The Santa Monica Pier is good for many things, but food doesn't tend to be one of them. Sure you can get mass produced shrimp in any flavor or a fried corn dog on a stick, but a quality meal while admiring ocean views, not so much. If you take a few steps off the Santa Monica Pier onto Ocean Avenue, you'll find a few more choices. For the jet setting bunch, there's the Ivy, but if $39 for Alaskan salmon is more than you want to pay for seafood, then look next door to the newly opened 41 Ocean.
The restaurant grew out of the private club by the same name, which is still open, and sits just behind 41 Ocean. There's a Spanish vibe going on with wired chandeliers strung from the ceiling and large arched passageways that open into multiple rooms including a long, handsome bar and seafood counter. I went early one night before catching the Cirque de Soleil show and there were only a handful of diners before and after the show (great show by the way) - always a worrisome sign.
Our waiter eagerly asked if he could bring some homemade bread and butters for us. Agreeing, we were then rewarded by enough bread to feed most of the Cirque performers. There was a thick nut and raisin bread that couldn't be brought to life with the accompanying fruit spread, but the palm size cheddar biscuits were warm and crisp on the outside and soft and pillowy inside. We were nearly full after devouring the enormous biscuits but we pressed on.
The duck confit yucca fritters really should have read fritter, singular, as one crisp duck mound graced our plate. It was a decent size. It tasted like duck, but there was something missing. The frisee, olive salad and spicy mojo were all good attempts, but it just didn't come together for me.
I wasn't holding out much hope for the entrees, but was then pleasantly surprised. My champagne miso cod was perfectly cooked and spiced. There was great flavor though the melange it sat on missed a few notes. Papaya, eel and celery root "hash" is a pretty bold move, but could have stood a little more time to soften and come together.
A recommended rabbit bolognese was a delight. The rabbit was slow braised mixed in with a housemade fettucine. It had bite, spice and a little je ne sais quoi. It also played a nice yin to the cod's yang.
With no time for dessert before the show, we quit while we were ahead. Hard to say if 41 Ocean will make it, but it's a pretty place in an ideal location for beach viewing and Pier watching.
1541 Ocean Avenue
Santa Monica, CA