Restaurant: La Sandia
Date: March 5, 2011
Rating: Tasty, but some serious service issues need working out.
I’ve been questing through the various new offerings in the retrofitted Santa Monica place. I’ve already reviewed Xino (pseudo Chinese) and Zengo (Latin-Asian fusion), and next up is La Sandia, which is a modernized Mexican.
The upscale Disneyland-style decor ain’t half bad. But we did start off on a slightly sour note. They don’t take reservations on weekends, as I was told on the phone, “because they get so busy.” This always gets my blood boiling, because it’s basically like saying, “We don’t care about you (the customer), we just want to pack you into our bar and milk a couple extra drinks out of you.” I have long refused to go to places like Cheesecake factory on this basis as they adopt clearly “non user-friendly” policies to their own benefit. I was also told there was a wait of 5-10 minutes for a table of 2, when I could clearly see empty tables.
In a place that doesn’t take reservations?
We were in a rush for a movie so I bullied the hostess past this and we sat immediately. Not my preference but I hate that kind of crap and I was already in a mood.
The PDF version of the menu is HERE. Pretty big menu here of traditional Mexican items and some reinterpreted.
Chips. Pretty typical, but the salsa was good, cooked down the way I like it.
Cadillac margarita on the rocks, no salt. This was a nicely made margarita. The lime wasn’t that nuclear green crap and I could taste the tequila — which wasn’t the cheap stuff.
Now a note here. We were in a rush to get to a movie, and the parking had taken longer than we expected, so we told them we were in a hurry. This is a bit of a stress test for restaurants. The ultimate prize winner in this category, BTW, is Ortolan who flawlessly pounded through a huge prixe fixe in just over an hour. Overall La Sandia did fine with the speed, although they made us wait 20-25 minutes and then dumped all four dishes (2 appetizers and 2 entrees) simultaneously. Why they couldn’t have brought the appetizers 10 minutes earlier (a salad and a pre-prepped pastry) is anybodies guess. As I said, we got out of there in totally reasonable time, but they could have paced it better.
“LA SANDIA SALAD, arugula / cranberry / caramelized walnuts / goat cheese /pasilla-balsamic vinaigrette.”
“BEEF & CHORIZO EMPANADAS, braised beef / chorizo / raisins / oaxaca cheese / almond / crema fresca / chipotle sauce.” Very tasty. The outside was soft and buttery, and the inside rich and meaty. The sauce and the crema cut this nicely too. Exactly what I was looking for in this dish.
“ACHIOTE SALMON, grilled salmon / mild spice-citrus marinade / chile morita sauce /tomatillo-mango salsa / sweet corn tamal / charro beans.”
“SHRIMP AND AVOCADO SALAD, avocado stuffed with sauteed citrus-adobo shrimp / corn relish / cilantro pesto / chile chipotle aioli.” This was a fairly tasty and light shrimp and avocado salad. Perfect for a light lunch. The catch is, I didn’t order it.
I had ordered the Chipotle Shrimp entree. Now the room was very loud, and even though I repeated it 3-4 times I can understand the waitress making the error. The problem was that when she set it down I told her it was wrong and she said, “No it isn’t, there’s Chipotle in the dressing,” or some such nonsense. She then scooted away.
I ate it anyway because we didn’t have time, but I HATE that kind of BS. I don’t mind an honest mistake, they happen, but don’t try to snow the customer as to what he ordered. On a separate service note, I had ordered another Margarita in the gap waiting for the food but it came 15-20 minutes later with the check — after we had finished all our food.
I don’t like to sound petty, but this is a restaurant review, and drink timing is one of my pet peeves. Why would I want to pound an entire drink as I stand up to leave?
In any case, I called over the manager over the entree issue — something I do only about once a year — and he was very nice and apologetic and pulled the salad from the bill. Really I shouldn’t have paid for the second drink either, but I didn’t want to get into it. I do give him points for compensating correctly for the mistakes. He did fine by me, but the staff should NOT try and Jedi-mind-trick a customer into thinking he ordered something he didn’t.
Overall, the food here was pretty tasty. It’s owned by the same group as Zengo (which is hidden behind it), and while not as good, does maintain a solid kitchen. They have some serious service issues to work through, although it’s always possible it was a bad night. I’ll try it again at some point, I’m essentially a food based eater, and really find service mistakes to be more of an academic exercise in management problems than an actual irritation. Xino across the way had some similar problems in that we ordered about 10 small dishes and they delivered 90% of them simultaneously instead of 2-3 at a time! As someone who has eaten out at restaurants between 4 and 15 times a week for over thirty years, from taco shacks to Michelin 3 stars, I’ve pretty much seen it all.