JiRaffe is no Joke

Restaurant: JiRaffe

Location: 502 Santa Monica Blvd. Santa Monica, CA 90401. 310.917.6671

Date: April 1, 2011

Cuisine: French American

Rating: Santa Monica Classic


To me, it seems JiRaffe has been here forever. It opened in 1996, and to have made it 15 years in Santa Monica is no small feat. The space next door (which is a really nice two floor space) has had 7 restaurants in the same period! JiRaffe remains not only in business, but busy — and good. It is headed by Chef/Owner Raphael Lunetta and serves creative California adapted French influenced flair with a concentration on farmer’s market ingredients. Lunetta was ahead of the recent trend exemplified by places like Gjelina, Rustic Canyon, and Fig. His style is more classic, but not in the least outdated.

The nice two floor space. There is a loft (not visible) with a number of tables too.

The cocktail menu.

“Blood Orange Cosmopolitan, Grey Goose Vodka, Key Lime and Fresh Blood Orange.” This is the kind of real cocktail I like to see, not the saccharine kind of concoction I got the other week at Gladstones (see here), but a drink made from fresh ingredients and no flavored alcohols. It was tart, but really flavorful.

The appetizers.

A variety of breads.

The amuse, a mushroom cream cappuccino. Very tasty, almost truffle flavored and very rich. They actually goofed slightly and brought this after our appetizers, making it more of an intermezzo, but it didn’t matter.

“Roasted Organic Beet Salad, organic beets, carmelized walnuts, dried cherries, goat cheese cream, banyuls-ginger vinaigrette.” This dish has become ubiquitous, but I suspect JiRaffe was one of the earliest to offer it on their menu (it might have been an 80s Wolfgang Puck invention, but I’m not sure). This particularly implementation has always been one of the best I’ve ever had. The sweet of the beets pairing beautifully with the sharpness of the goat cheese, and the chewy crunch of the walnut/cherry combo adding to the effect.

“Purple Peruvian Gnocchi, rock shrimp, pearl onions, mandarin tomato concassé, herb infused tomato nage.” Although these gnocchi look like the grubs I encountered in china (as a breakfast condiment for congi), they tasted delicious. The sauce was extremely buttery, and paired perfectly with the soft little pillows and the tender shrimp.

Les entrees.

“Crispy Scottish Salmon with parsnip puree, white wine braised fennel, and an aged balsamic nage.” Note that the fennel was substituted out here for spinach.

“New Zealand Lamb Rack, yellowfin potato samosas, vegetable moussaka, thyme-scented lamb jus.” The lamb itself was delicious, exactly what you’d want. The jus perfect as well. My only complaint was the samosas which were very bland, tasting only of potato. I’m not such a plain starch fan. They were okay soaked in the jus, but I would have preferred a strong curry flavor or something.

JiRaffe also has a VERY yummy looking dessert menu, but we were too full to partake. The full menu can be found HERE.

Overall JiRaffe is a Santa Monica classic, and for good reason. This is a solid kitchen and everything is very tasty. The menu remains consistant. It does change, but in a slow evolutionary way, mostly swapping out seasonal ingredients and preserving what is essentially the same dish. They could experiment a little more, but they do have a good thing going.