1920s art deco nightlife hotspot also serves interesting small plates and excellent soups
By Richard Foss (Richard@RichardFoss.com)
There’s an idea about cuisine that is best expressed in the Japanese term washoku, which translates to “harmony in food.” It’s the ideal that all the elements of a meal should fit together, a Japanese statement of a generally accepted goal.
The idea of flavors that are a deliberate misfit is rather less appealing, so I presume whoever named this downtown Santa Monica restaurant and bar The Misfit had some other inspiration. What that may be I don’t know. It’s not explained on their website, and an employee I asked didn’t know. It’s not the décor, because that is superb — the 1928 art deco bank that was the first high-rise in Santa Monica has been beautifully redecorated into a stylish restaurant.
My wife and I showed up without reservations, just like everybody else — they don’t accept them. We hesitated over the estimated wait time of 45 minutes but decided that the menu was too intriguing to miss, so we went for a walk for a while and returned just as I got the text that our table was ready. The music inside was very loud, which made communication with our server difficult, but we managed to order drinks, a trio of small plates and a main course.
The drinks were a Misfit cocktail and a Goodnight Emily — the Misfit cocktail because we often order a signature drink to see what the house is proud of, the Goodnight Emily because gin, grapefruit, mint and bitters sounded like a good idea. It probably would have been great for a sweltering day, but the grapefruit sharpness was a bit overpowering for a cool night. The Misfit cocktail — a Negroni variant — was more to our tastes.
Though the restaurant was packed with people standing three deep at the bar, our food didn’t take long. We soon had bacon-wrapped dates, lobster nik-niks (sliders by another name) and an artichoke and kale soup. The dates arrived first and were nicely presented, topped with parmesan shavings over a few leaves of salad drizzled with balsamic. They were stuffed with goat cheese and smoked almonds, which added depth to the usual sweet and smoky flavors, and were a delightful snack. The sliders had plenty of deep-fried lobster with a hint of pancetta and slice of tomato, and the Russian dressing that accompanied it had a hint of spiciness; I thought we might have been given remoulade by mistake. The hit of our meal was the soup, which had complex vegetable flavors and a hint of Indian spicing. The kale and artichoke in a vegetable broth mingled with herbs and parmesan cheese in a way that made me appreciate kale as I never had before. The soup here changes daily, and if you visit The Misfit you should see what’s in the pot, because whoever makes it knows their business.
The quality of the starters raised our expectations for the main course that we had decided to share, pan-fried jidori chicken. It looked beautiful when it arrived, sharing the plate with pickled watermelon beets, carrots and cucumber. The batter had the crisp crunch that you only get from patiently pan-frying, but the first thing I tasted was salt. We finished the big breast and thigh, but only barely, and my wife stripped off some of that wonderful crisp batter to eat the meat inside because the cumulative effect was too much for her. Luckily the vegetables served with the chicken were sweet pickles and not very salty, so they provided a respite. When we explained the problem to our server she seemed surprised, so this apparently is not a common complaint. I hope it was an anomaly, because the dish was first-rate except for this.
The only dessert offered at The Misfit is boutique ice cream, but freshly baked salted chocolate chip cookies are complimentary. These were quite good even after the overly salty chicken, and ended the meal on a high note.
Our bill for two, including three cocktails, ran $98, and despite the problem with the chicken I would return — there is talent in this kitchen, the service is very good, and the place has character. I’ll be back to try one of their famous burgers, sit at one of the outside tables and watch the parade, and enjoy another well-made drink. Modern but with a sense of style and history, The Misfit actually fits this neighborhood very well.
The Misfit opens at noon Mondays through Fridays and at 11 a.m. on weekends. Park at nearby structures. Full bar; vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options available. Menu online.
The Misfit Restaurant + Bar, 225 Santa Monica Blvd., Santa Monica. (310) 656-9800 themisfitbar.com