With family gatherings upon us and visitors aplenty in town, the Daily Press is highlighting several local restaurants and talking to chefs about their approach to the holiday season.
The well known classic foods associated with American holidays are beloved traditions for many families. Whether it’s a turkey in the center of a table crowded with sides such as mashed potatoes and candied yams or a glistening ham with a side of pumpkin pie, the winter holidays have their distinct flavors. However, Savida’s chef Dan Smulovitz takes a bit of a different approach.
“I usually do stuff my way, even on the Jewish holidays I try to do a twist on the traditional recipes,” he said. “I might change the turkey to a duck, or something like that.”
New to the Santa Monica community, Smulovitz’s Savida is a raw seafood bar located on Montana and Euclid.
The restaurant may be small but the food doesn’t lack for innovation. It specializes in seafood dishes that incorporate flavors of the individual seasons. The philosophy behind the dishes are that food is not purely fuel, but rather something that should be “fun and colorful and happy,” as Smulovitz said himself. The restaurant’s slogan follows this train of thought, as it reads: “we believe that when you eat with a smile on your face, life just gets better.”
The ocean has long been a muse to Smulovitz who was living on the coast of Israel at the age of fourteen.
“I used to live by myself when I was fourteen, and [cooking] was a way for me to communicate with my friends and I love making people happy through food,” he said. “That was my drive – the reaction of people to my creations.”
After experimenting with the culinary arts throughout his teenage years, he was inspired to later pursue a career centered around it. He studied at Le Cordon Bleu in Pasadena and had two successful restaurants in Israel, including the original Savida where the daily catch was cooked on a live fire.
While he has experimented with a wide variety of cuisines, he feels as though “seafood chose [him]” due to his early career start near the water.
“The first location that I found was in a port city, surrounded by the beautiful Mediterranean Sea, and just like it makes sense,” he said. “Since then, for fifteen years I have been doing seafood… I am still exploring, and I feel like I have a lot to learn about being next to the Pacific Ocean instead of the Mediterranean Sea.”
To Smulovitz and many international chefs alike, moving to the states means Americanizing their dishes in order to fit the palates of their new customers. Savida has adapted by embracing seasonal ingredients in order to accentuate all four in the eternally sunny city that is Santa Monica.
“In the wintertime, you are not going to have tomatoes unless they are from a greenhouse or are imported,” he said. “I don’t believe in serving tomatoes in fall or in winter… There is seasonality in fruits and vegetables and I try to follow it. [Dishes] need to be colorful and connected to the season in some sort of way.”
Smulovitz’s first Thanksgiving experience was in the small town of Carmel-by-the-Sea during his first year in the United States. The meal was the first time he felt the joy of a warm family in the States and this year marked his first home-cooked Thanksgiving celebration. He plans to spend this holiday season creating his own traditions for him and his family to relish for years to follow. Now that Smulovitz is in charge of the cooking for his household, he aims to put an eccentric twist on classic holiday courses, while simultaneously including timeless traditions. One recipe that he is excited to share with his loved ones as well as the community is his shawarma.
Before the holiday, he said he is excited to put some ideas into practice.
“We’ve been in the U.S. for a year, and this will be the first Thanksgiving we will celebrate as a family… my daughter heard about it in school. It’s all new to my wife, she doesn’t know the traditional food… But as a restaurant owner, I do what I want to do and what I envision.”
Though Smulovitz has mastered the art of cooking shawarma, most people’s knowledge of the dish does not extend past the iconic scene in The Avengers, where the superheroes gathered around a table and enjoyed the meal themselves. Using Chef Smulovitz’s recipe, any ordinary family can recreate this scene and become a family of superheroes themselves this holiday season.
• 1 Greek pita bread
• 3 oz. Ahi tuna
• 1 quarter red onion
• 1 tomato
• 1 Jalapeño
• 1 Garlic head
• 1 / 2 Tsp. Sumac
• 1 Tbsp. chopped parsley
• 1 Tbsp. roasted Pine nuts
• 2 Tbsp. Olive oil
• 2 Tbsp. Tahini
• 2 tbsp. water
• 1 Tsp. Amba
• Salt to taste
- Mix the Tahini and Amba with 2 tbsp. of water and a pinch of salt, set aside.
- Chop the tomato, jalapeño, garlic, and onions, then add the Sumac and a pinch of salt.
- Dice the Ahi tuna to 1/2 inch cubes and sprinkle some salt on top.
- Place the pita bread on your working station, top it with the diced tuna, then torch it until the top part is caramelized (if you don’t have a torch, feel free to use a broiler).
- Spread the tomato and jalapeño mixture on top of the tuna, then drizzle the tahini and Amba sauce on top.
- To finish – sprinkle with chopped parsley, pine nuts, and some good olive oil.