Merv Hecht

I’m not really ready to review this restaurant yet, for reasons listed below. But I can use it as a backdrop for something I’ve been meaning to write about for some time: “Restaurant Service.”

I categorize restaurant service into four tiers: Excellent, Good, Not good, and Idiosyncratic. Here are a few examples from recent dinners:

Excellent: That would describe the service at Boa Steakhouse Santa Monica. When I was there last, the staff was so attentive, that one of the managers came to our table to make sure the tableside service of the Caesar salad was properly prepared.

Good: There are a lot of restaurants in Santa Monica with good service. Two that I frequent often are the Water Grill – Santa Monica and Enterprise Fish Co. The waiters seem to know the menu, make good suggestions, and know who gets which plates. The recent addition of the revamped Golden Bull in Santa Monica Canyon is surprisingly good considering it’s new.

Idiosyncratic: The staff training at Hillstone Restaurant is excellent and they seem to favor attractive young women, who stick around until they get an acting role. But, if a man enters wearing a hat, they won’t serve him unless he removes his hat. And pointing out that there is a woman wearing a hat doesn’t seem to modify the rule that applies to men. Someday I’m going to go to the restaurant with my yarmulke and when I’m asked to take it off, I’m going to say I’m an Orthodox Jew and, like the Pope, I always wear a head covering. We’ll see how that works.

Not Good. Now, that’s where the Fia Restaurant comes in. Soon after it opened, I went in with my two sons. We entered through the uncomfortable alley they now use as the entrance, instead of the comfortable one off the parking lot. I approached the greeter and expected her to say something like “Welcome to Fia.” What she actually said was, “Do you have a reservation?” Not much of a warm greeting. Worse yet, I didn’t have a reservation and admitted it. Her response was “I’m sorry we’re fully booked” and she walked away.

That was not a good response. What she should have said was “I’m sorry we don’t have a table free for you, but you are welcome to sit at the bar and order from the regular menu.” But she didn’t.

Fortunately, I’ve been eating in that space for about 40 years, beginning back when it was a German restaurant that served wonderful roast duck and red cabbage. Later, a young doctor that used to live in my guesthouse bought it and re-named it “Wilshire.” So, knowing my way around, I ignored the rude greeter and we walked over to the bar. The bar was empty so the two bartenders were glad to see us. After all, you can’t get any tips if there are no customers. We were promptly given menus and a wine list. We ordered a bottle of Rhone wine that was reasonably priced and very delicious, and before we were done eating, we ordered a second bottle of the same wine.

I love the wines from the Tain-l’Hermitage Commune in Drôme, France. It also brought back memories of chocolate tasting at the Valhrona Tasting Room where you can sample chocolates from around the world at no charge. Anyway, we loved Fia’s menu as there were lots of dishes too complex for me to make at home. That is one reason I go to restaurants. I loved the idea of appetizer-size dishes, small plates, and dinner plates. I worked with the Chef Brendan Collins at Anisette and I know him to be extremely competent and capable of executing wonderful and unusual dishes. And the three or four small plates we ordered were, in fact, wonderful. Furthermore, the outside patio at Fia is one of the most outstanding patios in Santa Monica, second, perhaps, only to Michaels.

Before I can review a menu this extensive and complex, I need to spend three or four evenings at the restaurant making notes. So, I’ll go another two or three times, and then I’ll write Part 2- The Food. Stay tuned.

Boa Steakhouse Santa Monica

101 Santa Monica Blvd.

Santa Monica, CA 90401


Hillstone Restaurant

202 Wilshire Blvd.

Santa Monica, CA 90401


Water Grill – Santa Monica

1401 Ocean Avenue

Santa Monica, CA 90401

Phone: 310.394.5669

Enterprise Fish Co

174 Kinney Street

Santa Monica, CA 90405


The Golden Bull

170 W. Channel Road

Santa Monica, CA 90402



2454 Wilshire Blvd.

Santa Monica, CA 90403


(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

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1 Comment

  1. Thank you your reviews which are astute. But if I may respond to your comment about the wearing/removing hats in Hillstone restaurant, know that it is basic etiquette, at least in France, for men to remove their hats when entering a public space ( including church), and women to keep them on. It is from the old world and refreshing to know that Hillstone restaurant actually have the knowledge and apply this very courteous habit.

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