flavor and further enhanced by eggplant and beans. I'd go back just for that dish, though we were told that the menu will be changing often. Don't go anywhere with those hearts!
Pig ears also caught my attention and this was another eye catching ditch with blistered baby broccoli, spicy peanuts and a scotch egg of sorts on top. It had all the right tastes and textures.
Even the ubiquitous octopus that's on every menu around town, delivered with a tangy, but savory green tomato mustard with tangerine and chilis.
The only dish I wouldn't mind seeing swapped out is the smoked trout roe. The roe was good, but it was served on burrata, chow chow and pickled black mustard and the balance was off, leaving me a bit puckery.
We never made it to the selection of 5 large plates on the menu, all hovering around the $30 range. This included bigger proteins like duck confit, striped bass and black cod. We were more than satisfied with the dozen small plates options, priced $9 - $18.
I'd like to thank Miles Thompson for getting me to Michael's for the first time. Now I know that it won't be the last!
Michael's Santa Monica
1147 3rd St., Santa Monica