I‘d heard that Santa Monica’s Wilshire Restaurant, which opened October 31st, is sexy””candles burn at every turn, dimly lit lounges spill over with cocktails, dining rooms are full of stylishly smooth Westsiders, and””most alluring of all””a nouveau-American menu emphasizes organic, locally farmed ingredients.
I didn’t have to be talked into checking it out.
On a Sunday evening, we requested a table on the garden patio and we were led past an attractive, bustling interior dining room to the outdoors. We saw a pine tree, bamboo and other foliage interspersed between cozy candle-lit tables and an unheard number of heat lamps. (On weekend nights, it can be tough to score seating out here; a reservation is no guarantee, but do ask.)
Almost everything at Wilshire is organic, and the restaurant commits to supporting family farmers in the area as much as possible. Our waiter estimated that 95% of ingredients used are organic. The only instances that they skip it are when, he said, that taste and quality may be compromised.
Wanting to get into the spirit of celebrating food from our local, bountiful earth, we went for warming vegetarian selections. The salad of McGrath beets ($10) was a simple, but wonderful starter. The medley of beets, with hues from yellowish to deep red, was accompanied by roasted hazelnuts, parsley and fresh chives. The darkest red of the beets were, no surprise, the richest in flavor.
It was the butternut squash and Asian pear soup ($10) though, that really wet my appetite. I’ve rarely met a butternut squash soup that I didn’t like, but this one stood out. The pear lightened the consistency, so the soup was not too dense; neither did it taste too sweet. A dollop of cinnamon cream on a large crouton topped it off.
Wilshire Restaurant in no way focuses on vegetarian fare. In fact, while there are always a few meatless starters, the selection of veg-only mains is scarce. The meat they use tends to be consciously raised, but then again, our waiter did try to sell us on the foie gras.
On the evening we dined, the wild mushroom risotto ($26) was my only vegetarian option. For the dish, they used Chinese forbidden rice, black in color but purplish when cooked””a grain once prized by emperors for its nutritional and aphrodisiac properties. Over the rich and slightly nutty-flavored risotto were shaved matsutake mushrooms topped with an intriguing, initially perplexing, layer of bubbly mushroom foam. The dish as a whole held a flavor that traversed the terrain of the taste buds. In every direction, east to west, my buds were getting all worked up for the next bite.
We heard that the restaurant’s pastry chef is from the Water Grill and Blair’s, so we were naturally excited about the dessert course. Chocolate crepes, a butternut squash bread pudding…how possibly to choose? We ended up with the Fuji apple Napoleon ($8), which was delicious. I recommend it with a small scoop of vanilla ice cream on the side.
We would have left this promising place with not a complaint, but for one thing: On the night we dined, we (including our testy tummies) were kept waiting, a couple times. Our main courses were delayed because, according to our waiter, a bunch of orders were piled into the kitchen at once. The desserts? Well, somebody not knowing any better had apparently taken our particular ticket out of the line.
By dessert, crowds couldn’t be blamed for causing delays, as the patio was only half-full at that point. While we were waiting, one couple who had just arrived seemed to be growing justifiably impatient at the staff’s inattentiveness. They just wanted to order. Hopefully they, once given a chance to start consuming Wilshire’s goods, also found the experience worth it.
Wilshire Restaurant is a spring chicken, (just a few months’ new) so I’m willing to let go of the occasional kinks, which will undoubtedly work themselves out as the restaurant builds up strength. The food is superb, and they’ve got the style down. The going can only go up from here.
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