I enjoyed a very nice meal at the Santa Monica Loews Beach Hotel the other night. The occasion was to review their prix fixe menu that is being featured for spring and I brought my husband in order to sample a couple dishes.
The name of the restaurant there is Ocean & Vine and is located right on the beach with fabulous views of the ocean and Santa Monica Pier.
We waited for a few minutes for our table in a comfortable lounge with the same amazing view. The only distraction was the overwhelming smell of chlorine from the waterfall that surrounds the lounge.
We were seated after about 10 minutes and greeted by our very helpful and attentive waiter. The menu gives the diner a choice of three appetizers and three entrees for the affordable price of $28.
We enjoyed their Loews special cocktail — a raspberry mojito — with an appetizing assortment of breads and what seemed to be a homemade flat bread.
But I have to comment on the ice cold butter, which made it hard to spread and is so unappealing. Leave the butter out for an hour before serving!
We ordered the lobster agnolotti and the garlic custard with heirloom tomatoes as our appetizers.
The agnolotti was very well done: small pillows of homemade pasta filled with lobster and topped with a brown butter sauce and wilted leeks.
This was a flavorful albeit rich appetizer that left me wanting more. The custard didn’t quite work, though. There was too much custard with not enough of the garnishes that it came with — chopped nuts, tomato coulis and a balsamic sauce. Even with the garnishes it was an odd choice for an entire serving. Maybe if it had been just a taste of custard on a crisp slice of baguette. That could have worked.
Our entrees were herbed goat cheese stuffed prawns and lambchops with duck confit and white bean cassoulet. Here once again the first entrée was nice but the lambchops were over powered with the smokiness of the white beans.
So much so that I was a bit dubious as to where such an intense smoky flavor came from, hopefully not the dreaded liquid smoke (which is a frightening invention of pure chemicals).
The lambchops were cooked perfectly and would have been great without the overwhelming white beans, which were also overly salty.
My shrimp were nice even though I normally do not pair fish or shellfish with dairy — it tasted nice. The orzo it was served with was so rich and creamy I could have eaten that all by itself except for the knawing awareness of how much butter was in it.
We had a lovely glass of shiraz from California with our meal and enjoyed every sip.
At the end of the meal we split a chocolate mousse cake with raspberry coulis which was very nice, although I would have enjoyed it a bit more if it had been served room temperature instead of chilled.
The only other appetizer choice was a bit strange; black truffle and foie gras omelet with fricassee of mushrooms. I am not attracted to an omelet at dinner time and most definitely would not envision truffles and foie gras paired as one flavor would overpower the other.
All in all I liked the place, the service was great and the menu is priced right. I would suggest the chef add a few more options for those of us who would like something less rich and on the lighter side.
Here is my recipe for mushroom fricassee which I serve on a parmesan crostini as an appetizer and find it to be a big hit! Enjoy!
Amanda Cushman is a culinary educator who has cooked professionally for 25 years. She teaches privately for groups of two to 20 students. She has developed hundreds of recipes for cookbooks as well as food magazines and Web sites. She can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.
Fricassee of Wild Mushrooms with Parmesan Toasts
2 oz. dried porcini mushrooms, soaked in 1 cup very hot water
11/4 pounds wild mushrooms, such as shitake, cremini, chanterelle
2 tbs. olive oil, plus more for the bread
2 shallots, minced
1 tbs. chopped thyme
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 baguette sliced on the diagonal into 1/2 inch slices
1/2 cup grated parmesan
Chopped flat leaf parsley
Soak the mushrooms until softened and then drain, reserving the liquid. Strain the liquid through a sieve lined with cheesecloth and set aside. Chop the mushrooms and set aside.
Heat the oven to 400.
Trim the wild mushrooms of their stems and slice thinly.
Heat the olive oil in a large, high-sided skillet over medium high heat and sauté the shallots for 2 minutes, stirring. Add both mushrooms, sauté for about 6 minutes. Season with salt, pepper and thyme. Add the mushroom soaking liquid and bring to a boil, cook until the liquid has almost disappeared. Add the wine and bring to a boil. Cook the mushrooms until about 3/4 of the wine has evaporated, taste for seasoning. Set aside.
Meanwhile, place the slices of bread on a baking sheet and sprinkle with the olive oil and the cheese. Bake until golden and cheese is melted: about 5 to 8 minutes.
Arrange the toasts on a serving platter and spoon the mushrooms on top, garnish with chopped parsley and serve.