Seafood with a sea view
THE promise of summer lures us inexorably toward the beach. Frolicking in the waves, riding the bike path and strolling along the boardwalk all have their (not inconsiderable) charms, but sometimes what we need is a pretty spot from which to gaze at the shoreline, watch the sky turn to purple and peach as the sun sets, have a glass of wine and relax over dinner.
Great ocean-view restaurants in this town are as hard to come by as baseline seats at Dodger Stadium, so the recent opening of Catch Restaurant and Sushi Bar at Hotel Casa del Mar in Santa Monica was cause for a little seaside cheer.
The dining room that used to be home to Oceanfront restaurant has been spruced up and nicely de-hotelified. Now it’s sleek, light and beachy-feeling, all off-white leather and mother-of-pearl tiles, with glints of green sea glass here and there. Best of all, there’s nothing in the way of the graceful floor-to-ceiling windows looking out to the shore.
Executive chef Michael Reardon comes by way of Tra Vigne Ristorante in Napa Valley, where he ruled the kitchen. Before that, he worked at Le Bernardin, New York’s renowned seafood temple, so it may come as no surprise that Reardon has an interest in fish.
The center of the dining room is a sushi and crudo (Italian-style raw fish) bar, and you might start off dinner with a crudo or two -- some kampachi (amberjack), maybe, with sea beans, aged soy and a judicious dose of sherry vinegar, or shima aji (striped jack) with ginger juice and mustard oil. They’re wonderfully refreshing with a cool junmai daiginjo from the good selection of sakes.
Or go right to the appetizers -- an octopus salad with Mediterranean flavors of eggplant and olives and a little pine nut crunch, or a plate of two big, loose ravioli filled with Sardinian sheep’s milk ricotta and topped with shaved baby artichokes.
All the fish are wild, our server tells us when we ask about the main courses, pondering the salmon with chanterelles and English peas or the crisp skate wing with Savoy cabbage and braised pork.
The skate sounds a little wintry, so we go for Alaskan halibut and that old Westside standby, branzino.
Seared halibut’s not easy to get right -- it dries out so easily -- but this one is tender, moist and very flavorful, with roasted corn and shaved summer truffles and tiny morel mushrooms. Who cares that it doesn’t have a sauce?
The branzino‘s nicely cooked, if a little under-seasoned, with grilled Treviso radicchio, blood orange and braised fennel. Again, no sauce, but there’s a slick of olive oil on the plate. Not unlike the slick on the unsauced ravioli.
Did the saucier go AWOL? Hmmm.
Come to think of it, the hamachi sashimi appetizer came naked except for a cloud of tatsoi on top. But there was a drizzle of olive oil on the plate.
Maybe the saucier was kidnapped by an olive oil salesman?
The server sets us straight. The chef doesn’t believe in sauce, she explains. He likes to highlight the natural juices of the fish.
What could be more fitting at the beach?
Catch Restaurant and Sushi Bar
Where: Hotel Casa del Mar, 1910 Ocean Way, Santa Monica
When: Lunch, 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily; dinner, 6 to 10 p.m. daily. Full bar. Valet parking.
Price: Crudos, $14 to $20; sushi and sashimi, $5 to $32; dinner appetizers, $12 to $18; main courses, $23 to $39; desserts, $9.
Info: (310) 581-7714, www.catchsantamonica.com