One of the mainstays of fine dining in Los Angeles, Michael’s in Santa Monica is a 36-year-old institution. Through the years, its kitchen has been the training ground for some of the best chefs in the city, and the country.
A 1997 L.A. Times article titled “The Six Degrees of Michael McCarty”—the online archive of which is text-only and lacks the original visual layout of the names—lists the culinary talents that had worked there during its first 18 years: Mark Peel, Nancy Silverton, Jonathan Waxman, Roy Yamaguchi, to name a few. In the 18 years since, other notable chefs, like Yang Soon of Father’s Office and Brooke Williamson of Playa Provisions, have worked their way through the kitchen at Michael’s before starting successful ventures of their own.
Michael’s continues to serve superb food but has revamped their menu and their ambiance to be more approachable in recent years, adding a Happy Hour menu and removing the white tablecloths. Still present is the all-weather patio space, with a retractable roof to protect against the occasional rain showers. While the transformation has been complete for a while, Michael’s reputation as a “special occasions” restuarant persists. Hoping to change that perception, owner Michael McCarty, with the help of Jeff Wagner Agency, hosted a happy hour reception followed by dinner for media a few weeks ago.
The Happy Hour/Bar Bites menu contains a list of affordable cocktails and drinks in the $5-$8 range, as well as more expensive options. The food side of the bar menu include some standard bar offerings but executed extremely well. Almost all the food is easily shared, including a Shrimp and Goat Cheese Pizza ($14), a plate of Grilled Shishito Peppers ($6 at Happy Hour, $8 otherwise), and Braised Pork Belly Tacos ($12 for four). My favorite was probably the “Chicken and Waffle” Wings ($6 at Happy Hour, $12 otherwise), but I missed getting a photo of it.
Most of the bar menu items are also available on the Dinner Menu, as appetizers and small plates. I really enjoyed the Local Halibut Crudo ($14) and the P.E.I. Mussels ($17). The Skirt Steak ($16) looked delicious as well, but I did not get to try it. My favorite was easily the Octopus Terrine ($14), which was as tender and supple as any tako I’ve had at high end sushi restaurants, while still retaining a nice chew and snap.
Most of the Large Plates that my fellow guests ordered were big enough for two people to share, including the Heritage Duroc Pork Chop, with parsnip agnolotti, cipollini onion, whole-grain mustard emulsion ($28) and the Colorado Rack of Lamb, w/ricotta gnocchi, baby turnips, braised lamb shoulder, roasted garlic emulsion ($42). The Mediterranean Loup de Mer, w/baby artichokes, fennel, piquillo peppers, fingerling potatoes ($28) may have been a little harder to share, but it was still well proportioned. I did not get to sample any of these dishes, so I can’t speak to how they tasted, but they looked amazing!
My impromptu dining companion, Lisa Ng of This Beautiful Day, was lovely enough to share her main course, the Maine Diver Scallops, w/flowering broccoli, crispy polenta, pearl onion ($29), with me. I found it quite good, despite the fact that I’m not a huge fan of cooked scallops. I hesitated at ordering the 28-Day Dry-Aged NY Steak, maitre d’ butter, frites ($44), as it was the most expensive dish on the menu, but others at the table said they would have a taste, so I went for it! I don’t order steak very often when I dine out, so I can’t say how it stacks up against other restaurants’, but it was probably the best strip steak I’ve ever had! And yes, I did share the wealth; about half went to my tablemates!
When I got home that night, I showed my wife the photos of the dishes I took and also the Happy Hour and Dinner menus. She was surprised at how affordable the prices were. She and some of her friends have a monthly “Girls Night Out”, and before that she would have never thought of Michael’s as a place to grab a quick bite before a movie on the Third Street Promenade. Now it’s on their list!
Personally, I can’t wait to go back and get the “Chicken and Waffle” Wings and that Octopus Terrine again!
1147 Third Street
Santa Monica, CA 90403
Disclosure: As mentioned above, this was a hosted event. All opinions are my own.