Friday, September 11, 2009

Lunch at the Shangri-La in Santa Monica, again

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Yes, yes, I already wrote about lunch at the Shangri-La, back in June. But since then a new chef has taken over, the charming and unpretentious Dakota Weiss. And my friend Sarah, whose job as hotel publicist actually requires her to have people like me in for lunch, wanted me to come in and experience the new menu.

Let me say first that the dining room at the Shangri-La is far too elegant a place for the state in which I showed up. I bike to work, which means that when I have lunch appointments I bike to those too - so I arrived sweaty, out of breath, and with a nasty case of helmet-head. The dining room is at the front of the hotel, overlooking Ocean Avenue and the Pacific. Though it's not the kind of linens-and-china formal you often get with a hotel restaurant, it's got a dark, sleek, deco feel, very much in keeping with the rounded edges of the deco-era building. Maybe elegant is the wrong word: It's a stylish room that looks like everyone should have a martini glass in hand. I really like it - it makes me want to dress better. Even in Santa Monica.

People kept sitting down to join us for a few minutes here and there, so we ended up with a lot of different dishes to taste. Sarah ordered this salad of beets, bresaola, and arugula in a creme fraiche vinaigrette:

Someone ordered the hamachi crudo, raw yellowtail with curls of thinly sliced watermelon, smooth whipped avocado, micro-cilantro, and a spicy green salsa - maybe tomatillo?

We also got a peek at (and taste of) the new cured meat and cheese boards they're playing with, which I don't think are on the menu yet:

The boards themselves were hand-sanded and oiled by Mark, the restaurant's designer, during the Labor Day weekend (his kids helped him). They were lovely, but some of the foodstuffs being served on them were just glorious. I particularly liked the quince mustard (the light brown glop that appears on both boards), which chef Dakota Weiss makes in the hotel kitchen. The foie gras mousse, in the white ramekin, was also notable; Dakota soaks the foie in port wine before pureeing it with butter to turn it into a spread with the texture of whipped cream, and the flavor of the port lingers noticeably. Here's a better shot of the foie gras and cured meats:

The other really interesting thing on this platter was the mustard with grape must, near the front of the board. It tasted strongly of both mustard and sweet red wine - almost unrecognizable to me as mustard at first, but certainly not readily defined. I ate most of it straight from a spoon. (I've never seen it in a store, but Dakota said they buy it, so it's probably like this one.) In case you weren't aware, I am a condiment freak.

If you go to the Shangri-La, you might also want to order the burrata flatbread with truffle oil and cherry tomatoes, which is on the pool menu but available in the dining room. It was messy and drippy, but worth it. Of course, you might be smart enough to eat it with a knife and fork from the outset, which I was not.

Things we tasted which I didn't get to photograph included a beautiful corn soup, smooth and soft, with overtones of bacon and a popcorn garnish; a deconstructed Caesar with red and green Romaine, and fried white anchovies; and some kind of chicken to which I paid no mind, because the french fries that came with it were so good that they had my full attention.

And then there was dessert: a peanut butter and banana mousse, and a salted caramel custard, both of which were very good:

I realize that not everyone gets to have the chef sit down at her table for a quarter-hour to talk about her mother's perfect roast chicken and why popcorn makes the perfect garnish for soup. But I did, and I'm so glad. If you go to the Shangri-La, ask to meet Dakota, the chef. She is absolutely lovely and genuine, and I think she truly cares that the people eating in her dining room have a good meal that makes them sigh with pleasure. Her previous kitchen, at a large restaurant in Philadelphia, served hundreds of people at each meal, while here at the Shangri-La the numbers are somewhat more intimate. That's a good thing for a chef: More time for the personal touch, more opportunity to experiment and exercise her creativity.

One more note on the setting: The dining room itself is pretty small, but there's a huge dining area outside near the pool, including some private dining cabanas whose curtains provide privacy when it's wanted. Next time I'm eating outside. I hear brunch on the weekends around the pool is quite a scene.


GarlicBOSS said...

Every dish looks delicious...what a treat

Charmaine Coimbra said...

I'll send you a note when I cook up the family's fave roast chicken...I laughed about Dakota's comment. Anyway, I linked your blog from mine in both a recent story I did on Dakota, Chefs Rahm Fama and Jennifer Carroll at . I also added your blog to my links. Bon appetite
Dakota's Mom AKA Charmaine

Erika Kerekes said...

GarlicBOSS, it really was delicious. And beautifully presented.

Charmaine, I am so honored that you came here to read about your daughter. She is just lovely. The food was great, but seriously, sitting down to chat with her was even better. You did a good job (something only one mother than say to another about her child).

Thanks for linking to my blog!

Alisa@Foodista said...

Everything looks so good!I love the dessert! I wonder if you can share a recipe of that peanut butter and banana mousse :) and the corn soup with the popcorn garnishing...that is something else! This post really makes me so hungry :)

Erika Kerekes said...

I can certainly ask Dakota for the recipes, although corn season is (sadly) coming to an end. She and I talked about my writing up the recipe for a spicy butternut squash soup she makes...also popcorn garnish. I'll follow up.

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