I have often heard of Michael’s in Santa Monica and have walked by it many times but never had a chance to visit until recently and was pleasantly surprised.

I met a friend for a late lunch and we were seated in the back garden, which was beautifully decorated for the holidays; full of poinsettias and little white lights. This is a cozy, romantic spot to share a meal, what with its lush plantings and quiet atmosphere. Michael’s has been a staple in Santa Monica for over 30 years and takes pride in its contemporary art as well as its cuisine.

We were waited on right away, as there was no one but us on the patio. We each had an appetizer; mine was a gravlax plate and my friend had a Caesar salad. There is a new trend of serving this popular salad in a small round tight ball with a few croutons on the side. This is what came to the table and she said it was delicious, although I am a fan of the more traditional presentation. My gravlax was an ample portion and seemed more like smoked salmon to me than the cured salmon dish that I expected. It was very good and came with toast points and mustard dill sauce. I ordered my favorite salad, Nicoise, and my friend had a burger, which came with bacon, blue cheese, gruyere and onions. Oh, and the usual French fries.

Her burger was massive and looked fantastic. Although rich, I am sure this would be a great choice if one were very hungry. My salad was lovely, although there were no new potatoes on the plate as advertised. This salad, which I make all the time, is traditionally served as a composed salad with a little lettuce under the other components. It is meant to be arranged and is served with anchovies and often basil on top. At Michael’s it was a bed of arugula with slices of seared tuna, hard boiled egg, tomato, baby green beans and Parmesan cheese. I enjoyed it although I was missing the traditional version, which, in my opinion, does not need to be altered. We had no room for dessert, but I would return for the dinner menu as I really liked the atmosphere and almost old fashioned feel of the place.

Michael’s offers a unique series of Farmers’ Market trips that focus on finding the best produce and highlights one ingredient specifically. These trips are sold as “Michael’s Market Meet-Ups” and they’re offered once a month. The group meets in the morning at the restaurant and enjoys cappuccino and pastries. Then they accompany owner Michael McCarty to the market where they learn about how to shop and meet local vendors. Upon their return to the restaurant a meal is served highlighting the one ingredient that is the focus for the month. They get a signed copy of his cookbook “Welcome to Michael’s: Great Food, Great People, Great Party!” And all for the modest price of $60.

I for one would love to join in. It sounds like the perfect way to meet this accomplished chef, enjoy a meal and meet others with the same interests.

For those of you who would like to try the traditional version of the classic Nicoise salad, check out my recipe.

Classic salad Nicoise

Serves 8 to 10

Ingredients

1 Tb. Dijon mustard

2 cloves minced garlic

3 Tb. Balsamic vinegar

1/2 cup olive oil

Salt, pepper

1 pound new potatoes, washed and quartered

12 ounces haricot verts, trimmed

3 large eggs

2 Ahi tuna steaks, about 5 oz. each or 2 cans water packed tuna, drained and crumbled

Olive oil

Thyme, minced

Lettuce for platter

2 ripe tomatoes cut into eighths

10 nicoise olives

4 anchovies, rinsed and drained, optional

6 basil leaves, chiffonade

Procedure

1. Combine the mustard, vinegar and garlic in a bowl and whisk, add oil slowly while whisking and season with salt and pepper. Set aside.

2. Cook potatoes in a small saucepan of salted water until tender about 20 minutes, drain, set aside.

3. Blanch beans and refresh with cold water and set aside.

4. Place eggs in a small saucepan of cold water and bring to a boil, remove from heat, cover and allow to sit for 15 minutes.

5. Meanwhile rub tuna with olive oil, thyme, salt and pepper. Heat the grill and grill for two to three minutes on each side. Remove to a cutting board.

6. Arrange lettuce on large platter; arrange groups of vegetables in piles around platter. Slice tuna in 1/2 inch slices and add to platter. Scatter with olives, lay anchovies on top and sprinkle over the whole platter. Drizzle the dressing over the platter before serving. Serve cold or room temperature.

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 websites. She can be reached amandascooking@gmail.com.

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