In a fit of renovation, Hans Rockenwagner has reconfigured his Santa Monica restaurant into a restaurant within a restaurant. Taking a note from the success of Wunderbar, the experimental wine and snack bar that occupied a few seats in Rockenwagner and on the adjoining patio, he’s turned the whole place into a casual brasserie with an appealing, moderately priced menu for everyday dining. But within that space he’s carved out a separate little dining room where he’ll be serving more ambitious prix-fixe menus on the lines of the old Rockenwagner.
From the way guests were digging into lamb cassoulet and grilled flank steak one recent night, I’d say the brasserie is already a success. Among the starters are a chilled seafood platter and a half-dozen oysters with apple horseradish mignonette. I love the plump, juicy weisswurst served with one of Rockenwagner’s terrific pretzel rolls slathered with sweet Bavarian mustard. There are a lovely caramelized tomato tart with blue cheese mousse and a classic salad of frisee and lardon (unsmoked bacon) as well. You can also get Black Forest ham, prosciutto from Parma or pimento salami sliced on the chef’s new toy: a 70-year-old, Ferrari-red slicing machine.
The main courses are robust and unfussy, ranging from a roasted half chicken with mashed potatoes, and spaghetti with clams, to Rockenwagner’s signature pretzel burger with caramelized onions. Other dishes are braised pork belly with red cabbage, a homey veal goulash with spaetzle and a Niman Ranch pork chop with apple cabbage and mashed potatoes.
With prices scaled down to everyday rates, the brasserie is poised to become more of a neighborhood hang. And when longtime customers have a hankering for Hans Rockenwagner’s more inventive dishes, they can always reserve a table in the restaurant and still feel part of the action.
Change can be a good thing.
What: Rockenwagner Restaurant & Brasserie.
Where: 2435 Main St., Santa Monica.
When: Brasserie: dinner Sunday through Thursday, 5:30 to 10:30 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 5:30 to 11 p.m.; Sunday brunch, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Restaurant: dinner 6:30-8:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Full bar. Valet parking.
Cost: Brasserie: Appetizers, $6.75; main courses, $14.50 to $19. Restaurant: Prix-fixe menus $68 (spring seasonal) and $85 (traditional)
Info: (310) 399-6504