Food as Art: Sam’s by the Beach

Restaurant: Sam’s by the Beach [1, 2, 3]

Location: 108 W. Channel Rd.(PCH)Santa Monica, CA 90402. 310-230-9100

Date: Nov 7, 2010

Cuisine: Cal French International

Rating: Stellar food and unparalleled service.


We’ve been regulars at Sam’s for about a decade and it never disappoints. First of all, Sam himself is perhaps the friendliest and most hospital restauranteur in the city. I was impressed when I first went there a single time in 1999, and then about two years later returned. He not only remembered me, but exactly what I’d ordered. Sam is originally from Syria, but his cooking could loosely be called French. However, this isn’t traditional old-fashioned French, but blends a very modern palette of flavors in a particular way that can only be called Californian. There are Syrian influences, but also Japanese, and other more eclectic tastes. A lot of seasonal and other high quality ingredients are used, and through and though, there is the balanced touch of a very refined chef. The place itself is small and quirky, with a charming intimacy. We bring our two year old, who is treated like a prince, but it’s also suitable for an elegant yet intimate occasion.

The space, quiet at 5pm sharp avec toddler. But the time we left an hour and change later it was full.

From my cellar comes the Caymus 1992. Parker gives it an 89 (which seems too low). Right now, it’s matured into a fantastic bordeaux-like wine, although with a tiny touch of bitterness on the finish. “Caymus has one of the most enviable track records of any California winery. Having followed their Cabernet Sauvignons since the early seventies, I find it remarkable that this winery has never gone through a slump. Not many wineries, anywhere in the world, can match the Wagner family’s consistent record of success. The 1992 Cabernet Sauvignon exhibits gobs of toasty oak and cassis fruit in a ripe, opulent, full-bodied, round, generous style that is ideal for drinking over the next decade.”

Le menu de jour.

Sam has very good bread, served with an olive-oil sesame dip.

Our 2 year-old got a special course of penne pomodoro. Not the house specialty, but better than he required.

A seasonal butternut squash soup, chunky style, with olives.

“Roasted beet salad, mixed with onions, tomato in aged balsamic dressing, with Feta Cheese croquet.”

“Grilled Japanese Calamari, strips of Calamari grilled with green onions and dry spices served with Mediterranean cous-cous.” The squid was tender, and flavored with a very exotic palette of eastern spices. The cous-cous had a bit of fire to it.

Special risotto with pear and pomegranates, topped with fresh Santa Barara Uni (Sea Urchin). I love this dish. The risotto itself is not made with a lot of butter like a standalone Italian risotto, but when paired with the richness of the Uni and the sweetness of the fruit is lovely. One of the best “western style” Uni dishes I’ve had.

Special “pumpkin mouse” ravioli in a cream, butter, and sage sauce.

“Lamb Chorizo Risotto, Carnaroli rice prepared with lamb sausage, fresh spinach, feta cheese, in meyer lemon broth.” This isn’t your typical Italian Risotto either, but it’s spectacular, and much lighter. There is a lovely tang from the lemon, and the sharp goat cheese, and the sausage is to die for.

Special rack of Lamb in a dijon mustard vinaigrette. The lamb was tender. The sauce has a fantastic vinegary tone, bright with the mustard, but not overpowering. I had to sop it up with bread afterward. Served with various vegetables and ratatouille.

Sam makes spectacular traditional French desserts. These profiteroles are perfect, modernized only by the substitution of ginger ice cream.

His creme brulee is straight up traditional, and it’s the second best I’ve ever had in the world (there was this one in Avignon…).

My personal favorite, the bread pudding. Topped with a creme anglais, it is warm, rich, and soft, with a chocolate botom.

Peak down at that goodness!

Year after year Sam keeps us coming back with a winning combination of personal service, and a unique style of very high quality cooking.

A second review of Sam’s can be found here.