I was invited to check out a live music/dining venue in Santa Monica last week, and given that I am a live music fan, I decided to check it out. Angel’s Piano Bar and Supper Club on Wilshire Boulevard and 24th Street is an old establishment that has had a recent face lift and the owners are hoping to bring in an adult crowd that would enjoy eating in cozy booths while listening to a wide variety of live music.
My husband and I joined three other music fans and went on a Wednesday night where the band, The Mad Alsacians, were in the house offering up sounds from the days of the 1930s and ‘40s; they play a combination of jazz and Latin that includes an accordion of all things.
We walked into an intimate, dark nightclub with a romantic atmosphere. The room was small with a full bar on one side and about 20 tables on the other. The stage is right next to the front tables and is very tiny, just enough for a four-piece band. This is a cool atmosphere to hear live music in as it is reminiscent of the older clubs that are found in New York and Chicago.
We were seated at a booth which was a bit tight for the five of us and after about an hour became quite uncomfortable. The waitress, named Angela, was charming, friendly and professional. She really knew her stuff and had a warm attitude that went a long way in making the evening pleasant. We had cocktails and ordered a few appetizers; pizza with truffle oil and wild mushrooms and an item named Spicy Crunchy Chick Peas. They have a fusion of Latin/ Moroccan/Italian items on the menu which is a typical experience in dining these days resulting in a jumble of flavors with various influences from all over the world. The surprise hit were the chick peas that came out warm and slightly fried with Moroccan spices — very tasty and quite addictive.
The pizza was nothing special as the crust was doughy and there weren’t enough mushrooms or cheese on top, a definite miss next time. We then had time to order before the music began, which is about 8:30 nightly. We had steaks that were billed as Grilled Citrus Chile Skirt Steak with Charred Tomatillo Salsa, Yuca with Garlic Sauce and Grilled Chayote Squash. Now say that five times fast! Well, the steaks came out just as the band started and we split an entrée between each couple. The meat was well marinated and had a great flavor although a bit chewy. But the yucca was very bland — not much garlic to be found and the chayote was nothing but thick slices of zucchini that were practically raw, most definitely not chayote and obviously not grilled.
At that point it got very hard to talk in the room so sending anything back or commenting on the food was not worth the effort. We all felt a bit like something more so ordered their Hand-cut Garlic Parsley Fries. These took unusually long to arrive. We almost thought they forgot about us when, violá, a huge plate of well-salted fries showed up with plenty of garlic. Whatever garlic didn’t go on the yucca went on these fries and they were delicious! I would go back just for the chick peas and the fries if I were in the neighborhood.
We had plenty of friendly helpful service from Angela who knew about the wines and the music and seemed very happy in her job there.
At the end of the evening after an interminable two hours of oldies but goodies by the Mad Alsacians we received a complimentary dessert by the manager, Dan.
The Sticky Fig Cake with Toffee Sauce and Cardamom Cream arrived warm and was presented in a large bowl with five spoons, very delicious and satisfying but plenty rich; definitely something to share with at least four people. Dan also offered us a couple of dessert wines — a nice gesture although at that point we were all done.
The issue with Angel’s is the acoustics and the uncomfortable seating. It’s a great space and lovely if you want to focus on the music and enjoy a couple of drinks and maybe a burger. But to carry on a conversation is difficult at best and most of the tables are big enough for four people, which means you can’t hear anyone talk. I do think if this is your neighborhood it’s a fun place to hang with a date or your spouse and enjoy simple bistro food and a couple of drinks. But to go out of your way to visit, Angel’s might be a bit of a disappointment.
One thing they could easily improve is the food. The simplest adjustments would have made the meal enjoyable and something to return for. A better quality pizza with more cheese would be a good start.
I make pizza all the time and it is really about the dough and making sure you have a seriously hot oven to crisp it up. We use a pizza screen to bake the dough on which is foolproof and produced great results. Here is the recipe for those of you who want try it at home.
Tomato basil pizza
Makes two pizzas
1 packet dry yeast
1 1/2 tsp. Kosher salt
2 cups very warm water: 110 degrees
3 Tbs.. olive oil
4 cups all purpose flour
2 cups shredded fontina or mozzarella cheese or a combination of both
2 large ripe tomatoes or 1 1/2 cups homemade tomato sauce
1/4 cup fresh basil leaves, torn
Freshly ground pepper
Heat the oven to 450. Combine the yeast and 1 tsp. salt in a medium bowl. Stir in the water and olive oil. Let the yeast activate and become bubbly, about 10 minutes. Stir in the flour to make a smooth dough. Turn onto a lightly floured surface. Knead until smooth and elastic, about 7 minutes. Divide the dough in half and wrap half in plastic and refrigerate or freeze. Transfer the other half to a lightly oiled bowl and turn once so the top is covered with oil. Cover with a damp kitchen towel and set in a warm place for 45 to 60 minutes to rise. Punch down the dough and if you have time let it rise again for a crispier crust.
Roll the dough out on a lightly floured surface and stretch to fit the pizza screen leaving a 1/4-inch rim at the edge. Layer the tomatoes or spoon the sauce over the top. Finish with the cheese and basil, fresh pepper and remaining salt. Bake for 15 minutes until the pizza is golden and bubbly.
*Other toppings can be sliced pepperoni, cooked sausage, sautéed mushrooms and pitted chopped Kalamata olives, caramelized onions, chevre, chopped prosciutto, homemade tomato sauce, and arugula.
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.