26 Beach serves large, varied and well-prepared meals that are cheerfully multicultural and modern
By Richard Foss (Richard@RichardFoss.com)
The whimsical poet Piet Hein once wrote the couplet, “I love excess of fruitfulness; let other fools pay more for less.” It’s a common attitude stated with uncommon grace: more is better, and anyone who doesn’t think so has a few screws loose.
Hein wrote that doggerel in Denmark in the 1950s, but his attitude fits modern American dining. We revel in abundance, and our meals are celebrations of a wealthy culture. At its worst, this attitude can translate into places where gargantuan portions are the only draw, but some places manage a balance in which large, varied and well-prepared meals are as symbolic of plenty as a cornucopia.
Marina del Rey’s 26 Beach is an example of what culinary manifestations of abundance can be like when it all works right, when there’s a general air of exuberance and experimentation. The decor is gleefully eclectic, a cross between an artist’s cottage and an antique shop, and done with very good taste. The specialty here is said to be gourmet burgers, and the servers are quick to recommend them, but there is so much else to choose from — the menu is cheerfully multicultural and modern.
I was dining with two other people and we wanted to have tastes of more than our entrees, so we decided to split whatever was the most interesting salad. At many restaurants this would be an easy puzzle to solve, but not at 26 Beach. After considering the duck, pecan and blueberry salad versus one with udon, peanuts, vegetables and sesame, we decided on one with lamb chops, walnuts, grilled peaches and both goat and blue cheeses.
The portion was large and the salad delicious even though not entirely integrated — the raspberry vinaigrette that came with it was served on the side, which was good since it was very sweet and clashed with the lamb. The four large chops were delicious, nicely seasoned and smoky from the grill, and there were plenty of flavors in the salad to complement them. It might have been improved by a mild herb dressing but was fine as it was, and this starter would have been an excellent low-carb entrée.
For main courses my companions selected grilled salmon pasta and an order of meatloaf topped with cheese and marinara, while I decided that since burgers are the stated specialty here I’d order one. The menu boasts that the California roll burger is “not on any other menu in the world” — possibly a dangerous sign, since good ideas are readily copied. Along with the beef patty and usual burger condiments, it contains crab salad, avocado, sushi ginger, nori and wasabi-shoyu-mayonnaise. The dish sounded like two meals that had collided, a burger and a seafood salad, but the flavors actually did work well together. The burger was so tall that it took some doing to attack the whole thing, and it was served with an ample portion of well-made fries.
The burger was the only thing we ordered that we actually had room to finish — the other portions were even more immense. The meatloaf topped with marinara, mozzarella and parmesan was like a family-size portion of spaghetti and meatballs sans spaghetti. Mashed potatoes and sautéed Italian vegetables were provided instead, and were more than up to the job. The big piece of grilled wild salmon was perched on top of a large bowl of linguine with asparagus, portobello mushrooms, onion and tomatoes in a white-wine garlic sauce, and even though it was delightful we were only able to finish just about half of it.
Dessert was offered, and we laughed at the very idea while we asked for our leftovers to be packed. They were good the next day, and any time I eat here I’ll be making that calculation — either share a meal or figure on taking some home.
26 Beach doesn’t do anything by half measures, and somehow manages to keep those large portions of good food at modest prices: most entrees are under $20. You can spend more at the bar, and we did. They have a fine by-the-glass and cocktail list that’s yet another manifestation of the good life, American-style — a little of everything from everywhere, with charm and good service included.
26 Beach is open from 10 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Fridays, 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturdays and 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sundays. Valet or street parking. Vegetarian/vegan options available.
26 Beach, 3100 W. Washington Blvd., Marina del Rey (310) 823-7526 26beach.com