Steak: The delicious ribeye. Courtesy photo

by Merv Hecht

After a fire and one long pandemic, Tar & Roses on 5th & Santa Monica Blvd. is back! There is seating on the sidewalk (the only good thing to come out of the pandemic) and very pleasant seating in the back patio.

This restaurant gets about the best reviews on the web of any restaurant in Santa Monica. Except for a few run-ins with the owner over seating disputes, I would have to agree that the food is not only excellent, but very special in its preparation.

The restaurant is especially well-known for special roasted vegetable preparations. The menu is diverse, the space is comfortable, and the service is excellent. Only the wine is lacking, but what else is new? Noticeably lacking are any of the medium-priced Rhône wines, and the less expensive wines from the South of France. And the corkage fee is $45, but that’s getting more and more common. “Tar & Roses” refers to the taste of Barolo wines of the Piedmont district of Italy. They do have those available, if you can afford them. I brought one bottle of a wonderful Chateauneuf di Pape, and when that was gone, we ordered a bottle of Barolo from a well-known producer for $183, and it was a step down and probably would have been better with pasta.

The meal started with a delicious pate which was shared around the table.

Next came roasted pea pods. These were not to our taste. There were few peas to suck out of the roasted pods, and the pods were too stringy to eat. To the waiter’s credit, he saw that we were not eating them and whisked them away, mentioning that they would not appear on our bill. That’s class!

My partner had the duck breast and artichoke hearts. Both were properly cooked and enhanced with a good sauce. Our friends shared a bone-in ribeye, which I tasted. I was delighted to find that the meat was cooked to perfection and top quality. We also shared a small roasted beet which was very flavorful. Roasted vegetables are really the way to go these days.

The only failure was my dish, squid ink fettuccine. It lacked any seafood flavor – or any other flavor for that matter. Bits of white squid could be seen but not tasted. My error: Don’t order pasta when not dining in an Italian restaurant.

A chocolate dessert was wonderful and rich, but a bit overkill after that meal. Maybe something light for dessert would have been a better option.

Merv Hecht, like many Harvard Law School graduates, went into the wine business after law. In 1988, he began writing restaurant reviews and books. His latest book is “The Instant Wine Connoisseur” and it is available on Amazon. Or you might like his attempt at humor in “Great Cases I Lost.” He currently works for several companies that source and distribute food and beverages, including wines, internationally. Please send your comments to: