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Santa Monica's Ocean and Vine Restaurant Offers Seaside Sophistication, Fab Fare

Jun. 1st, 2009 | Comments 0 | Make a Comment   
Food & Spirits: Santa Monica's famed Loews Hotel is known for many things: a prime beachfront location, luxe accommodations, fabulous amenities like its full-service, eco-conscious spa and fitness center, and an extremely high caliber of customer service. All of that said, among my favorite reasons to hit the Loews is to dine at Ocean and Vine , which offers a perfectly balanced combination of stunning ocean and pier views, inspired California cuisine, sophisticated yet relaxed ambiance and top-notch service.

Perpetuating the hotel's environment-friendly sensibility, Executive Chef Gregory Foos - a 17-year industry veteran - designs his dishes around organic produce from nearby farms and local farmer's markets as well as locally procured seafood from the adjacent Baja coast. Given Chef Foos' propensity for fresh-farmed ingredients, the menu at Ocean and Vine changes with the seasons, with dishes showcasing some of California's best agriculture and the Pacific's best victuals.

The restaurant's open and airy interior offers clean, modern lines and an inviting ambiance, making it the perfect place to start or end a day at the beach. While Ocean and Vine does offer breakfast, I was recently there for dinner and, as expected, Chef Foos and his team did not disappoint.

The evening began with an ever-considerate maître d' thoughtful enough to ask if those in my party wearing black slacks would prefer a black napkin to avoid lint from the white linens used as standard. A small but meaningful gesture I took note of, as it was the first time I'd seen such an offer extended by restaurant personnel. It's this attention to detail that exemplifies Ocean and Vine's high standard of service, which persisted throughout the entirety of my visit.

Once settled in with Ocean and Vine's signature raspberry mojito and while enjoying the sunset through the restaurant's wall of floor-to-ceiling windows, I was duly anxious to review the menu. On this night it offered a "Things We Share" selection of breads, seafood and poultry-based starters from $10 to $16, although I must confess that I was loathe to share my steamed pacific blue mussels in a roasted garlic, lemon and basil-based broth. These mussels, graciously plated in a lovely floral pattern and cleaned to utter perfection, had an unbelievably buttery, supple texture unlike any I've ever had. The flavor profile was wonderfully intense and I enjoyed every last one of the bite-sized beauties.

The concise yet enticing "Appetizers" selection, from $10 to $16, included chilled jumbo shrimp cocktail with a chipotle cocktail sauce, which my guest had ordered and described as "perfectly cooked" and "extremely flavorful even without the sauce," although she did also proclaim the chipotle-laced accompaniment "to die for." Other appetizers included a yellow tomato gazpacho and a Santa Monica chili with shrimp, sea scallops, lump crab, roasted garlic, and cannellini.

Salads in the "From the Garden" section ranged from $7 to $16, with the crispy calamari salad, served on a bed of farmer's market baby field greens and other vegetables tossed in a citrus vinaigrette and topped with a horseradish crème fraiche, the apparent favorite among the staff and patrons alike.

Ranging from $23-$40, "The Main Course" category presents something for everyone with an entrée covering key bases: vegan, pasta, shellfish, seafood, poultry, and meat. I opted for the Chiltepin Grilled Tiger Shrimp with capellini pasta, apple wood smoked bacon and basil slaw. Cooked to perfection and a harmonious balance among all elements of the dish, I could not have been more pleased with my selection. Other entrées of note include the grilled beef tenderloin with a pomegranate port reduction and artichoke-filled twice baked potato, and the caramelized Mano de Leon sea scallops with Yukon gold whipped potatoes and poached asparagus in a browned butter caper sauce.

The dinner menu also offers "Simply Grilled" seafood-halibut, tuna, salmon-and meats-New Zealand rack of lamb, flat iron steak, and New York strip steak-that allow diners to choose a sauce à la carte: Horseradish cream, green peppercorn and cognac, garlic-lime mojo, and sage and gorgonzola cream to name a few. From $5 to $8 "Sides" like parmesan truffle fries, grilled asparagus with Point Reyes blue cheese and roasted wild mushrooms add a delectable finishing touch to the entrée course.

Saving room for dessert, which range in price from $9 to $16, is a must at Ocean and Vine when there is such a passionate Chef at the helm. Although I was tempted by all of the dishes offered, like the Valhrona chocolate mousse filled profiteroles and chilled white chocolate liqueur and the warm chocolate and banana bread pudding with caramel sauce, it was the Gran Marnier soufflé with vanilla bean crème anglaise that won out in the end. And, wow, what an ending this was! A culinary experience most definitely worth the 15 minute wait for soufflé to rise to the occasion. A homemade Ocean and Vine ice cream tasting is also available as is a selection of local California artisanal cheese for those who prefer a savory ending to their meal.

Ocean and Vine offers a wide selection of wines by the glass or bottle as well as a full bar of spirits, apéritifs, cocktails and after-dinner drinks. The restaurant also occasionally hosts special winemaker dinners that is an extension of Chef Foos' work with the local-area farmers. Here, Chef Foos creates a four-course menu that highlights special wines or produce from local farms employing sustainable farming practices.

After the sun had set an indoor fire pit surrounded by plush lounge seating became the restaurant's primary décor focal point. Looking through the windows after dark, my eyes were drawn throughout the evening to the ferris wheel on the Santa Monica pier with its mesmerizing neon light show bursting out of the darkness. A fitting backdrop for what proved to be an equally enthralling meal.

More information about Ocean and Vine, its special events, breakfast and dinner menus, wine list, and online reservation system may be accessed online by following this link: http://www.loewshotels.com/en/Hotels/Santa-Monica-Beach-Hotel/Dining/Overview.aspx

The Luxe List product, service and travel review editor Merilee Kern scours the luxury marketplace for new and captivating "musts." Product submissions accepted via e-mail at Merilee@JustLuxe.com.

- Merilee Kern
JustLuxé.com's "The Luxe List" Executive Review Editor
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