Top Chef Nyesha Arrington closes Leona and open Native Restaurant in downtown Santa Monica. Local California produce shines on Arrington's well-developed, eclectic menu.
I was a big fan of Nyesha Arrington's restaurant Leona when it was open in Venice (review here). I also enjoyed my meal at Santa Monica Yacht Club, but probably not as much as I liked Leona. Luckily for me Arrington moved into the closed Santa Monica Yacht Club space to open the new restaurant, Native.
The look is the same, but the nautical theme has been dropped for a more simple, cozy vibe.
There's still a long, L-shaped bar, communal table, patio seating, and small dining room. There's a cocktail menu with words on it that you'll need help deciphering. Or just go with a delicious sounding drink like the Big Surprise with mezcal, four pillars bloody shiraz, creme de cacao, all spice dram, six grapes port, peppery cherry, lemon, and crushed ice. Yeah, you wouldn't think those all go together, but they do, and it's delicious. You'll also find a mostly French and California wine list to pair with your food, with begins with a trout rillette amuse bouche that will prime your palate.
The menu is short and sweet, but long on local, delicious ingredients. We ordered half the starter menu, and next time, I'm thinking about ordering all of them. They were that good.
Scallop crudo was delicate and fresh with a simple, but sublime white ponzu and satsuma koshu. It was light and lovely.
The grass-fed bison tartare was soft and rich. Maui onion and a savory korean mustard, soy-sesame sauce flavored the meat perfectly.
On the other end of the spectrum were the fabulous short rib dumplings with brussels sprouts, charred onion, and natural beef jus. You definitely need an order of these.
Main courses ran the gamut of rabbit with spatzle to lamb meatballs, black cod, and Oregon albacore. We tried the roast duck breast with cabbage, pastrami jus, and marble rye tuille. It was a play on a traditional pastrami sandwich. You could taste the flavors, but unfortunately, the duck did not work for me. I could not get a chewy bite of the meat down.
Luckily all was forgotten when a deep fried chocolate dessert arrived. The server first described it as a twinkie, but churro was more like it since the exterior was crisp. The interior was decadently rich with oozing chocolate and serrano chile, which always pairs so well with chocolate.
Our starters at Native were sublime and I think Nyesha Arrington has another hit restaurant on her hands. Hopefully it will be here to stay.