Grain, the backroom whiskey bar at Playa Provisions

Grain, the backroom whiskey bar at Playa Provisions

Playa Provisions, a new four-eateries-in-one concept, offers great meals wherever you sit

By Richard Foss (Richard@RichardFoss.com)

There’s a certain type of understatement that is designed to impress, as when someone welcomes you to what they call “my little cottage” when referring to a 30-room mansion. It’s a subtle way of pointing out the opulence by denying it, and it works.

For another example, the word “provisions” usually refers to simple food for a journey, not a lavish and varied meal. That’s not the case at Playa Provisions, the four-eateries-in-one concept opened recently on Culver Boulevard by star chef Brooke Williamson and her husband Nick Roberts, who also own The Tripel nearby. The offerings range from freshly made ice cream and modest snacks to full-on gourmet food and a whiskey bar — not a combination you’ll find under any other roof in a wide radius.

There are several different environments, and depending on the experience you enjoy, you’ll want to be very specific about where you’d like to dine. The area near the bar is extremely loud, the sunset view patio rather less so, and the two patios on the opposite side have no view but are downright serene. The nicely decorated whiskey bar and a set of tables in the foyer don’t accept reservations but are both interesting options, though on the night we were there the whiskey bar was a bit airless and stuffy.

After surveying the available spaces, we decided on a picnic bench next to a fireplace on one of the quiet patios. A server brought both the bar menu and the one from Dockside, the seafood-focused main room, and our party chose three appetizers from Dockside, plus one from the bar called “figs in a blanket.”  From the pun in the name I expected a concoction involving figs wrapped in something — maybe prosciutto and cheese, based on the ingredients listed. What arrived instead was a little skillet with the figs arranged concentrically around a delicious Spanish cheese that was topped by crisped prosciutto. Saba, a kind of dark, sweet vinegar, was also involved, I suspect sprinkled on the figs. The flavors were very good but not unified — this might have been better arranged so that a bit of everything was in each bite.

The items we selected from Dockside’s menu were the clam-and-scallop casino, an order of ciabatta toast with uni garlic butter, and garlic-pepper fried calamari with rock shrimp and clams. The clam-and-scallop casino had the style and flavor of the classic dish even though quinoa crumbs and prosciutto were used instead of the traditional breadcrumbs and bacon. They were served with a very spicy tartar sauce that I liked but some at the table thought too hot. They preferred the tangy cocktail sauce that came with the fried seafood mix, which had a milder kick. I slightly preferred the fried seafood mix to the clam-and-scallop casino — everything had a delicious garlic-pepper batter like the salt-and-pepper seafood items found in Southern Chinese restaurants, only better.

As for the uni garlic toast, it had the slightly funky tang and umami that has made uni a fad food lately. “Uni is the new bacon,” murmured a sage at our table, but I doubt it. Even mediocre quality bacon can still be used to good effect, but it takes good quality uni to create the effect seen here.

We paired our starters with a Recuerdo Argentine Malbec from the wine list, which has good choices but is priced a bit on the high side. As there were four of us, the Malbec disappeared quickly, and we indulged in a bottle of Montesa Rioja with our main courses.

The entrees on the Dockside menu are a la carte, so we assembled our meals with the sides we liked — a lobster roll with grits and greens, sand dabs with harissa-spiced roasted carrots, brick-flattened chicken with grilled asparagus and pomegranate seeds, and a seafood Louis salad all by itself. Louis (or Louie) salads usually have crab and other seafood with hard-boiled eggs, tomato, asparagus and lettuce along with a dressing based on chili and mayonnaise. This one still has the crab with shrimp and lobster, along with quinoa, avocado and papaya. The avocado and papaya add tropical flair to a century-old recipe, and it’s a nice update.

The sand dabs were conventional but very well prepared, the batter crisp and delicious, but I would have preferred the caper butter on the side rather than under it. The carrots had been cooked in a mild North African harissa chili-garlic sauce and were served over a sauce of yogurt and vadouvan, the French-style curry. The spices were judiciously used so the effect was milder than I expected; I actually would have liked it a bit bolder, but my companions thought it just fine.

My wife had ordered a lobster roll from the starter menu, and along with the grits and greens side it was a substantial meal. The lobster with celery and crushed potato chips was topped with pickled mustard seed and served in a pretzel-style bun that had more texture than the spongy bread usually used for lobster rolls. This may be heresy to traditionalists who yearn for the mayonnaise-soaked standard version, but the dish was exceptional.

Since everyone else had ordered seafood I decided to be contrary and order meat, and after considering a steak or pork porterhouse I decided on the brick-flattened chicken. The whole bird had been deboned except for the wings, marinated, and then crusted with herbs, and there was easily enough moist, tender meat for two people. The garlic spread that came with it was superfluous, because it was perfect as it was. The asparagus side was the only dud of the evening — not because the idea of a cassis and mustard vinaigrette wasn’t good, because it was, but because the vegetable had been on the grill too long.

With half my meal and some of the vegetables headed for home in various boxes, I would have gone without dessert, but two of our party had seen sweets that they had to try. Hula pie isn’t my style of dessert — anything with caramel, coconut ice cream and chocolate-covered macadamia nuts is too sweet for me — but I did admire the chocolate cookie crust and hint of rum in the caramel. The brioche doughnuts with huckleberries, lemon curd and pistachio crème anglaise were much more my style, and I’d get them again.

Our lavish meal for four ran about $127 per couple before tip, which was amazing for this quality of food in a beachside location. Williamson and Roberts have topped themselves, creating a restaurant that will put this sleepy area on the dining map.

Each of the four concepts within Playa Provisions is open daily but with different hours, so check the website for details. Vegetarians and vegans will find several options. Both valet and street parking are available. Full bar; corkage is $15.

Playa Provisions 119 Culver Blvd., Playa del Rey (310) 683-5019 playaprovisions.com

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