FRENCH FOOD ORGANIC STYLE AT CÉZANNE

Le Merigot Hotel, 1740 Ocean Avenue,
Santa Monica, California 90401

Le Merigot Hotel in Santa Monica is the newest arrival in Santa Monica in the luxury hotel stakes, and the decision to have a gourmet French restaurant was a natural one, albeit a risky one in a city dominated by Italian cuisine. Cézanne, like the hotel has only been open a few months, but no expense has been spared to make it a premier dining location for the upscale area. The chef Christopher Blobaum is passionate about organic food and the environment, with his menu reflecting his views and the result is an overwhelming culinary success, if not (at least for the moment) a commercial windfall for the hotel.

Cezanne art work The hotel is right bang between the trendy Shutters Hotel and Loews Beach Hotel and is just nine miles north of Los Angeles International Airport. It features a 5,500-square foot spa and health club to go along with the 175 rooms, including two stunning deluxe suites, with double balconies and ocean views. The architects have done a nice job creating a European feel to the hotel with Venetiart walls, natural materials of granite, slate and fine wood. Geared towards entertainment professionals and corporate travelers, Le Merigot has developed "The Butler Express" concept, where guests in a hurry (and most people in LA usually are) dial one number to make all service requests, including room service meals.

We shall hope to feature the hotel in more detail in the future, but this story is about the Cézanne and what you can expect on a night out in terms of fine dining. Like a lot of French hotel restaurants, the room is closed Sunday and Monday, a good idea since business in the middle of the week can sometimes be a problem for a new room. An elegant room reminiscent of hotels featured in the French section of our site, Cézanne also has an extensive wine list of 175 high quality wines, with an excellent balance of classic French and New World wines to suit most pocket books. Imagine my delight when I spotted the sublime Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand tucked away at the back of the book for a giveaway price of $41. Aficionados of this brilliant wine will need no introduction to it's delights, but for those of you unfamiliar with it, the dense and subtle richness gives this offshoot of Australia's Cape Mentelle no worthwhile challengers in the price range.

chef Christopher Blobaum Chef Chris Blobaum deserves success if only for his original approach and risk taking strategy. After graduating from the Culinary Institute of America in 1979, his first job was at the quaintly named Quilted Giraffe in New York. His first big job came at Inn on the Park in Houston and then he moved to California. His first major appointment was at Colette Restaurant at the Beverly Pavillion Hotel in Beverly Hills, and then on to Restaurant Sylvie and The Chez. He is a leading member of the Chef's Collaborative/Old Ways Preservation and Trust, an outfit that promotes the importance of sustainable ingredients, organic means and the value of the cook's relationship to the farmer. "The best produce is produce that has never seen a refrigerator," says Blobaum.

Deciding to try a selection of his creations we started with a Chilled Lobster Gazpacho soup with a sherry vinegar. This delicacy is not on the regular menu, which changes every month, so make sure you ask for it as it sets up the meal nicely. Prices of the other appetizers range from $7 for the Organic Country Greens with dried pears in a hazelnut vinaigrette to the Seared Cardamom Spiced Foie Gras in a rhubarb coulis, which naturally we had to try. This goodie must be eaten piping hot, and although rhubarb reminds me a lot of those awful school dinner a long time ago, it is strictly a Blobaum original. Mind you, I have noticed that rhubarb is starting to creep in a few other chef's repertoires. Light but also extremely tasty, a true work of art to match the art work in the dining room. We still had plenty of room for another chef special, Morels on toasted brioche in a brandy sauce, served with crispy fried shallots.

Fresh Northern Halibut when prepared properly can be a real gem, and the Cézanne version was no exception. Again, it is not a regular menu item but just something the chef can do when his supplier has top quality fish available. Pan-fried sautéed with roasted garlic oil and lemon oil, it was a sheer delight. We also tried the Entrecote de Bouef with chanterelles in a bordelaise sauce. Like all the meat and fish served here the beef is the best money can buy, shipped in from Iowa and sautéed to gastronomic excellence.

The perfect way to end a classy meal like this is with a Chocolate Soufflé accompanied by a Riesling dessert wine. The service throughout was understated but top class, and the atmosphere as I said before, was relaxed and very classy. This is a chef who is going places, so check it out whilst it is still a relatively well kept secret.

Tel: 310-395-9700
Fax: 310-395-9200

Closed: Sunday, Monday
Reservations: Essential
Parking: Valet $3.50
Cost: Dinner for two with wine $200

Mike Hepworth, April, 2000

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