Vegan-friendly Santa Monica is leading a carnivore’s renaissance of gourmet steak options

By Jacqueline Fitzgerald

Meat on Ocean’s chateaubriand steak is thick-cut tenderloin filet cooked to perfection

The butcher’s back in business.

Santa Monica is famous for its farmers markets and innovative vegetarian or vegan fare, but red meat is making a comeback as restaurants find fresh ways to entice carnivores, often with an emphasis on superior quality and gourmet preparation.

The popularity of the paleo diet and consumer demand for clean, unprocessed food (particularly high-quality protein) means many diners are seeking meat — especially natural, organic, grass-finished beef.

And then there’s the fact that many simply crave the taste of a perfectly grilled steak.

“Even though we’re in an anti-meat era, this is the cool place to be,” says Colleen Roth of trendy Meat on Ocean (1501 Ocean Ave., 310-773-3366), which is modeled after an Argentinean-style steakhouse. Besides detailing the origins of its beef choices, Meat’s prodigious menu arrives with a dated slip identifying the butcher’s name and daily cuts.

Meat on Ocean specializes in meat-aging treatments. Wet aging enhances tenderness, whereas dry aging intensifies flavor. “Dry aging is becoming a thing that’s very sought-after,” says general manager Travis Robinson.

Customers can see the aging room, which boasts an entire wall made of Himalayan sea salt. Additionally, says Robinson, healthy bacteria, humidity, temperature, air flow and water loss contribute to the slow seasoning process, ranging from 30 to 60 days. Robinson says he has heard of places that age meat for as long as 390 days.

Part of the King’s Seafood Co. family, the restaurant also offers seafood choices and a charcuterie bar.

As for the ongoing controversy over red meat’s impact on the planet, some restaurateurs have taken steps to assuage potential guilt about animal welfare and address concerns about the environment.

A desire to put human and animal health first was the impetus for Anya Fernald to co-found Belcampo Meat Co. (1026 Wilshire Blvd. 424-744-8008). The Belcampo website explains: “We track our animals from birth to butchery to your plate. And because we always know exactly which animal each cut of meat comes from, you can feel good about its quality, its integrity and its safety.”

The farm-to-table company owns 25,000 acres of farmland at the base of Mt. Shasta as well as a processing facility, retail butcher shops and restaurants. The Santa Monica dining room, which recently had a renovation, gives the feeling of eating in a very chic barn. Belcampo practices whole-animal butchery, for premium cuts with as little waste as possible.

Whole-animal butchery is a guiding principle at A Cut Above (2453 Santa Monica Blvd., 310-998-8500), a purveyor of all-natural meat and poultry. This butcher shop and deli is run by self-taught chef and butcher Eddy Shin, a 20-year veteran of the industry.

“If you’re going to eat meat once or twice a week, you might as well eat good, clean meat,” declares Shin. “Ours is pasture-raised so it’s very clean, and you can kind of taste what they eat depending on the season. Not everyone likes that, though.”

Is conventionally raised, grain- finished meat less nutritious? Not according to the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, which states: “Consumers can be assured that all beef provides the same high-quality proteins in a delicious package of essential nutrients to support a healthy, active lifestyle.”

And not everyone agrees that grass-finished beef yields superior taste.

Just ask restaurateur Bruce Marder, who opened the highly acclaimed Capo (1810 Ocean Ave., 310-394-5550), a swanky New York-style Italian steakhouse, in 1999. Says Marder: “My opinion is that grass-fed beef has less flavor and is tougher than a mixture of different styles of meat that are produced. We offer organic grass-fed, but I prefer steaks that are finished with corn because that produces more marbling and makes it more tender.”

Kyle Lau, maître d’ at Capo, says their customers usually “want organic and they want the best. With us, they’re confident that they’re getting it.”

Charles Hueston, general manager of BOA Steakhouse (101 Santa Monica Blvd., 310-899-4466) says his menu accommodates a variety of dietary preferences, adding that the organic grass-fed petite filet and Never-Ever Nebraska Wagyu rib-eye are current favorites. (“Never-ever” refers to the fact that no growth additives, hormones, antibiotics or feed containing animal byproducts are utilized in producing the beef.)

Of course, sometimes you want to enjoy a great steak and a more casual vibe. In that case, try Chez Jay or The Galley.

Chez Jay (1657 Ocean Ave., 310-395-1741) is a low-key, beachy hangout that has drawn celebrities since it opened in 1959, starting with the likes of Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., Dean Martin and Marilyn Monroe.

As Chez Jay general manager Chris Anderson puts it: “We hold steady to what we’ve done since the very beginning. We’ve kept it mostly the same.”

It’s a similar story at The Galley (2442 Main St., 310-452-1934), which dates to 1934. Ron Schur, who has owned the restaurant for the last 30 years, says his philosophy is to sell good food at reasonable prices.

“People tell me: ‘We didn’t feel like going out to dinner tonight, so we came to The Galley.’ And I don’t think you’ll find servers like ours anywhere else,” he says. “Plus, the lighting in here makes everyone look 10 years younger.”

Additionally, should you have a late-night craving for a juicy filet mignon in an elegant setting, note that Pacific Dining Car (2700 Wilshire Blvd., 310-453-4000) is open 24/7.