Savor small plates, sip innovative cocktails and revel in rooftop views at Calabra

By Angela Matano

Calabra’s grilled baby octopus salad with tomato, harissa and chickpeas is melt-in-your-mouth tender
Photo courtesy of White Oak Communications

Calabra at Proper Hotel, 700 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica (833) 277-0737

Check into the Calabra bar and restaurant at the sparkling Proper Hotel in Santa Monica to see and be seen. Located all the way up on the rooftop of the boutique hotel, the expansive and dramatic space designed by “grande dame of West Coast interior design” Kelly Wearstler gives off modern, luxe ’70s vibes, buttressed by gorgeous views.

As befitting such a stunning setting, the menu at Calabra showcases breezy, artistically plated dishes with an eye toward seafood. While there are tasty main dishes such as branzino or Spanish chorizo and ham on offer, the surroundings beg for small shared dishes to be delicately nibbled while gracefully sipping on an exotic cocktail.

Mostly made up of Middle Eastern, Mediterranean and Californian flavors, hummus accompanies several dishes but also stands out on its own as an appetizer. One beet & walnut “hummus” I tried was delightfully acidic, with a lemon garlic cream and a smattering of radishes. This bright and sunny elevation of the increasingly ubiquitous root vegetable lingered on my tongue, like the illusory puff of a dream.

In the small plates section of the menu, there are quite a lot of fish and shellfish options. The salt and pepper shrimp are both crispy and juicy, bestowed with a hint of lime and mint for freshness. The grilled baby octopus salad with harissa and chickpeas comes properly tenderized for melt-in-your-mouth goodness. And the hamachi crudo, light and airy, showcases the always welcome addition of finger limes.

Drinking takes center stage at Calabra, especially if you sit at the enormous round bar, which resembles a Hawaiian airport lounge if it were crossed with a disco and featured a swim-up bar area — lots of rounded woods and natural stone. Unique mixers like algae, prickly pear, snap peas and tomato water come to play. All of the flavors sparkle, featuring just enough of a surprise element to pique one’s interest without sacrificing pure pleasure. The Infamous Act, a combination of bourbon, Campari, orange, spiced honey and a carrot-bell pepper cordial celebrates the deification of the mixologist.

Refreshingly, dessert comes with all the bells and whistles it deserves — nary a tired tiramisu or wan flourless chocolate cake to be found. The burnt honey custard with orange blossom apricot, cherries, candied ginger and kataifi (a golden, crunchy pastry) calls out to be adored, Instagrammed and savored.

Calabra isn’t the only place to get your culinary groove on inside the Proper Hotel. Two other eateries exist, specially curated to meet the needs of the moment. Palma is the lounge in the lobby, a terrific place to perch while waiting for a friend or to chat over a drink. The third option, Onda, brings the clever palate of Jessica Koslow (the creator of Eastside brunch darling Sqirl and no relation to Argonaut contributor Jessica Koslow) to collaborate with the minimalist mastery of Mexican Chef Gabriela Cámara (Contramar, Cala). Onda’s menu skews Mexican-Californian, with options like jackfruit sopes and chicory salad.