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Abiquiu: Tastefully Pared-Down Bikini

TIMES RESTAURANT CRITIC

For a while, it looked as if Bikini, John Sedlar’s brilliantly eccentric Santa Monica restaurant, would become yet another casualty of the double-whammy earthquake-recession. For the past six months, the stylish two-story space has been closed. And in May, Sedlar opened another restaurant in downtown San Francisco, thereby fueling the perception (mistaken) that L.A.'s best chefs are defecting to the City by the Bay. Not so; he’s only consulting at Abiquiu up north.

But the concept for the more casual, lower-priced Southwestern place worked so well there that on July 28, Sedlar finally re-opened his Santa Monica restaurant, not as Bikini, but as Abiquiu, subtitled “a New Beginning in Modern Southwest Cuisine.” The name comes from the New Mexico pueblo where Sedlar’s grandparents had a ranch; the phone number is the same as the former Bikini’s.

The food at Abiquiu is less precious, less elaborately plated than Bikini’s high-priced fare, but it’s still recognizably Sedlaresque. Now when you order his signature “rattlesnake” of caviar, instead of sevruga and beluga, it’s composed of domestic whitefish and sturgeon caviar (and it’s $15 instead of $30 or $50). A traditional chicken tamale is napped in a blood-red chile sauce--and served on the infamous Madonna plate. There’s a satisfying bowl of red corn posole stained with crimson chile and a Taos Caesar salad with blue corn bread croutons. Whitefish is encrusted with whole pumpkin seeds and paired with jungle green jalapeno mashed potatoes. The Pecos River campfire trout with smoky bacon, fried quail’s egg and hashed browns makes a fine supper. So does the enchilada rolled with pale rabbit loin.

It’s basic Sedlar at affordable prices and easily the most appealing menu I’ve seen in recent months. And though the name has changed, he hasn’t done a thing to the room, which remains one of the most beautiful in L.A. Even at this early stage, Abiquiu shows great promise.

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* Abiquiu, 1413 5th Street, Santa Monica. (310) 395 - 8611. Open for dinner Monday through Saturday; lunch starts mid-August. All major credit cards. Valet parking. Appetizers $5-$15; entrees $12-$18.


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