Okay, so this Sunday, we went to Cora's Coffee Shoppe on Ocean Avenue in Santa Monica. Cora's has apparently been a coffee shop for over a half-century; I ate there about 5 years ago, and found it to be a kind of charming yet basically dingy breakfast spot with nothing much special on the menu.
Bruce Marder (of Capo, Brentwood Bar & Grill, and DC-3 fame) bought the restaurant late last year and renovated the heck out of it. The setting is kind of odd -- most of the tables are outside, in between a parking lot and the cars whizzing by on Ocean Avenue, and on a day like yesterday, really freaking cold. There are no outside heaters.
The new "look & feel" is, IMHO gorgeous (if a bit precious and over-designed at times). The small interior is like a dream kitchen all stainless steel and teak wood; the tables are faux-marble, with nice bistro chairs. The syrup and milk come in the kinds of containers you used for glue in elementary school.
I must give the guy props for recognizing an amazing location; it is a 1 minute walk from the Loew's, Shutters, and Le Merigot hotels. That's got to be a plus when your prices are as high as they are at Cora's. A cup of coffee is $2.50, and while the menu constantly reminds you that it is "Illy," we found it to be no better than mediocre.
The service is astonishling, hilariously, "L.A. Story" bad. So bad, in fact, that I'd almost recommend going to see how bad the service is. The waiters are all wearing walkie-talkies with headphones/earpieces attached to their heads. This in a restaurant so small that one could probably talk at a normal voice at one end and be heard at the other; plus, I never saw any one actually use the things, either.
The waiters seemed like they'd been shipped in from some planet where everyone is fairly nice, but the concept of breakfast or service just doesn't exist. They didn't come by with water pitchers to re-fill water. They barely came by to refill coffee. They forgot a tea we ordered. When, immediately after our coffee's had been delivered and milk had been presented, we asked "if they had soy milk," our waiter just blinked at us and said, pleasantly, "Yeah." And then stood there...paused for about 2 seconds...and said, "Do you want some?" Another planet.
So, let's review: expensive, poor service, cold-ass seating, mediocre coffee. What does the restaurant have going for it? From our limited sample, it appears that they have really good food.
My wife and I both got the "Italian Frittata," which looked like a cross between a deep dish pizza and a quiche. Profundly thick, with a crunchy, creamy, eggy crust, the vegetables inside were plentifuly and bursting with flavor. Carrots, broccoli, celery, peppers...the carrots alone were awesome. They tasted like they'd been pre-roasted, smooth and sweet. This came with a thick slice of potato which tasted like it had been baked and then pan fried on both sides. Sounds simple, but we'd never had anything quite like it before. The salad of baby greens with a light vinagrette and salt was, though a bit cliched, really good and refreshing.
Worth it? Absolutely...because, uh, someone else picked up the check. Seriously, though, at $8.50 our frittata's weren't much more expensive than Snug Harbor, so I'd say it's safely within the Santa Monica breakfast comfort range.