"What's in name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet." Shakespeare had it right in his Romeo and Juliet. And, in this case, it's a perfect portrait of the owner and the chef who took over the recently closed Anisette's space and in a short time have turned it into arguably the hottest restaurant and bar scene in Santa Monica. Yes, Owner Bob Lynn and Executive Chef Bruce Kalman are misfits of the best kind, people who don't fit into a conventional mold but operate outside of the box, which is why I think the name of their new eatery, The Misfit (225 Santa Monica Blvd., Santa Monica (310) 656-9800) is a perfect representation of the exciting doings at the famous old Clock Tower building just blocks from the beach. (Note: there is no valet and little street parking, so proceed west to the large city parking lot around the corner on 2nd, where two hours are free. Also a city lot on 4th Street with easy access to the Promenade and the restaurant.)
I met the charismatic Bob Lynn when he opened La Grand Orange on Main Street a few years ago and was taken with his dynamic energy and striving for really good food in what was admittedly a fast food setting. (We still remember the wonderful Brussels Sprout Salad (now here also at $11). It's shaved sprouts with almonds, dried blueberries, Manchego cheese -- vegan and gluten-free, crunchy and scrumptious. He recently had a friendly split with his Chicago-based partners there and then grabbed the space vacated by Chef Alain Girard's French bistro. "It's either a hot bar with the best American food in town or a hot restaurant with the buzziest bar in town, but either way it is going to hit the spot for everyone in the area," he told me last evening. I had dropped in with my two friends, Ambereen Renfro -- just exited from Fiji Water and on her way to a big gig at Red Bull -- and hubby Rizwan Sheikh, titan of the new Yoomi product we'll write about shortly.
The other key guy in the equation is a terrific 'Jersey Boy' named Bruce Kalman, and he immediately became a member in good standing of my "Follow The Chef" club of favorites. (In the early 90s, he and his band opened for Meatloaf, before he seriously took up cooking.) With a solid background of ten years cooking at top Chicago places and then executive chef in Phoenix at Chelsea's Kitchen, where he met Bob, Bruce has just astonished us with his dedication to delicious and artisanal dishes. Twice I've walked out of here shaking my head in wonder at the fact that a hot, hot bar/restaurant like this can be serving up such truly wonderful, savory and healthy dishes. Salads galore, with produce from next door's Santa Monica's Farmers Market. ("We don't have any lettuce on the menu, but use the most amazing assortment of legumes and vegetables," he said as he told me he visits the market three times a week.) Last night Amber's eyes opened in wonder at the Pea Salad ($6), English and snap peas, tendrils, sprouts and opal basil, gathered that morning from the market. I dug into the dish of Colman Farms Leafy Broccoli ($6), with blood orange and garlic scrapes. Three different Little Baked Potatoes ($6) from Weiser Farms, red, purple and white, roasted and sprinkled with French sea salt and topped with crème fraiche. Fresh Sprouted Beans ($5) with Meyer Lemon, a Chopped Kale Salad ($9), with sunflower seeds and Midnight Moon goat cheese, ($4 more with grilled chicken added.) So many other exciting salads, greens and unusual vegetables. And we haven't even gotten to the amazing entrees yet.
My new favorite hamburger is the Misfit Burger ($12), a fabulous and fascinating departure from tradition, with a hefty patty of grass-fed Paso prime beef (an 80/20 ratio; Paso is said to be very high in omega-3) served with a home-made aioli with a base of the incredible Edmond Fallot Dijon mustard, with excellent melted cheddar... served on white toast! (Chef Bruce: "That's the way my mother made our burgers and I love it this way." So do we!) There's an Ahi Tuna Burger ($11) which I haven't yet tried, with pan-seared tuna, Meyer lemon, aioli and avocado -- sounds wonderful. My readers know that I am a nut for good fried chicken, and abhor most of the stuff served hereabouts. But Bruce wisely picked up the recipe of the legendary Southern chef, Atlanta's Edna Lewis, and the famous Dixie Fried Chicken ($19) is so crunchy, juicy, and damn good I was dreaming about it last night... it's Jidori chicken from my friend Dennis Mao's place downtown, organic and fresh, cooked and served in an iron skillet. (Sorry, Pyewacket, there was none left for my favorite cat.)
Seafood? Let me tell you about the Mediterranean Sea Bass ($27). Fresh branzino (or loup de mer) is flown in live from Greece to Santa Monica Seafood, where it is cleaned and all the bones removed but left whole, then delivered within hours to Bruce. He stuffs it with aromatic vegetables, spreads on oregano and sprinkles olives, then roasts it until the skin is crinkly but the flesh is moist. Topped with fresh greens, it comes to the table on a bed of a whispery sauce. I, who dislike overcooked fish, greedily grabbed my share from the eager forks of Amber and Riz, and we all laughed with joy as we dug into the fish. Yes, this was superb. He'll be adding a salmon dish to the menu shortly, which will please my ex.
Mussels your thing? They are mine, especially when they are Prince Edward Island mussels ($13) steamed in a heady broth with a touch of Spanish chorizo, Fresno chiles, served with toast points and that fabulous aioli. You have not tasted Sliders ($12) like these anywhere else; French dip sliced prime rib sliders served with a home-made au jus sauce. A classic Mini-Lobster Roll ($12) made famous by Allison Paige. A strip of BBQ Ribs ($13), made from lean Danish pork. The Steak Frites ($25) is a prime grass-fed organic strip steak from that Paso Farms, with a mile-high pile of crisp fries. Yes!
I haven't even touched upon the three different soups served each day... last night a Corn-Poblano, a Potato Leek (both $6) and a French Onion Soup made with homemade chicken broth rather than the usual beef broth ($7). Stuffed Peppers, Mac 'n Cheese that is gluten-free made with brown rice pasta, Lobster Rolls... if you can't find something to whet your appetite on this incredible menu, you aren't hungry.
No pastry chef... no desserts. Except... and it's a big exception... a free offering of the best Chocolate Chip Cookies around, the morsels topped with French sea salt to add a piquant flavor to the sweet. Another dessert will be added by the time you read this. The coffee is French Drip in the pot... imagine! It's excellent. Our smiling, efficient and utterly beguiling waitperson, Savanna's Mae, said the coffee was from Oakland's Mr. Espresso, an organic oak-wood roasted blend. Bob's famous YouTube video offering employment here exploded all over the Internet, because a tattooed young woman explained that they were seeking servers and front-of-the-house people with a pleasing attitude, a friendly disposition... and the rest would be trained into them. Incidentally -- a sign of things to come? -- the waiters send their orders to the kitchen and bar via a wireless, handheld device, which also swipes credit cards. There is a small, upstairs balcony for private parties and a few hidden tables overlooking the open kitchen.
Needless to say, the wine list is selective, very fairly priced, with a large selection of beers. With a full bar, there are spirits specials during Happy Hour (which runs from 3 pm to 7 pm every day), and when I ordered a Campari and Soda, they brought a fresh bottle of soda to the table. No reservations are taken except on holidays, and they are open daily from 12 noon until... late. Bob's wife Sarah is an artist and some of her works grace the walls.
Owner Bob Lynn and Executive Chef Bruce Kalman are obviously quirky misfits in the best sense of that word. They strive to achieve excellence out of the box and have achieved a balance between offering extraordinary fresh and healthy food and doing so at prices which will not break the bank. I suspect that The Misfit will be in this location forever, or at least until they fit in seamlessly.
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