By Richard Foss (RichardFoss.com)
At various times while I have been conducting research I have been amused by the contractions that were used in formal letter writing. The old ending for letters, known as a valediction, was “I remain, sir, your obedient and humble servant;” with time this was contracted to “Your Obt Svt,” and then simply to “YOS” or “Yours.” Given the voluminous letter-writing habits of those days this probably saved several jars of ink over a lifetime, but there isn’t much reason to do that now.
Which makes it slightly odd that a restaurant on Main Street in Santa Monica is called M Street Kitchen. I can’t remember anybody else shortening the name in this way and thus saving three letters, and I tried to figure out the reason for it. I checked to see if some other establishment in Santa Monica already has a similar name, or whether their sign was too small to fit the whole name, but it remains a mystery.
Nomenclature aside, the high-ceilinged restaurant decorated with modern art has an interesting vibe — it’s in a slightly out-of-the-way location near Pico Boulevard where a commercial district peters out, but feels lively and contemporary. The menu is an interesting hodgepodge of Mediterranean, Mexican and bar food, with gourmet burgers and tacos a specialty.
We decided to start with a chicken, squash and corn soup with toasted barley and a Brussels sprout salad with manchego cheese, almonds and berries. The soup was delicious comfort food, with subtle Mexican spices adding gentle warmth. Though it’s called a summer soup, the squash lends fall flavor and sweetness to the mix, and it was an excellent warmer on a cold night.
The salad was a novel idea very well executed, the lightly cooked Brussels sprouts shredded and still a bit crisp, and nicely balanced with cheese, blueberry and cranberry. The mustard vinaigrette was subtle but effective, a hint of sharpness and oil that tied everything together. Our server had brought a tasting plate of the toasted croutons called migas that are made by the neighboring bakery, and we snacked happily on these between bites of salad.
We paired the salad with glasses of Albarino and Sauvignon Blanc from a by-the-glass menu that is well chosen but slightly overpriced. Our server, Anwar, knew his wines — which we appreciated — and his suggestions were spot-on, but the prices here still seemed on the high side.
At Anwar’s suggestion, we ordered brick-flattened chicken with paprika lemon sauce and an entrée of the steak tacos. The chicken was admirably simple — a big chunk of perfectly grilled bird with a tangy citrus kick and gentle spiciness. That simple spice combination needed no adornment, and we appreciated that the chef had the sense to craft something simple and excellent and leave it alone. The garlic mashed potatoes that accompanied the entree were not puréed and had some good chunks of potato so there was variation in texture, and the spinach was good cooked spinach, no more or less.
The tacos had an excellent flavor but were less pleasing. The steak was very nicely cooked, but the portion was far less than necessary to make tacos using the other items. Corn tortillas were homemade and good, the beans, salsa and homemade sauces tasty, but for $21 I’d like to be able to have some steak in every bite. When we called the problem to a manager’s attention he offered a dessert. It was a nice gesture, but the problem was lack of steak, not lack of sweet.
Unfortunately the desserts here were all very sweet and heavy — no fruit tarts, pastries or anything light. It was strangely uncreative compared to dinner menu: middle-American foods like brownies, sweet chocolate pudding covered with toasted marshmallows, banana pudding pie. Anwar offered freshly made chocolate chip cookies topped with bacon and ice cream, which is not on the menu but sounded more interesting than anything else, so we decided to try it. It was indeed worth the calories, salty bacon and chocolate well paired with quality ice cream, and we departed replete.
Dinner at M Street Kitchen is not cheap: two starters, two entrees and four glasses of wine ran $110. It was a pleasant splurge, a good meal in a place we had selected at random, and I’d consider returning to try breakfast or brunch — they’re open all day here. I’d be more likely to return if I hear that they’re putting that bakery to work making some light desserts, something that would finish the meal with a delicate touch, but if they don’t I’ll order another appetizer instead.
M Street Kitchen open from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays and from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. Full bar; corkage $15. Parking is underground or on the street. Wheelchair access good. Menu posted online.
M Street Kitchen, 2000 Main St., Santa Monica (310) 396-9145 mstreetkitchen.com