We all love the Blue Plate Oysterette, and we expected something equally as nice from the same owner when she opened Blue Plate Taco down the street on Ocean Avenue, in the fancy new Shore Hotel.
But what a disappointment it was. Especially after the great review by my friend Jay Weston in the Huffington Post.
Of course I should have expected it. In Santa Monica there are wonderful places to get an authentic taco. There is the Tex-Mex in Santa Monica Canyon, Tacos Por Favor on Olympic Boulevard and 14th street, Lares on Pico Boulevard, Holy Guacamole on Main Street, and Mariscos Guillen La Playita on Lincoln Boulevard — and so many others. Why did I expect good tacos from a seafood gringo? Or is it gringa?
The brisket taco had so much fat in it I left it uneaten. The vegetable and chicken tacos were OK, but not very tasty. The lobster taco, in a crispy shell instead of a soft tortilla, could have been wonderful (in spite of the price) had the chef not dosed it with so much truffle oil that it took away all the delicate lobster flavor. But I would order it again, without the truffle oil, if I go back.
The most popular dish, from what I observed, was the guacamole. Except it wasn’t guacamole; it was just pressed avocado with the makings for guacamole — chopped tomato and onion and salsa — on the side to mix in yourself. Well, that’s OK and I could do that. The avocado was fresh and the helping was enough for two and reasonably priced. But the salsa was too sweet and lacked kick. When I asked for some hot sauce, the waitress did bring me a bottle with better salsa in it. Oh for the days when they made the guacamole fresh at the table, like at the Gardens on Glendon in Westwood.
Anyway, having been disappointed by the tacos, I went back and ordered some of the large plates. Again I had to ask them to turn down the music. I was seated again on the nice patio, and I mentioned to my wife that we could see the ocean. Her reply was that the ocean was far away, and what she saw mainly were large buses going by. Perceptions vary.
I did see some good-looking bowls of shrimp, plates of chicken and steak. I decided to try the most expensive plate on the menu, the grilled lobster. I love grilled lobster in Mexico. Grilling it gives it a more chewy texture, and makes for a more complex flavor as the charred outside combines with the delicate shellfish interior.
But, ay Dios mio, this was not a grilled lobster that the very personable waitress brought to the table. It was a steamed lobster that was so overcooked that it had lost all its texture. A grilled lobster, of course, has grill marks on it. A steamed lobster has some moisture in the shell. A fresh lobster has some green fat, roe and tomalley in the shell. This was just a horribly overcooked lobster that someone had showered with cooked kernels of corn and chopped tomato to make it look “Mexican,” even though they don’t do that in Mexico.
Need I say that I did not love the food and certainly not the music or the $7 parking charge? Yet, looking around the restaurant I saw dozens of young people (mostly women and couples) having a good time and enjoying themselves. There is a lot more on the menu that I didn’t try, but which looked good on adjacent tables, and there is a nice selection of drinks. I thought that maybe I’m getting so old that I’m out of touch with what the young people like.
But then I checked out the reviews on Yelp, and, as a popular singer sings, “I’m not the only one.”
If you go
Blue Plate Taco
1515 Ocean Ave.
Santa Monica, Calif.
Merv Hecht, the food and wine critic for the Santa Monica Daily Press, is a wine buyer and consultant to a number of national and international food and wine companies. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org