Lobster Delight at the Oceanfront Restaurant
At the Casa del Mar, 1910 Ocean Way, Santa Monica, California 90405

The Hotel Casa Del Mar on Ocean Avenue in Santa Monica is one of the trendy spots to be seen in town, with a large open lobby that adjoins the 75 seat Oceanfront restaurant, described as a fine-dining restaurant serving intensely flavored Californian cuisine. That’s a fair enough description of the place where chef Andrew DeGroot holds fort, a culinary artist with seventeen years of experience behind him that includes at least four Michelin star restaurants, two in France, one in Austria and another in Germany. The New York native has done a lot of traveling in his career including a stint at the Watergate Hotel in Washington under Jean-Louis Palladin.

That background shows in the presentation of the dishes - huge plates that almost engulfed the table with the usual elegant trimmings, accompanying the main entrée. His style is fairly typical of chefs with classical European training that are now based in California. They have to incorporate light and healthy cuisine into their menus, using of course only the freshest local produce available - and there are plenty of producers badgering the chef’s each day to secure the prestigious account of the hotel. Prices are slightly higher than the average, but not too outrageous for the area.

The restaurant itself has a high, airy ceiling with pounded brass and colored glass chandeliers, and wall to wall windows framed by chic wood blinds, with of course a sweeping view of the Pacific Ocean and the white sands of Santa Monica. I tried it with my wife on a Thursday night and the restaurant was about three-quarters full and simply bustling with activity. Service was brisk and extremely efficient, as if the waiters were under strict instructions to turn over the tables at least twice during the evening. This kind of energy may be frowned upon in certain European establishments, but in the busy deal making society of Los Angeles it seems to be the norm.

We decided to opt for the two dishes that the chef considers his signature dishes. I had the perennial favorite - Chilean Sea Bass wrapped in Applewood bacon over a rather unique lentil ragout, and my wife had the Lobster Pot-A-Feu, a one pound lobster, out of the shell, served on a bed of leeks, radishes, baby carrots, celery, turnips and golden beets, all in a rich lobster broth in a sweet sauterne sauce and a touch of horse radish mustard on the side. I have to say that the lentil base with the Sea Bass was a most unusual choice, but it certainly worked, mixing well with the fish that just melted away in the mouth, the highest quality fish imaginable. The lobster was an equally impressive presentation, although the sweetness of the sauterne sauce took a little bit of getting used to and may have been a little over the top, but certainly different.

I almost forgot to mention the starters of Ravioli stuffed with prawns in a mushroom reduced broth, and the lobster salad, stuffed with celery and cucumber. The ravioli had the good fortune to have a crispy beetroot topping, giving it the punch it needed, and the lobster salad tasted extremely fresh, a generous dish shaped like a hockey puck and recommended. A mention also for the bread basket - spicy black pepper papadom style breads and three or four other hot breads that were simply irresistible.

Desserts also lived up to their billing, especially the warm Chocolate Truffle Cake with Vanilla Bean Ice Cream and Frangelico sauce that taste even better with a Joseph Phelps 96 dessert wine. The regular wine list is almost exclusively Californian, and the categories are well displayed under the various headings such as light & fruity, elegant, more firmly structured etc. There is no sommelier at the Oceanfront, with all the waiters expected to know which wines go with each dish. Since the menu is fairly compact with only a couple of specials added each day, that makes the pairing job relatively easy.

The Oceanfront restaurant has a chance to make culinary breakthroughs in the California scene as long as DeGroot sticks around. Hotel chefs have a tendency to move around a bit, but DeGroot seems to have found an excellent showcase for his talents - so my advice is rush over there and check it out for yourself.

Tel: 310-581-7714
Fax: 310-581-5503

Dress: Casual but smart
Parking: Valet only
Prices for two w/wine $115
Reservations: Advised

Mike Hepworth, February 2001

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