Usually, I write reviews of restaurants I know fairly well. Before I put thoughts on paper though, I check out the restaurant one more time to see if anything has changed recently. Just before I send my review in to my editor, I look at reviews on the Internet to make sure that my overall impression is not drastically different from others.
I was surprised at the divergence of opinions in the restaurant reviews on Santa Monica’s Pacific Dining Car.
There is one attribute that everyone can agree upon with respect to this restaurant, but maybe only one. It is open 24/7. It’s the only nice restaurant I know that has those hours, and it’s a wonderful thing.
With respect to the food, wine, service and prices, however, there is great controversy. There are a lot of reviews that slam the restaurant, and then there are a lot of reviews that praise it — but not many in the middle.
The original Pacific Dining Car opened in 1921, which says something favorable about the concept. The Santa Monica offshoot opened in 1990, which also gives it credentials. A restaurant that can last in Santa Monica for more than 20 years must have something good to offer other than just convenient hours.
And that has been my experience. Most of the famous steak houses are in Beverly Hills — Mastro’s, Ruth’s Chris, Wolfgang’s, etc. But other than the Boa steakhouse on Ocean Avenue, and perhaps The Galley on Main Street, not too much comes to mind when you are salivating for a good, aged steak. But I’ve always found the steaks at Pacific Dining Car to be up with the best of them. And the range of cuts and sauces available is better than in many steak specialty restaurants.
In fact, the range of food on the menu is very wide, and I’ve seen some good seafood come out of the kitchen. But for me this is a place to go for a late-night steak, and maybe a baked potato with butter and sour cream on the side.
Another thing I like about this restaurant is the excellent web presence. There you’ll find a great history of the restaurant. Also, you can see the menu, although not everything listed on the web is always available. And, a few items of interest are missing, such as the prices. And there is no wine list on the site, just text about how great the wine list is. Several wine reviewers of note have agreed. Personally, I have never had a problem finding a reasonably-priced wine from the list, and I know that the restaurant is serious about providing a broad choice of wines, including a lot of very expensive selections.
The décor is just to my taste for a steak house. What should we call it — Los Angeles past? And I like the fact that the restaurant is broken up into several rooms, since it keeps the noise level down.
But what about those prices? Well, prime, aged beef is expensive, and I don’t see the prices here to be above those in the great steakhouses of Beverly Hills. It’s pretty hard to get out of any nice steakhouse today for less than $50 a person, and that’s not going to be the end of it, if you like a really good bottle of Cabernet with your steak as I do.
And, what about all those complaints on the web about the service and the imperfectly cooked steaks? When I read as many complaints as I see on the Internet I have to think that, as my dad used to say, “Where there’s smoke there’s fire!” With as many specific complaints as one sees in the reviews it seems clear that consistency is not the prime quality of this restaurant, and that’s something that they need to work on.
That said, I’ve eaten there many times, and my experiences have been favorable. My steak has always been cooked as ordered, and the service has always been up to par. With these hours, you will have no problem finding a convenient time to try it yourself, and I will be interested in your feedback.
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.
If You Go
The Pacific Dining Car
2700 Wilshire Blvd.