Charcuterie at Cassia

Ode to my Hometown

I’ve lived most of my adult life in Santa Monica (having migrated west from East Hollywood and Burbank) , so I was tickled pink when Sunset Magazine came calling for the inside scoop on my hometown. What are some of my favorite watering holes, eateries, and activities?  Where would I send visitors beyond the pier and the promenade? It was a serious challenge to whittle down my choices.

It’s hard to fathom that this small city (8.4 square miles, population 92,000) has had so many iterations: late-nineteenth century seaside resort, sleepy beach town, and, now, major food-and-culture destination.

As you might imagine, the magazine asked me for more than they printed. So here are all the entries I gave them. Please know this is just the teeny tip of the iceberg of all I love about my hometown…. should you find yourself in my neighborhood:

  • Cassia: Go early, sit at the bar for cocktails and Southeast Asian-inspired menu from Bryant and Kim Ng. I start with a Thai basil margarita or Hop Sea Negroni, and can’t resist the Chopped Escargots with lemongrass butter, and fresh herbs folded into hot bread from the clay oven.
  • Lunetta All Day: Savory (and sweet) food all day long from Chef Raphael Lunetta. The Nicoise Salad is a sort of deconstructed version of the classic: seared albacore tuna, roasted potatoes and cherry tomatoes, haricots verts, nicoise olives, and a jammy, deep yellow-orange egg, all arranged on a wooden board, with a side salad of market greens.
  • Chez Jay: Old-school dive bar and restaurant near the pier–ship’s wheel at the entrance, peanut shells on the floor, red-checkered tablecloths, diverse clientele, and full of local lore. Henry Kissinger used to stop here for lunch after meetings at nearby Rand Corporation. Order the “Scampi Rice Pilaf, Specialty a la Maison” or “Sand Dabs Saute Almondine Chez Jay.”
  • Santa Monica Farmers’ Market: Need I say more?
  • Caffe Luxxe: their house-roasted beans produce coffee with deep chocolate and caramel notes. I’ve been a fan since Mark Wain and Gary Chau opened their first store on Montana Ave in 2007.
  • The Broad Stage: Fabulously eclectic mix of topnotch programming and free parking! Infinitely grateful to have this opportunity practically in my backyard. Read: 10 minutes from home.
  • Channel Road Inn: When I walk by this 15-room 1910 inn on my way to the beach, I fantasize what it might have been like in the late 19th- and early 20th-centuries, when stylish vacationers from Pasadena and downtown Los Angeles came west to take the salt air.
  • Palisades Park: The 1.6-mile landmark strip of parkland and iconic colonnade of palm trees along the bluffs overlooking the Pacific is magical in early evening. Multi-generational families of every nationality come to stroll, picnic, and play chess or backgammon; couples gather at the cliffs’s edge to watch the sun set; and the lights of the pier’s Ferris wheel begin to twinkle in the distance. It’s Santa Monica’s version of La Passeggiata, the traditional Italian evening promenade.

Read more at Sunset Magazine.