More polish on Pico

Times Staff Writer

A sweet little neighborhood bistro has just bloomed on Pico Boulevard at 32nd Street in Santa Monica. For those who still can't quite picture the location, suffice it to say it's just east of Valentino and a block away from the new 310 Lounge & Bistro -- an offbeat stretch of Pico that is fast becoming a mini restaurant row.

The chef and owner is Jared Simons, 26, who moved up to Santa Monica from the San Diego area, where he had the French bistro Le Passage in Carlsbad. Nobody could say the name, let alone remember it, Simons says, so when he was thinking about naming his new restaurant, he knew he wanted something simple. One day, thumbing through a food encyclopedia, the word violet caught his eye. He named his cat Violet and everybody liked the name, and he thought it would work for a restaurant too.

Violet's setting is smart and understated, with polished stainless steel accents, cherrywood tables, a chocolate carpet and slim, stylish chairs. There's a violet banquette and a stretch of carpet the same color.

Simon's easygoing California menu is priced more for everyday than special occasions -- for example, the peppered New York steak is just $17.50 and most of the other entrees come in well under $20, which is something these days. The chef, in fact, calls his menu "casual fare," though his cooking is polished and professional.

Almost everything several friends and I tried was appealing enough to order again. Glossy black mussels are steamed in white wine and lemon and served with dollops of a bracing salsa verde. Crispy shrimp wontons come with a sweet-hot dipping sauce. He's got a number of salads, including a fresh garden salad at $4, a Caesar and a Chinese chicken salad, but the most interesting has to be the "multicolored" beets with slivers of smoked eel, grapefruit segments and ginger.

His sophisticated take on mac and cheese is made with Gruyere and flavored with serrano ham and leeks. Fish includes whole trout in brown butter or rare ahi tuna with wasabi potatoes. But what about those braised veal cheeks with polenta and wild mushrooms? Fall is on the way, and braised dishes are sending out their siren call. Duck confit sounds awfully good too. And it is.

Simons has put some effort into the wine list too. Violet's two-page list includes a number of "alternative" white and red wines. That would be a Dr. Loosen Riesling from Germany, King Estate Pinot Gris from Oregon and various Syrahs and Shirazes from around the world. He also offers six different tasting flights from $6.50 to $10.50, so you can study up on Merlot or alternative whites with your dinner. Or lunch, for that matter.

The neighborhood is just beginning to discover Violet, but somehow I don't think they're going to be able to keep it to themselves.



Where: 3221 Pico Blvd., Santa Monica

When: Lunch 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays. Dinner 6 to 10 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays, 5:30 to 10 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Closed Mondays. Beer and wine. Valet and street parking.

Cost: Appetizers, $2 to $12.50; salads, $4 to $13; pasta, $7.50 to $8; fish and meat, $12 to $19; desserts, $6.

Info: (310) 453-9113

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