Rice: The Paella at Dono restaurant in Santa Monica. Courtesy image

Years ago, it was a German restaurant – maybe the only one in town.  We used to go there for the roast duck with red cabbage on the side.  I can’t find that anywhere now.  Then for a while it was Wilshire, owned by a hip cardiologist that used to live in my guest house while he was studying to become a doctor.  Wilshire had a busy bar scene and some pretty good food.  Then it became FIA, and the food went upscale quite a bit, and the patio was fixed up so that it is perhaps the most beautiful and comfortable in town (with only Michael’s as competition for the best patio).  

The chef, Brendan Collins is well trained, worked for a while under the spectacular French chef Alan Giraud, and is now perhaps among the best chefs in Los Angeles.

I’ve reviewed FIA before, so that’s not why I’m writing about it again.  It’s changed – dramatically.  What used to be the bar is now an upscale steak house called “STEAK”, and they’ve taken over the old Tacoteca bar next door to create a wonderful Spanish restaurant named Dono.  And Dono has a comfortable patio behind the restaurant which is already filled most nights that I’ve been there.

So first let’s talk about STEAK.  It really aims for the big spenders who are looking for the very best.  Start with the champagne and caviar menu. You can spend $100 for two on that while you review the rest of the menu.

The starters are innovative.  Then, if you’re not there for the steak, you can find lobster risotto, truffled pasta, and grilled branzino.  And a grilled 2-pound lobster is at the top of the “off the fire” menu (and the fire is right there where you can see it!).

But the steak is the star.  And they have all my favorite cuts and sauces, plus rack of lamb and veal with morel mushrooms.  Just looking at the menu makes me salivate.  But do I want to spend $140 for four ounces of Wagyu steak – or do I prefer the Bone-in Ribeye for $98?  Maybe the veal “Chateaubriand” with morel mushrooms at $62 might be for me.  Especially since I just finished reading Michael Pollan’s book describing morel mushrooms.

As if that were not enough of a change, they’ve converted Tacoteca into a Spanish restaurant called “Dono.”  On the menu are a lot of exotic Spanish items tough to find in Los Angeles, such as croquettes and conserva (I would call it canned tuna), but also standards such as grilled octopus and grilled seabass, all of which is very good.  But the real reason to go there is for the Paella, the star of Spanish cuisine.  The Paella is good, and served properly in a skillet, but can (and probably will be) improved.  The rice is done correctly, but the dish lacks the variety of seafood it should have.  Actually, I prefer the original type of Paella with seafood, chicken thigh, and some chorizo sausage in it for variety.  And if there is some octopus it should be cut into pieces so it can be easily shared amongst the diners.

The only other comparable Paella I know of close to Santa Monica is the La Paella restaurant on East San Vincente.  I’m going to try it this week.

All in all the new trifecta at FIA is a spectacular addition to the Santa Monica restaurant culture.

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 “The Instant Wine Connoisseur, 3d edition” is available on Amazon. He currently works for several companies that source and distribute food and wine products internationally.  Please send your comments to:  mervynhecht@yahoo.com