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Aptly named Executive Chef Dean Grill cradles Gladstone's new signature dish, the Clambake, enough for two to four people depending on your appetite. (photo by John Blanchette)

Gladstone’s is back.

When Bobby Morris owned it, it was the hot spot on the beach, where you could wet your pallet and quench your hunger with a nice selection of seafood, while overlooking the Santa Monica Bay. It was one of the highest grossing restaurants in California.

Then former Mayor Richard Riordan bought it and, after awhile, it received the worst restaurant review in the history of the L.A. Times — this review is still a classic.

I haven’t been there in years, but then I heard that Sam Nazarian’s management company SBE had taken over. So, on a lark, and without much in the way of expectation, I went there with a friend for lunch.

Eureka! What a change! The whole place has been cleaned up, there’s art on the walls, the old barricades blocking the view of the beach have been replaced with clear plastic, and there is a wonderful deck with shade awnings. There’s a deck to have lunch with a sandbox in the middle for the kids. The service is impeccable. The food is delicious for outdoor dining. And the prices … OK, it’s expensive.

But it’s worth it. They got rid of the freezer and they bring in fresh fish every day. I passed lots of couples dining — and I mean dining — on the clambake, salads and sandwiches. The waitress, Nadelyne from Liberia, was so nice to me I began to feel important. And see all those guys with earplugs? They’re not secret service — that’s part of the management team.

And the faux-security guys are on the ball. When I asked the greeter why they forced people to stand in line to register for the patio, when it is (by law) open to the public, she just stared at me, then called over someone to seat me. Ten seconds later a manager was there to ask “is there any problem?” “No” I replied, “I’m just curious why you have people line up to sit on the public patio.” “Shhh,” he replied, “we don’t advertise that it’s public.”

Let’s get down to the basics: the food.

The best single dish is the clambake served in a roasting pan and filled with everything that I love: lobster, crab, shrimp, lots of clams, corn on the cob, and potatoes. It easily serves three, maybe four. Yes it cost $110, but divided three ways that’s not so bad.

Second choice: the steamed lobster. I paid $40 for it last time, which is too much, but at least the lobster is fresh and comes with three good dipping sauces.

Some like the clam chowder. For me it’s too thick and creamy — it should be about the clams, not about cream and flour. It’s much better at Savory in Malibu.

The salads, fresh fish, fried clams, and sandwiches are all very good, just as you would expect in a well run, professional, high-volume restaurant.

And note the heavy wear on the wood floor in the back room. Rumor has it that there’s a lot of heavy dancing by a lot of hot young people Friday evenings. That might be worth checking out.

One little problem that management has overlooked: Apparently somewhere on the menu it says tip at 20 percent is included for parties of six or bills over $300. We were four with two 2 year olds that didn’t eat, and our bill, before the 20 percent tip was about $270. There was nothing on the charge slip to suggest that a tip was included, and a space was open to add a tip. My son, the careful doctor, reviewed the itemized charge slip and pointed out to me that the tip was already included. I’ll bet a lot of people don’t notice this, and the waiter didn’t point it out.

But that’s a small point. I’m glad Gladstone’s is back. It’s a great place to take out of town visitors.

If You Go

Gladstone’s

17300 Pacific Coast Highway

Pacific Palisades, Calif.

90272

(310) 454-3474

www.sbe.com/gladstones

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 mervynhecht@yahoo.com.