Santa Monica is going strong with new restaurant openings. Wilshire Boulevard is lining up its own restaurant row with Aestus, Brilliantshine, Tacoteca and Cadet. Now if you drive just a few blocks north, Montana Avenue is finally gaining a little traction on the food map. Montana has always been a posh, but sleepy street when it comes to dining and nightlife. The folks north of Montana have been paying for peace and beach proximity, and not so much for the food.
The folks behind OP Cafe, Art's Table and Ashland Hill are the one's responsible for keeping Santa Monica as a contendor in the Los Angeles restaurant scene. Ox and Son joins Art's Table on Montana, replacing Cafe Montana in the pretty glass enclosed corner restaurant. Booths still dot the windowed wall along 16th while a nice open granite bar lines Montana Ave. Food is served in beautiful, brightly colored dishes that you might wish was in your grandmother's home, and water is poured in finely etched crystal water glasses. Noise? Of course, but not horrific. It's just a mild yell to talk to your dining companions. Seems to be par for the course these days.
Miller, formerly of Inn of the Seventh Ray, is in the kitchen, preparing well, you know, local, seasonal big and small plates. There are some twists though, and at the time of my meal, there was neither kale, nor cauliflower on the menu. Crazy, right?
Service was very friendly and helpful, including when we asked the waiter what the menu item cardoon was. The simple answer: artichoke stems, which of course would be easy enough to print on the menu, but not nearly sexy enough. We joked with our server about the word and he said he didn't know the etymology of the word, but could investigate. Not necessary as we ordered the dish anyway out of curiosity for the flavors, not origin of the word.
Out of the gate this dish was the sleeper hit. Crisp radicchio crunched between slices of warm stalks of cardoon. Whipped goat cheese lent a creamy richness to the dish, which was further enhanced with sprinkled sunflower brittle, sumac and ash. Nice artichoke stems indeed.
Uni was soft and briny, melting into the soft egg scramble beneath, layered on black bread and topped with truffle salt. Decent dish, but I think I've decided uni doesn't move me as much as many other ingredients.
The yellowtail crudo was more like tuna tartare with its big chunks of fish, mixed with yuzu yogurt, thai chili, cucumber, pickled mushroom and shiso. The dish could have been further enhanced for me with added contrast between flavors - perhaps more chili on one end with a little more yuzu on the other, but a decent menu option for non-meat eaters.
It's asparagus season, and we received some of the largest of the lot. The thick stalks were cooked well and topped with a lovely miso hollandaise. At $9 for the side, I think we paid $1.50 per stalk, which may have indeed been worth it.
I enjoyed a bit of poutine during my stay in Europe. You could often find poutine at Christmas markets and outdoor festivals. When things are that cold, it's heart warming and a survival mechanism. At Ox and Sons, the poutine comes with very crisp fries, a must to hold up the rest of the ingredients. There's a tomato sauce that is slow cooked for 8 hours with oregano and basil and tossed with a little mussel and clam juice, making for a nice pairing with the chunks of chorizo, cotija cheese and dill weed. Yeah, there's a lot going on here and you might be confused at times, but you won't be able to stop eating.
Another menu twist comes with the pig cheeks. They're not just slow cooked and wonderfully tender - they're sticky too with a luscious, slightly sweet black vinegar glaze. Underneath is more sweet flavor with a coconut black rice. Because the plate may not be pretty enough yet, we get beautiful charred leek rings scattered about. I like the play on textures and Asian nod to this dish.
Our meal ended as well as it began with a sweet, rich, but well balanced coffee cake and butterscotch dessert. Coffee cake, I know. Not something you see on a lot of menus, but when it's prepared like this with shattered meringue, brown butter and cinnamon ice cream, you're going to start asking for it.
My table was celebrating, and not just that Montana now has a worthy restaurant (and Sang Yoon, I'm calling Father's Office more of a casual cafe/bar - love that burger!). We were celebrating a friend's engagement, so we ordered the $95 Chateauneuf-du-Pape, which I worried wouldn't be ready for drinking since it was a 2012, but luckily I was very wrong. The CNP was so smooth and silky and worth every penny. Westsiders should celebrate the many new great restaurant options we now have in Santa Monica.
Ox and Son
1534 Montana Ave.
Santa Monica, CA