Belcampo’s new combination restaurant and butcher shop is a marriage of farm and table
By Gillian Ferguson (Gillian.Ferguson@gmail.com)
If paying $25 for a burger, a shot and a beer sounds unreasonable to you, then happy hour at the newly opened Belcampo in Santa Monica may not be your scene. But if you’re the kind of person who dabbles in CrossFit and uses words like “traceability” in casual conversation, plan to spend a lot of time (and money) there.
Belcampo’s combination restaurant and butcher shop occupies the former home of the Dakota Lounge and shares the block with Huckleberry Café & Bakery and Santa Monica Seafood. I once saw Larry David getting his pants hemmed at Elias Tailoring around the corner, and Melisse — the last bastion of fine dining in L.A. — is within eyesight across 11th Street. This is a neighborhood that can afford an $18 cheeseburger. Whether it will embrace the $17 goat tartare remains to be seen.
Belcampo Meat Co. is headquartered in Oakland. The company rears cattle, poultry, pigs, sheep, goats and rabbits on their own Certified Organic ranch at the foot of Mount Shasta in Northern California. With no suitable slaughterhouses to choose from, they built their own processing facility nearby. In 2012 they opened their first butcher shop and restaurant in Marin County and have since opened similar concepts in San Francisco, Palo Alto, Santa Barbara and Los Angeles. Their business model is a portrait of vertical integration, which is virtually unheard of in the sustainable meat industry.
The Santa Monica outpost is the company’s flagship restaurant in Southern California. While the butcher shop next door has a well-lit sign and a wall of aqua-and-white tile that demands to be seen, the restaurant hides behind a nondescript entryway. A hostess mans the dimly lit foyer that separates the restaurant from Wilshire Boulevard. Another doorway guides you to the dining room, a world away from street noise and headlights.
A long banquet clad in toffee-colored hide — no doubt from Belcampo cows — stretches the length of the restaurant. The walls are painted a soothing shade of aquamarine, and three enormous cow hides serve as the only décor.
When the menu arrives it is two-sided and clad in navy leather, which gives it the weight of a textbook. A list of appetizers offers kale salad, grilled beef heart and duck terrine. There are a surprising number of vegetables, but no one is here for the roasted carrots.
Chef Maiki Le, formerly of Josie restaurant, clearly has a California sensibility. Instead of creamed spinach, the 24-ounce shell steak for two is served with a leafy salad. Deep-fried quail is painted with a lemongrass glaze, and the lamb burger arrives garnished with roasted poblano chilies. Fava beans and roasted spring onions decorate the pork sausage. This is a farm-to-table restaurant masquerading as a steakhouse.
While diners will be tempted to order prime cuts (and you should at least once), the burger is probably what you want. It’s not the hulking patty you might expect, but a squat, flavorful juice bomb topped with caramelized onions, cheddar and a house sauce that is likely a mix of Belcampo’s “dirty ketchup” and house-made aioli. Naturally it is accompanied with tallow fries. Yes, the fries are as addicting as they sound.
The bar program is spearheaded by cocktail savant Josh Goldman, who landed here after shuttering the popular but short-lived Brilliantshine just blocks away. Like the dinner menu, the drinks are seasonal at Belcampo. The “Beets by J” combines tequila, citrus, agave and beet juice for a pleasant, though vaguely vegetal cocktail. If your palate is more old-fashioned, try the Sherry Cobbler — just voted one of the best cocktails in L.A. by Los Angeles Times critic Jonathan Gold. I’d prefer it over a milkshake with my burger any day.
It’s impossible to ignore the prices at Belcampo, which are steep even for this stretch of Santa Monica. A half of a roasted chicken with sweet potatoes goes for $29 at dinner. Next door at the butcher shop, boneless chicken breasts sell for $15 per pound. This is the true cost of traceability.
The butcher shop’s fridge is stocked with ground turkey and organic grass-fed hot dogs. Behind a glass case beef tongues hang out next to a tray of Belcampo’s freshly ground burger blend. There is bone broth in the freezer and beef jerky next to the cash register. If you love to cook, it’s hard to leave for under $50.
Co-founder and CEO Anya Fernald believes that America will pay more for quality, and I hope she’s right. In a New Yorker profile she is quoted saying “I want to be the next Safeway.” I just wonder if she knows that Safeway sells chicken breasts for $1.89 per pound.
Belcampo Meat Co. 1026 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica (424) 744-8008 belcampomeatco.com