As a long-time resident of Beverly Hills, I usually find it inconvenient to spend any time in the far ranges of the city of Santa Monica to the west of me ... you know, the traffic is horrendous and all that blather. But last night a rather intriguing dinner invitation prompted me to head down to a shopping center called Santa Monica Place, which is two blocks from the beach: it's the huge, relatively new mall which replaced the old parking structure adjacent to the Third Street Promenade, the blocks-long walkway which has become a major tourist destination for visitors to our city. Once a year I go to the Santa Monica Pier for the Exceptional Children's Benefit event, which I support, and I filmed a scene there at the carousel with Rita Wilson for a Lifetime TV movie which I co-produced. (It boasts the world's only solar-powered Ferris wheel.) Two restaurants in Santa Monica draw me there every few months, Michael's and Locanda del Lago.
Chupe de Mariscos is a seafood broth at Zengo
But I was astonished at what I found at Santa Monica Place, a visitor-friendly mall and dining scene which will draw me again and again now that I know it is there. Supported at both ends by major department stores, Bloomingdale's and Nordstrom, the mall is full of high-end shops (Hugo Boss, Louis Vuitton) usually seen on Rodeo Drive. One clothing store actually had hundreds of old Singer sewing machines in the front window, a sight which drew me in and evoked old memories. Valet parking is on 2nd Street between Broadway and Colorado, and they offer three hours free parking with a validation. The fresh open-air design is a revelation, with elevators and escalators placed strategically around the central mall, and I was impressed by the plethora of comfortable seating arrangements, children's play areas, kiosks of all kinds, even concierge desks on all three floors for such serves as package carry-out and information. Yes, this is a worthy destination.
But it is the third floor rooftop dining deck which really wowed me. It makes the Century City Food Mall look sad in comparison. Here are six chef-driven interesting, restaurants, and a large food market which drew me in and cost me almost a hundred dollars before I escaped. Central to it was an Italian market called Primi from my old frend, Piero Selvaggio of Valentino, and when I saw the enormous butcher shop selection of prosciuttos and salumés, I was hooked. They even had guanciele and lardo, those delicious versions of Italian bacon. Organic food, chocolates, pastries, olive oils and a sterling wine shop, all in the market. My destination this night was Zengo (395 Santa Monica Place, 310-899-1000), one of a number of restaurants from noted chef /entrepreneur, Richard Sandoval. It is a Latin-Asian fusion eatery, (situated behind his signature Mexican restaurant featuring unlimited guacamole and strong margaritas). Zengo translates as give 'n take, and tonight Chef de Cuisine Radames Febles (what a great name for a chef) had enticed me with the promise of a Lima (Peru) and Tokyo (Japan) Tasting. Peruvian food is the hot new thing in the food world, and I was curious as to the fusion of the Latin and Asian influences. I was not disappointed.
Radames reminded me that we had met when he was cooking for Norman Van Aiken at his short-lived Caribbean restaurant on Sunset Boulevard. This 'Taste of Lima-Tokyo' meal is being featured along with their regular menu until the beginning of November. My waiter, Gabriel Enciso, was actually from a small town two hours south of Lima, Peru, and he bathed me in a sea of Pisco Sours. (The Passion Fruit one was especially splendid.) I dimly recall that the potato is originally from Peru, and there they have more than a hundred varieties; we had one dish, Chupe de Mariscos ($15) with a purple potato along with shrimp, lobster and cockles in a wonderful milk-dashi broth. I really liked this romantic dining spot with its roaring fire pit and dim lighting, and intend to return to explore their ceviches and tiraditos, dim sum and antojitos.
My nocturnal adventure illustrates that there is always something new and wonderful to find and explore in this amazing city-by-the-sea we call Los Angeles.
To subscribe to Jay Weston's Restaurant Newsletter ($70 for twelve monthly issues), email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.