by Theo Greenly, SMC Corsair / Daily Press Staff Writer
On the second floor of a brightly lit Santa Monica food court, a woman in a white chef’s coat and black apron slips behind an inconspicuous door marked ‘Private.’ Inside is Chef Dave Beran’s intimate restaurant, Dialogue. The 18-seat dining room, worlds away from the touristy food court just outside its door, offers a 20-course tasting menu for $225. Fine dining restaurants are on the rise in Santa Monica, and the world is paying attention.
The Michelin Guide — widely considered the world’s most prestigious restaurant review guide — upset many Angelenos in 2010 when it abruptly stopped reviewing L.A. restaurants after only two years in the city. But the 2019 guide will cover the entire state of California, with many Los Angeles and Santa Monica restaurants in the running.
Beran is a critically-acclaimed chef who worked at Alinea, a Michelin-starred Chicago restaurant whose menu includes edible helium balloons made from sugar, a salad presented in its own soil, and a lamb dish served with 86 accompanying flavor pairings. He opened Dialogue in 2017 and quickly became a major player in Santa Monica’s burgeoning restaurant scene.
The kitchen staff moved with speed and precision as they sliced vegetables in preparation for the night’s service at Dialogue. “It’s this perfect little pocket right here,” Beran said as he listed off top restaurants in the neighborhood. “Obviously there’s the tourist spots, but outside of that there’s little gems tucked everywhere. I think it’s starting to fill in as an exciting dining scene.”
The Michelin Guide books began in France in 1900 to provide chauffeurs with dining options to take their bosses. Since then, the guides have sold over 30-million copies: more than ‘The Betty Crocker Cookbook’, ‘The Joy of Cooking’ or ‘The Old Man and the Sea’.
Joel Slabo is a manager at Belcampo, a restaurant and gourmet butcher shop that exclusively serves meat from its California farm. Slabo said that Michelin’s return is “ a good move forward for the dining scene as a whole. The west coast gets ignored a lot, and L.A. itself gets talked down on for not having much of a very good food scene.”
Michelin’s former director, Jean-Luc Naret, told Esquire Magazine in 2010 that “the people in Los Angeles are not real foodies. They are not too interested in eating well but just in who goes to which restaurant and where they sit.”
But impressions are changing. At an event for the Society of Professional Journalists last Wednesday, the executive editor of the Los Angeles Times, Norman Pearlstine, announced that “Los Angeles has become the food capital of the nation.”
Inside the cozy interior of Dialogue, Beran said that Santa Monica “feels like early 2000s Chicago… when Chicago had its whole dining explosion… You had a few staples and known places, then all of a sudden over the course of three years, it exploded with all these restaurants and chefs.”
The Michelin Guide rates restaurants on a three-star system. A single-star review can cement a restaurant’s reputation as world-class; three stars can catapult it to international stardom.
“There’s always gonna be people who…are slighted by the number of stars they get, and there are other people who are surprised by the stars they get. And, at the end of the day, that aspect of it really doesn’t matter,” Beran said. “The fact is, there’s this globally recognized guidebook that looked at California and said ‘this is an area that had enough talent that it warrants more recognition.'”
The Michelin Guide California 2019 will be released at an event in Huntington Beach in early June.
This story was published as part of a partnership between the SMC Corsair Student newspaper and the Santa Monica Daily Press.