What a wonderful experience my Better Half and I had last night at Michael's in Santa Monica.
We arrived and were greeted pleasantly by the valet staff and maitre d'. We were seated on the patio surrounded by greenery, trees and little twinkle lights making their way through the copious ivy. Our table was graced with two candles which barely allowed us to read our menus, but who cared?
Our servers - from the busboy to the waiters - were exceptional. As we sipped our perfectly-made cocktails (me - Ketel One martini with extra olives and my Better Half - Ketel One and soda), they allowed us to take our time, answered our questions politely and were genuinely friendly. We just haven't experienced that kind of service as long as we can remember.
We also asked to see the dessert menu first so we could "plan" accordingly.
Better Half asked three different servers their advice for dinner. All three said "dover sole" without a doubt. He ordered it and enjoyed it tremendously. To be specific, it was the Pan-Roasted Dover Sole with Lemon-Caper Beurre "Noisette" Fingerling Potato Purée, Haricots Vert, wrapped artfully in Pancetta ($39). I tried it, too and it was delicious. In fact, I think I'll order that the next time. Just the right amount of capers to cut the butter, melded with the mild fish - it was to die for. The potatoes were delicious and he enjoyed the haricots vert very much. Our server recommended a complementary wine (can't remember what it was, but I *think* it was a Gewurztraminer from Corison Winery called "Corazón," which he really enjoyed. (Later though, the general manager - I think - came over and recommended he try the Madfish, Western Australia 2001, but we just didn't have room!)
I asked if the chef could make me something vegetarian. There were a few options. Our server recommended the Farmer's Market Sugar Snap Pea soup (without the bacon) and mascarpone cheese ($14) or the Hazelnut Crusted Goat Cheese with Glazed Beetroots, Mixed Baby Greens, and Aged Balsamic Vinaigrette ($16). His final recommendation got me though: Ricotta and Spinach Tortellini with Seasonal Wild Mushroom and Leek Broth ($16). I am just a mushroom-aholic, so that was my choice. I had the starter size which was just perfect for me. He suggested a red (I don't really care for whites generally) for me, which was good, not great. It was a Bordeaux, but I don't recall the winery. The tortellini were firm and generous. The broth was very rich, but pleasantly so. The spinach and ricotta mixture was seasoned so well; it was just an amazing dish. I usually shy away from "exotic" mushrooms and opt for the safe ones I am familiar with. Some of these mushies were imported from France and I had never seen them before, but I tried them and loved them. A good lesson for me. I happily finished it all!
Onto dessert: Since it was my choice, I opted for the seasonal Strawberry-Rhubarb Crisp with Vanilla Ice Cream ($8?). It was definitely delicious, but I found it just a tad too sweet. Not that I am an expert by any means, but it seemed like the refined sugar had too much of a "bite" and I might have used raw sugar to add a milder (?) sweetness, but also depth of flavor. The GM was raving about the passionfruit sorbet ($8?) and later brought us one as a treat. Now that was outstanding. The sorbet was served in martini glass with (I think) raspberry coulis on the bottom. It was incredible and that definitely made the meal.
Touches I really liked: a daikon sprig on the unsalted butter - added great eye appeal; rolls were delicious, crisp and chewy at the same time; well-trained, non-pretentious servers.
All-in-all, my Better Half and I agreed that this was one of the best meals we could recall. Total for two without tip, including cocktails, wine (one glass each), starter, entrée and dessert: $140
1147 Third Street (north of Wilshire, NOT on the Promenade)
Santa Monica, California 90403
Online reservations via OpenTable.com, accessible via Michael's web site
Lunch M-F: 11:30am - 2:30pm
Dinner M-Sat: 6:00pm - 10:30pm
Closed Sunday, available for Private Parties