Waterfront views pair well with a menu heavy on the classics

Steak done right at Whiskey Red's

Steak done right at Whiskey Red’s

By Richard Foss (Richard@RichardFoss.com)

There’s an industry of branding consultants who spend lots of time coming up with business names that sound clever, intriguing or might give someone the idea that they once ate at a restaurant and liked it, even if it opened yesterday. The process can take a lot of time and cost plenty.

Whiskey Red’s probably spent about a minute on the same decision and made what seems like an odd choice. The restaurant used to be called Shanghai Red’s despite not serving Chinese food, and last year it changed to Whiskey Red’s despite having no particular focus on whiskey.

I expected an intimate place in which craft cocktails were sipped in a masculine, clubby atmosphere. Instead I arrived at an airy, old-school waterfront restaurant where waterfront-view tables are the focus rather than the bar. With the exception of a pleasant patio by the entry, just about every seat here has some view of the marina, and even if you’ve lived here all your life it’s fun to gawk at the sailboats and water. Most people choose to do that during their weekend buffet brunches, but it’s every bit as pleasant on a weekday evening, which was when we visited.

The menu here is heavy on the classics, though a few contemporary ideas make an appearance. One of these is a kale salad with broccoli and carrot slaw, apples, currants and sunflower seeds with a peanut butter dressing. We ordered a half portion, which was a decently sized starter for two. The flavors were excellent together; we were told that the restaurant has a new chef, and if this is one of his creations that’s a very good sign.

We also tried a clam chowder that was very successful, the clams and potato in a buttery, rich broth with plenty of herb flavor. This was a time-honored recipe well executed, and even my non-chowder-loving companion enjoyed it.

In honor of the name, we decided to start with a whiskey-based cocktail called The Gold Rush: Woodford Reserve bourbon, honey and lemon juice. Invented in New York a decade ago, I had never had one before but I will certainly have one again, as the sweet-and-sour effect is delicious. We departed from the theme for a classic mai tai, which was slightly sweeter than I prefer but generously poured. After the cocktails we switched to wine, a Sokol-Blosser white blend that goes particularly well with seafood and a HandCraft Petite Syrah.

The wines suited our meals, a pistachio-crusted halibut and a New York steak. Steaks and seafood are the focus here, though a few sandwiches, a lone chicken dish, and one pasta cover the bases for those who prefer something else.

The nut-crusted halibut was good but not extraordinary — the fish was moist and flavorful, but the crust could have used a bit more spice and hadn’t crisped the way it can when all the stars come into alignment. It was served with some good garlic mashed potatoes, lightly sautéed spinach with lemon, and a shallot sauce that the chef put together because we had asked whether such a sauce was available. It usually isn’t, but this one added a dimension to the fish and should always be included.

The steak was one of the best I’ve had in some time. I usually prefer the fattier but more flavorful rib eye steak to a New York steak, but this one was exceptionally good and very tender. Once again the chef had created a sauce to order, brandy and pepper with what might have been a bit of au jus from the steak or a prime rib. It was so good that I dipped my french fries in it and my companion daubed bits of his dinner roll to catch every last bit. Those fries were dotted with herbs and very crisp, and the steamed vegetables that also accompanied the steak were nicely al dente.

For dessert we decided to split a chocolate whiskey cake served with raspberry topping as well as a scoop of ice cream over crumbled biscuit. The cake was good enough that we thought it might be the work of a specialty baker, but our server corrected us proudly and said it was made in house.

Our meal was very good, if pricey. Ocean view property is not cheap, and dinner for two with two cocktails and two glasses of wine ran $140 — fine for a special occasion but a bit above my everyday range. I did notice an offering of three-course sunset dinners for only $21, which is a real deal for a very good experience. Despite the curious marketing strategy, Whiskey Red’s has solid cooking and a beautiful setting, and you can even get a good cocktail while you’re there.

Whiskey Red’s opens at 11 a.m. Mondays through Fridays, at 10 a.m. Saturdays and at 9 a.m. Sundays. See a full menu online.

Whiskey Red’s 13813 Fiji Way, Marina del Rey  (310) 823-4522  whiskeyreds.com