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Restaurants & Bars 6

Border Grill -- thumbs up! (long)

Jeff Shore | Mar 11, 200212:35 AM

Saturday night, my wife and I were looking for a place to celebrate with our mothers, and quick. We found a very happy home at the Border Grill in Santa Monica.

The food was superb; if anything, we were most impressed with the tiny things. Of the three salsas presented with our chips, one (seemed like a tomato sauce mixed with a roasted de-seeded chile pepper) was so good I literally began eating it like a soup on its own. We started with two appetizers -- epanadas stuffed with fried plantains (they ordinarily come as part of a larger Mexican pu-pu plate), a fish (halibut) taco, and a corn taco. The epanadas were very small -- like amuse bouche's really -- but they really delivered on their promise, chewy and fried glory. The fish taco was more like a mound of perfectly sauteed fresh fish, and a real treat. The corn taco was like Mexican thanksgiving; the best creamed corn we've had.

We worked our way through an enjoyable, if sweeter than I remember being served in Barcelona, Sangria. Man, I love that stuff...

Service was superb. In its own hip, loud way, this was some of the best service we've had in L.A. in a long time. The waiter was genuinely personable, and easy-going, yet completely informed about each dish, and willing to offer frank opinions about what to try (and not like in William Grimes recent NYT piece, forcing those opinions upon us). When our food arrived, delivered by a separate waiter/busboy, our waiter swooped in to correct a mistake before we'd barely even noticed our food, and delivered two tiny vegetarian tamales to my wife as an apology for her entree being about 30 seconds late (extraordinary -- they looked like holiday presents, and were filled with what tasted like more of that "creamed corn.")

Our main courses were excellent as well, though in some odd way they were outshone by the flashy, textured, and diversely flavored appetizers. I had a kind of Halibut stew (main menu), while my wife had the John Dory sole special. (The Mom's got flank steak and mole chicken.) We were very pleased...the Halibut had a kind of comforting home-food quality, served in an oversized bowl, with garlic broth, tomatoes, olives, onions, and rice floating along side a large filet of halibut, it was like eating dinner in someone's house somewhere in South America. My wife's John Dory seemed great as well, but frankly, I'm having trouble remembering it now...

One mom had a lot of problems with her chicken, however. Tough, undercooked. Our waiter took it off the bill. Another mom loved her flank steak, so much so that she barely ate any of it and took it home for later; that's kind of her thing though...

We got two desserts -- a slice of Key Lime Cheesecake, and Mexican Chocolate Cake. The M.C.C. was good, the K.L.C., with it's citrusy balance to the rich cheesecake is still hanging around my mouth 24 hours later.

Not only did this restaurant meet our needs precisely, we really loved the food and the entire camp-out-at-our-table atmosphere.

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