Saturday, January 28, 2012

Romancing the '80s at Michael's

Last night it was time for restaurant #2 in our dineL.A. Week, which meant Michael’s in Santa Monica. This restaurant has been around for 33 years, which the jovial and dinner-jacketed Michael gladly told us as he personally greeted us, and everyone else, at their tables. Maybe that’s why it’s been rolling for so long, because people like to feel like they can go somewhere to eat where the owner cares enough to say hello and will remember their names on recurring visits.

I think that kind of congeniality goes a long way. Especially for this place, that I had totally forgotten I had been to years ago on a Museum trip, that resides in a house off the bustling Santa Monica 3rd street promenade strip, catering to May-December romance couples and society ladies out for a bowl of their favorite tried and true fricassee salad or roasted veggie soup.

I went with the Cute Gardener and we both agreed that the food was done well, even if it were food that was introduced as haute cuisine in the 80s, and that since we were being re-introduced to it now twenty years later although it had been served consistently to customers the entire time, that we would relegate it to the nice, cozy annals of comfort food in order to give it the credit it deserves. Yes, it’s a little scary that we can reminisce about the ‘80s as something that happened 20 years ago and relegate it to nostalgia fare.

A rosy glow of candles and couples, on Friday it is clearly a place for date nights so we settled in to enjoy being part of that crowd. We started off with a potato agnolotti, a rectangular ravioli cooked perfectly al dente stuffed with potato and laid upon a transparent sliver of salmon that added the perfect saltiness to every bite. 

Also, a lovely pair of Maine diver scallops on white curly frisee, sweetened subtly with a hint of cardamom and tangerine segments. 

Everything was tasty even if the descriptions of things on the menu didn’t quite pair up with the actual dishes that arrived. My sea bass on goat cheese polenta with wild mushrooms and Greek yogurt was super tasty but I wasn’t expected a grilled, charred slab of fish. It does make sense that it was cooked that way though as it was titled Mediterranean. I ended up trading with the Cute Gardener for his duck, which included a meaty, dense and smoky candied textured shredded thigh or leg or other deep meaty pocket of flesh that made me melt.

I was pleased that Michael clearly loves art even if every piece of art on the walls added to the seemingly frozen in the 1980s ambience. Red lipstick glamour paintings and power suited females on the walls and the beginning of bleeding watercolor portraits that inspired a whole generation of today’s romantic, female contemporary painters. 

I enjoyed the panna cotta dessert swimming in a nice honey sauce although it was absent of the saffron promised in the name and textured more like a custard and not as light as I was expecting. Half of it was consumed with a perfectly paired Japanese Tokaj wine that added some spice and zest to the last part of this meal.

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