Monday, June 01, 2009

Special Foodventure #122: Belated Mom's Day at Rustic Canyon (Santa Monica)

Serving seasonal, sustainably, locally-grown fare is, without a doubt, one of the hottest trends hitting LA/OC area restaurants, given diners' concerns of food safety, the carbon miles of their meals, and wanting food to taste great because they were simply picked and harvested at their peak and prime.

Of course, cooking with the seasons pose its own challenges -- particularly in terms of food supply and what's available. Even produce with regular harvest times are prone to the forces of nature, you'd never know if a drought or wet season will alter the plants' maturation/fruiting rates, or whether a pest infestation or freezing spell wound up ruining a year's worth of crops.

So, even if it seemed like every restaurant is jumping on the sustainable-seasonal bandwagon, I definitely do applaud their effort 'cause it means their kitchen is making a commitment to be flexible and creative, making do out of what they can get.

And while it seems like every neighborhood nowadays has their own farm-to-table eatery, one of the earlier ones that I've been meaning to go for a while is Rustic Canyon Wine Bar and Seasonal Kitchen in Santa Monica; I've heard very good things about their fare and it's great to know that they held steadfast to their "serving what's fresh" mantra for over two years, with a menu that changes every month and showcasing the season's best in a simple but elegant manner.

That time came when my mom, wise to the workings of the restaurant industry, asked I take her to a weekday dinner instead of doing a ho-hum prix-fixe Mother's Day brunch, which is nearly as pre-packaged and un-exciting as X-mas/New Year's/V-Day/Easter meals at restaurant. And since she's already fond of breakfasts at Huckleberry, Rustic Canyon seemed like a natural fit (I got her fresh flowers and tamales from the Hollywood Farmer's Market on Sunday anyways, just to stay on the safe side.)

To no surprise, the look and feel of the restaurant is -- rustic, but with a good dash of classy-chic and artsiness as well, with candle lighting, the diagonal-slanted window panes, and dark earthy tones. Has a wonderful sophisticated tavern, ski lodge restaurant feel--except I certainly wouldn't be trekking snow in.

After sitting down, we took less than a minute deciding what to order. But, first things first . . .
. . . wines. It is a wine bar, afterall. Given the dishes we planned to order, I got a glass of chardonnay from Navarro Vineyards ($10) that was clean and crisp like a just-ripened apple with nuances of toastiness. Mom, still in mother's day mode, opted for a sparkling wine cocktail made with fresh juices -- in the neighborhood of $12; her original choice of strawberry was already out, so opted for pomegranate sparkler instead, which turned out a tad too tart for her tastes but I found decent.

After placing our order and nibbling on the complementary olives for a few minutes, our starters arrived:
Spring pea soup with fresh peas, mint and olive oil ($9) - both of us are floored by soup's sweetness and the pea's crispness--we've never tasted anything like it, though our pea soup experiences thus far are limited to something that was stored in a package or can for months. The difference is beyond worlds apart! And we were split on the mint, mom thought it interrupted the pure pea taste, but I found a nice foil with its refreshing aroma.
Our other starter was roasted prawns with fresh peas and romesco ($12) - although a bit steep at $6 a prawn, this was also well-prepared -- the succulent, sweet shrimp was nicely complemented by the nutty, slightly garlicky romesco, and of course, we couldn't get enough of those sweet, firm peas (and mom's happier this time that there's no mint in sight.)
After the soup and prawns came the sweet corn agnolotti with caramelized corn ($16); while a bit bland-looking on camera, these perfectly irregular lumps of stuffed pasta are heavenly. The firm, fresh pasta are stuffed with pebbles of slightly sweet, slightly creamy puree filling reminiscent of a corny mascarpone cheese, and finished off with a light-yet-satisfying cream sauce I just want to hold onto my tongue till the very last drop.
Our last savory dish was seared wild sockeye salmon with Oregonian morels, ramps and asparagus in a mushroom nage ($34) -- solid and competent, particularly the salmon that was delightfully crispy outside while being fatty-moist within; every flavor component of the respective ingredient shown through and worked great against one another, bound together by the rich, aromatic mushroom broth.
Being pretty full, we almost opted out of desserts here until we eyed the berry crostata ($9) one table over and decided we have to share one as well. Basically a rustic, free-form individual pie -- the pastry had a shortbread-like crumbly-buttery texture, and that worked nicely with the intense, bright mixed berry filling and the luscious vanilla bean ice cream.

Two hours later and $110 poorer, we found ourselves back on Wilshire, blissfully soaking up the sea breezes and gazing at stars with that full and happy glow on our faces. This was definitely one of our better special-occasion meals of the year, and we already can't wait for an excuse to return. Perhaps mom can return the favor when my birthday rolls around . . .

What Do Others Say?
- LA Weekly's J Gold finds the food so good and simple "it seems like the only possible way to eat."
- FoodGPS pronounced that it "is serving some of the best market-driven food" in LA
- DigLounge celebrated National Burger Day here; found it pricey but worth it.
- SinoSoul had a spendy burger showdown between here and Taste on Melrose (the latter I found 'meh')

Rustic Canyon Wine Bar & Seasonal Kitchen
1119 Wilshire Blvd
Santa Monica, CA 90401
(310) 393-7050

Rustic Canyon Wine Bar and Seasonal Kitchen on Urbanspoon


weezermonkey said...

$110 sounds like a steal for that meal!

Gastronomer said...

I love spoiling my mom too! Peas and mint go together like peas and carrots ;-)

Diana said...

I want everything that you guys ordered. Even the mint! ;) What a lovely way to celebrate Mother's Day! Maybe I'll have to convince my mother to come up from the OC for dinner! ;)

H. C. said...

@weezermonkey, heh yea -- could've easily bumped that up a bit if we wanted to drink more wine there though.

@gastronomer, I'm right there with you on the mint.

@Diana, this menu only lasts till mid-June (before they change again) so get there quick if you want to eat every dish featured here.

SinoSoul said...

someday.. I'll go back and try the full menu.. and to follow your steps, it'll be on a slow weekday.

In the meantime, The Fig still OWNS me with the GC's tho...


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