Tuesday, October 11, 2011

No. 205: Strand House (Manhattan Beach)

Beachside restaurants tend to get a bit of flack for serving subpar food. And generally, I'd agree -- many coastal eateries do dish out mediocre fare and can get away with it, relying on its ocean views & tourist traffic to drive business.
StrandHouse Exterior
So indeed, I was a bit skeptical with The Strand House's initial promises of "great food and great views" (especially since the former restaurant in that space, Beaches, is WAY more well known for the latter.) But when I found out that Neal Fraser (of Grace & BLD fame) consulted on the menu, I was intrigued enough to take up their invite and met up with my friend (and South Bay local) Eric for a hosted meal there (while serving as the photog magnifiqué.)
Wine Machines
Upon arrival, I noticed that the lobbyesque reception/waiting area was flanked by a series of enomatic machines offering approximately 20 wines. Co-owner Michael Zislis told me that each of the partners had a hand in selecting the wines, usually something unfamiliar and eccentric (and well worth a try for $2 a taste, or $8 a glass.) Of the ones I tasted, the refreshing, citrusy Torrontes is my favorite as a pre-meal sipper.
Afterward the tastings, we were led on a brief tour through the four levels of the complex, including the underground wine cellar & private event/meeting space, with its walls lined with the co-owners favorite wines and its own mini-bar.
Then going half a level up, the lounge & bar area where I enjoyed a Hammerhead made with Cruzan single barrel & overproof rums, falnerum, absinthe, spice dram, lime juice, mint and kaffir lime leaf. It was a eccentric, fun marriage of mojito and tiki-style drinks (and definitely just as quaffable,) with the anise-y/licorice-y note of the absinthe adding a zing of complexity.

Finally, we settled into the dining room area - where we tried a out a myriad of fine dishes. For me, the particular standouts included
Hamachi Crudo
Hamachi Crudo with Avocado, Tomato Seed Vinaigrette, Chives, Pickled Onions, Microgreens and Red Hawaiian Salt - Yes, yellowtail-in-the-raw is one of those sure-fire appetizers you can find near everywhere that's at least a 'not bad', but the accompanying ingredients, from the mildly tart vinagirette to the sweet onions to the buttery avocado and aromatic chives, made it a standout -- accentuating the firm-yet-smooth fatty flesh of the fish without overpowering its delicate flavors.
Heirloom Tomato Salad
Likewise for the Heirloom Tomato Salad with Microgreens, Burrata, Avocado and Balsamic Vinagirette. Another somewhat typical dish, but here the quality of the ingredients definitely shone through, and this salad tasted as colorful as it looked. These tomatoes are definitely the sweetest, most flavorful ones I've had this whole year. And it was nicely contrasted by the duo of creaminess from the avocado and burrata, and a nice linger of the richly complex balsamic vinegar.
Charcuterie & Cheese Platter
After the appetizers, we had an assortment of charcuterie & cheeses. My favorites of each was the Truffle Tremor from Cypress Grove (big surprise, huh?) and the Lonza, a pork loin dry cured with chile and fennel, which has considerably less 'funk' than the average charcuterie offerings, not too salty and a nice accent of spice and herbs that did not overpower the whole salumi.
Of the entrees, while we found the Sauteed Halibut on English Pea Risotto a lovely seafood dish, that was quickly overshadowed by the Hanger Steak, juicy, beefy slices grilled to a flawless medium-rare with charred onions and a watercress gremolata. After all the other solid dishes we had so far, I didn't doubt that they'd do a hanger steak well; but here the gremolata gave it the primo edge--it was just citrusy, herby and garlicky enough to balance the hefty steak without stealing the show (unlike gremolatas I've had in the past that are WAY too overpowering.)
Orogeny Pinot Noir
Our courses were also paired interestingly with wines, though all were great with their respective dishes -- the one we loved best (and would definitely get a bottle of in a store, or order off a menu) was the Orogeny Pinot Noir, with its berry-forward notes quickly giving way to a grounded earthiness and subtle spices and finished with a wisp of soft tannins.
And finally, desserts -- possibly in an homage to Grace's famous Doughnut Shoppes, our sweets were Butterscotch-filled Doughnuts with Pine Nuts, Powdered Bacon, and Burnt Peach Jelly. In short, they were irresistible packages of sugary joy, the crisp, doughy crust quickly giving way to a warm, molten, buttery interior - kept in check by the comparatively tarter peaches.
View of MB Beach
Last and in no way least, the gorgeous coastal views of Manhattan Beach (this was taken @ the pier before our dinner); Strand House just a block from the shore and it's floor-to-ceiling windows offer an amazing scenery (my suggestion for first timers - come during sunset - it'll blow you away!)

Suffice it to say, I'm thrilled about this addition to the Manhattan Beach dining scene -- lovely views, delicious food, fun concept/layout -- and can't wait to come back to check out their other fare too! (though Eric beat me to it, he loved it so much he actually came back the Tuesday after!)

What Do Others Say?
- South Bay Foodies also encourage diners to "get there just before sunset," even if only for drinks and a nibble.
- KevinEats think this place is "on track here [despite] some minor quibbles with some of the dishes" and also notes the lounge/club area "a prime location for potential panty peepers."
- Reporting for Daily Breeze, Merrill Shindler said "Zislis and partners have gutted the old Beaches and turned it into the oceanfront restaurant we've long dreamed of, the place to take out-of-towners who can't understand why we choose to live on a fault line."
- LA's the Place noted that "The Strand House is the quintessential modern yet casual restaurant that emphasizes the beach-chic style Manhattan Beach is known for."

Additional photos on flickr here all photos courtesy of Eric So

The Strand House
117 Manhattan Beach Blvd.
Manhattan Beach, CA 90266


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