Back in the day at UCLA where the late John Wooden was an unqualified hero and minutes after realizing that there was more to eating than Woody's Burgers in Westwood, we would go to Manhattan Beach for two culinary events; one provided by Robert Bell and Michael Franks at Chez Melange and the other by John Sedlar at St. Esptephe. Aiolis were popping up everywhere and who knew you could make coleslaw with red cabbage and bleu cheese?
After last night's dinner at Darren's on Manhattan Avenue I am quite content to continue the tradition. I was a single diner on the hunt, or in this case the graze, who miraculously secured a parking space on the corner, marched passed the cacophony of Mamma D's and walked into the comfortably tight space that is Darren's. Big screen TV's seldom go hand in hand with open gourmet kitchens but they work beautifully here. It's partly the laid back neighborhood crowd out for a good time on the town; and particularly the friendly and stealth interplay of Jonathon the bartender, Bart the GM, Darren Weiss the chef/owner, a sharply attentive service staff and Shawn Davis the chef de cuisine (who coincidentally cooked for a while at Chez Melange) who spikes it over the net so to speak with each plate coming off the line. I was given the last bar table next to the kitchen and it was a ring side seat for the prior night's Laker's highlights and the kitchen's constant activity.
I started with a red and yellow beet salad with warmed Humboldt Fog goat's cheese, watercress and a pink peppercorn vinaigrette that had both bite and great flavor for $12. But it was a 14oz. perfectly white and perfectly cooked pork chop that hit it out of the ballpark, sitting on a bed of wild mushroom risotto with English peas and a pork reduction that would do Alain Giraud proud. I was so busy watching everything that I finished the whole thing in less than fifteen minutes and actually wiped the plate clean with a delicious cheese crusted bread.
I finished with a berry crumble for $10 that for once lived up to its description. This is a dessert that always sounds better than it delivers but last night's version tasted of stewed berries with toasted oatmeal topping that was neither doughy nor overly sweet. I forgot to ask where the wonderful vanilla gelato that it accompanied it came from. It may have been homemade.
Not drinking and, as I said, dining alone I could only longingly appreciate the Turley "Earthquake Vineyard" zinfandel on the well thought out wine list for $96 (with many selections half that price). Suffice it to say, I've seen it for more elsewhere. But at $5, an Australian Bundaberg ginger beer was a surprisingly refreshing accompaniment as well as refreshingly affordable and made the drive back to Santa Monica that much more confident.
In this setting it's hard to know where Chef Darren's input leaves off and Chef Shawn's begins but as with Wolfgang and Lee at Spago and elsewhere it hardly matters when the results are this good.
Memorial Day weekend could not have begun any better last Saturday morning when, finishing a project at our new office at Sepulveda and Centinela, a friend in the area suggested we grab a quick lunch at Tin Roof Bistro a mere twelve minutes south of us. With sunlight pouring into the eclectic and well designed restaurant, we both decided upon the Simmzy’s burgers, a voluptuous well sized sandwich with generous melted cheddar cheese, jammy caramelized onions, a tangy garlic aioli, tomato and house made pickles under a home made dome shaped bun soft as a pillow, all for $9.75 plus crispy shoe string fries for an additional $2. Easily one of the best burgers around and if I were prone to hyperbole (or just plain wacky), Chef Anne Conness’s unintended feminine response to Sang Yoon’s more masculine edgy version at Father’s Office. Service was bright and shiny as Carter would say, with our server Brielle keeping the fresh lemonade ever flowing for $2.75 and wisely recommending the newly added tapioca pudding with fresh mango for $5.50. This is an aspect that has improved greatly since our first visit and report. There may be only three desserts on this menu but when they’re this good that’s all you need. It even sidelined an additional purchase of peanut butter cream pie at our favorite SusieCakes next door. Stella Artois in the bottle for $6 completed the charges.
1141 Manhattan Avenue
Manhattan Beach, CA 90266
Tin Roof Bistro
3500 North Sepulveda Blvd.
Manhattan Beach, CA 90266
176 North Canon Drive, Beverly Hills, CA 90210
2043 Westcliff Dr, Newport Beach, CA
229 Manhattan Beach Blvd, Manhattan Beach, CA
1716 S Pacific Coast Hwy, Redondo Beach, CA 90277
4800 S Centinela Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90066
Tin Roof Bistro
3500 Sepulveda Blvd, Manhattan Beach, CA 90266