Fraiche Santa Monica

Restaurant: Fraiche Santa Monica [1, 2]

Location: 312 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica, CA 90401. Phone : 310.451.7482

Date: March 19, 2011

Cuisine: Cal French Italian

Rating: On the way up.

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This particular location adjacent to the Barnes and Noble on Wilshire near the promenade has a fairly checkered past. Two or three years ago the Fraiche group turned it into Riva. This was supposed to be a coastal Italian, but to my taste wasn’t really Italian at all — although they made a decent Pizza. In any case, it failed and they rebooted it as Fraiche Santa Monica with an entirely new menu and staff, albiet an identical interior. This is sort of a spin off of the Culver City location (REVIEW HERE).

One corner of the back room. I didn’t have much of a wide angle lens (food after all). It’s a pretty nice space.

The wine by the glass list.

“Bourgogne Pinot Noir, Les Chapitres de Jaffelin, Burgundy, 2009.” As a burghound this was about the bare limit of drinkability for Pinot Noir. A little sour and acidic and decidedly unbalanced. But then again, I rarely expect much from “Bourgogne” (Burgundy which is not AOC to a particular village or vineyard).

The bread was hot out of the oven, and very nice and crunchy. Oilve, mashed and oiled.

Today’s menu. This is actually the second time I’ve eaten at Fraiche SM (I did so once right after they opened) and in the meantime they have moved the menu to be much closer to the new one at Fraiche Culver City (detailed review of that here).

“POACHED PEAR SALAD, Endive, baby wild arugula, candied walnuts, Point Reyes blue cheese, red wine vinaigrette.”

“Baby Beets, House Made Ricotta / Orange / Pistachio.” Sweetness of the beets meshes with the cheesy sauce. Beet salads have become very passe, but when well done (like this one), I like them.

“ROASTED PEPPERS ARUGULA & BURRATA, Shallots, 12 year old balsamic and extra virgin olive oil.” This was as good a Burrata as I’ve had at a restaurant. They still aren’t quite as sensual as my own take on the cheese.

Valpolicella Ripasso, Classico Superiore, David Sterza, Veneto, 2008.” Much better than the generic Burgundy. This was a fine wine of the type. Grapey, but not as much so as an Amarone.

“MUSHROOM RISOTTO, Arugula, Pine Nuts, Pecorino.” Nice nutty, mushroomy risotto.

AGNOLOTTI, Mushrooms,  mascarpone, truffle butter.” These are really good. The pasta is nice fresh egg pasta. It tastes mostly of butter and mushroom. Butter!

“GARGANELLI, Mushroom Bolognese, Parsley, House Made Ricotta.” I actually expected this to be a meat pasta, but it’s vegetarian with the “ragu” being made from mushrooms. It was tasty, particularly the ricotta which, being homemade, was more like a real Sicilian Ricotta than one usually gets here. The mushrooms leant it a fairly rich taste, but it wasn’t heavy at all (like a meat one would be).

“Rigatoni, Beef & Pork Ragù / Scallion / Gruyère.” This one was great. basically a Bolognese, but really good. Close even to one of my ultimate pasa favorites, the lamb ragu at Capo (SEE HERE).

We were too full for desserts but Fraiche has really good ones, so I snuck in a photo of the Budino from a trip to the culver city joint. You can look there for a bunch more dessert photos. The dessert menu is nearly identical.

“Carmel Budino, Vanilla Mascarpone, Sea salt.” Mildly carmel/creamy with that nice salt factor. Good, but not quite as good as the similar dessert at Gjelina (SEE HERE).

Fraiche SM seems to be settling into its groove. It was better than last time, and quite a bit better than Riva. It isn’t a lot different than the Culver City location, but the menu is slightly smaller, and missing the assorted “pots of stuff” that are fairly unique over there. It does still have the very good fresh pastas. I need to try I nice meaty one.

Breakfasts of Champions

During my mom’s birthday weekend we seized on the opportunity of a fridge filled with pizza ingredients to whip up a number of Gavin-style breakfasts. First I made my Spanish eggs (SEE HERE). The next day my brother cooked up one of his signature frittatas.

This is a big fluffy omelet stuffed with cheese and veggies.

Plus some fruit, cheese, and fresh squeezed blood orange juice (the trees had a bumper crop this year).

Then on monday a slightly different, less fried take on the Spanish eggs. A little salad, some lox, and La Brea bakery toast with pesto and romesco, arugala, and peppers.

Here is the romesco on the left, and the pesto on the right (SEE HERE for more on the pesto).

A peek under the salad at the sauces.

Some eggs poached normally. Not as crispy as the olive oil “poaching” of the classic Spanish eggs.

An egg in place.

My brother chose to supplement with ricotta.

I went with burrta. I always go with burrata (MORE on the ultimate fresh cheese HERE).

A final shop, with nice contrasty lighting and some cracked pepper. Cutting into the egg of course provides lots of yolky goodness.

Figs are in Season

Restaurant: Fig

Location: 101 Wilshire Blvd, Santa Monica, Ca 90401. 310-319-3111

Date: January 14, 2011

Cuisine: Farmer’s Market American

Rating: Solid!

 

It’s fairly impressive that the Santa Monica Fairmont invested in getting a REAL chef (Ray Garcia) and turned their in-house restaurant into a place that’s worth going to even if you don’t have any other reason to be in the hotel. I’ve written extensively about all the new LA Farmer’s Market driven restaurants, and this is a place in line with Gjelina (REVIEW 1, REVIEW 2), Rustic Canyon (REVIEW 1, REVIEW 2), or Tavern (REVIEW 1, REVIEW 2). You can’t really go wrong with any of them, although each has its own distinctive personality.

Bread is in the bag. It comes with this arugala butter. Even better than normal butter.

The menu. You can also find it online HERE, but they change it constantly based on the seasonal ingredients. Notice that they even tell you which produce is in season at the bottom.

 

The by the glass wine list.

I wanted something light and got a glass of this Husch Anderson valley Gurtz. It was ok, but reinforced my opinion that old world imitations of German whites don’t really compete.

 

For a fairly casual place, it’s nice to get an amuse. Mandrin orange with micro greens.

“Apple and Butter Lettuce, Pecans, Cabecou, Spring Herbs.”

This was a special. Shrimp ravioli (singular), with ginger, micro salad, and grapefruit. This was really good, but very different. The Ginger/Seafood/Citrus pairing was very nice and light, and went well with my wine.

“Pumpkin Tortellini Blue Hubbard Squash, Sage.” Other than being mysteriously overpriced at $28 this was a very nice dish, and my wife LOVES pumpkin Tortellini. Still, it wasn’t quite as good as the completely classic form from Verona/Mantua with the amaretto cookies and the simple butter and sage sauce.

Meat Pie, Chanterelles, German Butterballs.” This was the ultimate “shepherd’s pie.”

Inside is braised waygu beef cheeks! Very tasty, rich meaty inside with a fluffy layer of mashers on top. My style of meat and potatoes.

The dessert menu, but we were too full.

The hotel has this very cool tree out front in the valet circle. Parking is free with validation, which is nice given that hotel parking (Peninsula, you know who you are) can sometimes be crazy expensive.

I like fig, and we’ve been 5-6 times. The atmosphere by the pool/garden is very nice too, particularly during the day. But the food is very good, and changes frequently, which I like. They have a lot of meats and cheeses too. Once I ordered the “Foie Gras and Chicken Liver Parfait, Fig Marmalade, Grilled Baguette,” but it was just too fatty EVEN FOR ME!

In between Pizza, there is Burrata

As if you can’t tell, I like cheese. A lot. Many many different kinds of cheese. About 15 years ago I was at Valentino Restaurant in Santa Monica and I discovered Burrata. This is a fresh Italian cheese, originally from Apulia (the boot heel). It’s name means “buttered” in Italian, and it’s basically a mozzarella ball into which fresh cream is injected. When I make Ultimate Pizza (CLICK HERE for details), I always buy some Burrata and I often eat it as a snack in the day to follow.

We are blessed in Los Angeles to have locally made fresh Burrata. It isn’t made in very many places in the states — and it doesn’t travel at all. In fact you must eat it 3-5 days after it’s made. Sooner is better. I buy mine at Bay Cities Deli or Guidi Marcello. You could drive to long beach and get it at the source, but why…

Burrata is fine on its own, but it really shines with just a subtle touch of extra juice. In this case on a bed of fresh arugala, tossed with meyer lemon juice and fresh ground peper.

Observe the intensely white creamy texture. Burrata has a silky outside and a creamy inside. My homemade pesto is to the left, it goes well with the white stuff.

On the bed, ready to be dressed.

Burrata doesn’t need a snazy outfit. Single vineyard olive oil and some balsamic must will do. This is a delectable combo, much like a dressing, but much classier. Must is fresh pressed grape juice, and it’s much sweeter than true balsamic (which is also heavenly).

I put some little dabs of the pesto and Tikka Masala Sauce on the side (in the back). A little such of this can add a little punch to the salad. The Masala was an experiment, as I had it in the house. But a successful one.

It must be noted that Burrata is so creamy eating it is an intensely sensual experience. Lest you think I’m crazy I’m not the only one who feels this way.

CLICK HERE FOR THE FINAL PIZZA POST.