Ended up going here last weekend. I have been a fan of Tar & Roses, so went expecting something of similar quality and imagination. Was sorely disappointed.
Let me preface by saying that the staff, especially the manager Jeff, is incredible. Service is so attentive here that it could be worth eating here if you value good service and pleasant atmosphere over food.
It is most unfortunate that the food does not live up to the high standards of the service at SMYC.
We began with something that, in the end, I think was kind of strangely overpriced, and not really amazing, though it was nice. I felt it was a little misleading in that it was a scallop described as raw, but then it came out basically entirely cooked through since each slice was seared to the point of being cooked. It was pleasant, in a ponzu sauce. As far as cooked scallop goes, it was pleasant. But was it elevated beyond scallop and ponzu? Not really.
Then vitello tonnato, or essentially a kind of veal carpaccio with tuna sauce. But sadly this one did not have much tuna sauce on it. The veal seemed of good quality, but came was far too bland. An immensely forgettable dish with no real character to it.
There was a warm farro salad with candied pecans, apples, kale and mustard that was quite pleasant. A textbook farro salad that was comforting, nutty, savory, a bit sweet, and a touch bitter.
Next was a crab cake with singaporean chili sauce. My dining companion loved it, and even ordered a second one. But he can't eat spicy food...and the singaporean chili sauce was essentially completely bland, basically a modified tomato sauce almost resembling just a differently spiced cocktail sauce (though maybe more mild than cocktail sauce in terms of spice level). The crab cake itself was a dense mass of nicely seared crab with no filler, and was pretty tasty, but the sauce was, to me, a massive disappointment. I didn't really get it.
After the disappointment of the crab cake's spice level I was very worried about what was easily the best dish of the night though. Swordfish ndjua bruschetta. I had it all to myself because it was actually appropriately spicy. It was the customary bright orange, but smoother than traditional nduja, while also having a slight brininess to it undercutting the chili heat. It sat atop smokey-charred pieces of grilled brioche that worked perfectly with it, as well as some pickled micro radishes. Easily the best of the night. I wish everything was on the level of that dish.
We moved on to a seared albacore tuna banh mi. I was thinking it would be more a play on banh mi, but it was little a banh mi made with albacore tuna filet, and then also a pate made of the same tuna. In theory it sounded amazing, but in execution the bread was too soft for an good banh mi, there was no jalapeño, and the pickled vegetables were simultaneously lacking in flavor, and were too much so that the tuna kind of got lost in all of the bread and veggies, which it really is a pretty delicate flavor. It benefitted from a side of sriracha... but then that became the dominant flavor. Ultimately it was like a good riff on a tuna sandwich, but the flavors become too muddled, and it was pointless to have a fine filet of albacore in it; very sad.
Finally, we had a BBQ Eel lunchbox, which was at least pretty fun with its table-side "shake up" preparation. It was certainly warm and comforting. A thick eggy rice with strong seaweed flavors running through it and a hint of tamarind from the bbq sauce of the eel. The eel itself was very tender, and pleasant, though not necessarily distinctive within the mixture.
Moved on to dessert, which was a lime curd "s'more". Basically a huge mass of marshmallow torched on top cover lime curd atop broken pieces of regular graham crackers. It wasn't bad, the marshmallow and lime curd, but wholly pedestrian, and I was actually offended that they would just use store-bought graham crackers instead of making a graham cracker crust, which would have significantly elevated the dish. More than that, the use of store-bought crackers instantly made me realize they are a lower class of restaurant that isn't willing to put in the necessary effort to excel, but is willing to settle for something kitsch just to have a dessert on the menu. I would rather they just not offer dessert. I think some places think it will be cute if they do things like that...but I let them know that it was straight up offensive at the end of the meal.
Ended up having the dessert and veal taken off the bill at least (did not request this, but Jeff asked for our thoughts on the meal, and I offered my honest thoughts on the dishes here, and he was kind enough to take them off the bill without us expecting him to).
My dining companion thought it was a great meal, but I thought it was very sad. I was stunned at how mediocre/poor everything was when some of the best meals of my life were had at the chef's other restaurant.
Again, I was disheartened by how poor the food was since the servers, and the manager in particular was incredibly nice, very accommodating, and everything a manager ought to be. I do feel a slight tinge of pity for a great manager pinned down by poor food. But they will probably be successful anyway without my approval, since most people in the area will be ok with the quality of it, and people probably tend to prefer service over food in that area anyway.
Still, for me, it was not very good dinner. 1 out of 8 dishes being really good is not even close to enough for me.
However, given that my dining companion was a much more typical Santa Monica local, it's possible that there is a demographic that would love this place. Anyone that can't eat spicy food, but really loves Asian flavors and good quality ingredients would be incredibly happy eating at SMYC. Also, anyone that is mainly looking for a place with fun atmosphere, relatively quiet (for LA), and great service would enjoy this place. Anyone hunting for food first should avoid it like the plague though, as only disappointment awaits.