Summertime is in full swing and with it comes hot new outdoor dining experiences, dishes with the freshest of summer’s bounty and slow-cooked barbecue. I was invited by the newest restaurant on Santa Monica’s Third Street Promenade, 1212, to come enjoy their restaurant and sample some of their top items. They promised me an enchanting meal with delights, so how could I say no?

Thankfully, they delivered for the most part.

1212 is a huge restaurant at 12,000 square feet. It occupies the space that used to house Monsoon on the Promenade. That was a beautiful restaurant of dark woods, subdued lighting and was a great place for a meeting that was on the QT. There is none of that left with the new 1212.

I entered the giant space, which has been opened up by front glass doors which creates a flow from the outdoor seating  past the main bar, to the main dining floor which is sunken and accentuates the height of the ceiling and the wraparound deck of tables on the second floor. Just in case you’re feeling a wee bit claustrophobic, there’s a mirror on the back wall that runs almost the width of the room so it feels like the space is twice as big. All in all the feeling of openness and lightness defines this space.

Yet, even with the openness, the color scheme of pumpkin and warm wood tones, all lit by incandescent lights that are the new retro, created a warmth and comfort that enveloped me. The art on the walls is a mixture of architectural pictures, scripts and musical sheets.

But the focus was on the food as it should be in any good restaurant, and Executive Chef Walter Greenwood did not disappoint. He sports a resume that includes the mecca of good food Commander’s Palace in New Orleans, a stint in Las Vegas at the Wynn Hotel’s Bartolotta Ristorante di Mare. Greenwood has crafted a menu that is designed to be contemporary world cuisine, which echoes somewhat the multi-cultural influences of Monsoon. The driving thrust of the menu is local produce from the farmers market in town and an emphasis on house-made items.

We started our chef’s tasting menu with what would be the most complex and thus most interesting dish of the lunch — a watermelon gazpacho that had flavors bursting from the first sips of the cool broth to the last crunchy bites of the perfectly cubed watermelon. There was a sweetness and a spiciness to the dish that was reminiscent of bread and butter pickles with a fresh grassy lightness of shaved cucumbers that were rolled so that they were lightly pickled as they languished in the broth. This was without a doubt the best incarnation of a fruity and savory gazpacho that I’ve experienced.

Next up was confit duck dumpling that is house-made, (I saw it with my own eyes on our tour of the kitchen as the sous chef was prepping them!) The duck was delightfully meaty and rich in the way that a confit adds to the flavor profile by being encased in it’s own fat. The wontons were thin, and really more of a barely there container to allow for the full enjoyment of the duck. All of this was served on a port reduction sauce amid deep fried sage leaves that balanced out the duck with a not overpower herbal essence.

Our salad course was the duck confit over fresh mixed green and candied walnuts and fresh fig quarters, all resting on a base of sparkling poached pear slices that complemented gorgonzola crumbles. This could be either a salad to share for 2-3 people or an excellent entrée salad. I thought this was a masterful combination of the savory duck which was balanced by the mixed  greens and pears.

Certainly the piece de resistance of the meal was the 1212 signature sandwich, the Pig-N-Out burger. Take a home made braised pork belly, layer on a maple bacon slab, cover it all in suckling pig (they marinate theirs for three days and then slow-roast in house), add a sunny side up egg for additional unctuousness, some caramelized onions and you get the best non-beef burger in Los Angeles. This was seriously, off-the-chain, amazingly good. So glad I shared it though, because it is one big, heavy sandwich.

The jidori chicken, on the other hand, was decidedly meh. The chicken skin was not crispy enough for my liking, and I don’t like any pink with my chicken. I actually left most of this one on the plate.

Dessert was a favorite of mine — a 24-layer crepe cake alternating peanut butter mousse and banana mousse. Accompanying the cake was toasted coconut ice cream and brulee’d banana slices just a whisp away from burnt so the caramel flavor was intense but not  bitter.

General Manager Brandi Hackett runs a tight ship, and I found a staff that was attentive. When the waitress made an error, she fixed it right away. The environment was lively but not intrusive, the music was jazzy and house-y but never overpowering, which is one of my biggest annoyances with restaurants. When the music is so loud that I can’t enjoy whom I am with, it’s a problem.

There’s an upstairs bar and meeting room which can be sectioned off from the rest of the restaurant to seat about 20-25 which looks like a great place for private affairs.

I enjoyed 1212 and look forward to going back and trying more of the menu — like the house-smoked soft shell crab that I missed, but I am sure that 1212 will be around for a while.

Photo credit: Marie Buck

David Pisarra is a partner in the Santa Monica law firm of Pisarra & Grist. He can be reached at 310-664-9969 or by email at dpisarra@pisarra.com.

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