Don’t let the name fool you: Peas & Carrots is a walk on the culinary wild side
By Richard Foss (Richard@RichardFoss.com)
I like dealing with people who are excited and engaged by what they do for a living. This is of course true in the culinary world, but not only there. I am fortunate to know a mechanic who regards a mistuned carburetor as a personal affront and a bookkeeper who takes any anomaly in a balance sheet as a challenge to her skills. Such people are treasures, and I give them my business whenever possible.
There’s a new enthusiast on my list, a cheerful restaurateur named Marc who runs an endearingly odd bistro on a Santa Monica side street. Peas & Carrots is adjacent to the UCLA Medical complex, and given the name and location one might expect a menu that is largely vegetarian and bland. Instead, chef-owner Marc has indulged his interest in the culinary wild side — this is probably the only casual place in miles where you can get a kangaroo burger, rabbit sausages or a wild boar slider.
You wouldn’t know this from a glance at the menu, which has an ordinary list of hot dogs, burgers, sandwiches and breakfast items. The only hints are the references to “exotic proteins,” which refer to an ever-changing lineup of culinary oddities. On the night we were there this included burgers made from wild boar, elk, lamb, camel, kangaroo and duck. There were 16 different exotic sausages available, plus skewers of sweetbreads, chicken hearts, wild boar belly and wild boar bacon.
Unsurprisingly, it took a while to figure out what to have. Our party of three ordered a variety of items with Marc’s help. He asked about our favorite flavors and made recommendations, then ushered us to the pleasant outdoor patio with glasses of wine, beer and cider.
About 15 minutes later, the table was filled with food plus a plate with five different sauces to try. We had a camel burger, an elk burger, wild boar bacon and red deer sliders, and pheasant and duck sausages, plus sides of carrot salad, pasta salad with grilled vegetables, potato salad, cucumber salad and fried zucchini. It was a smorgasbord as we mixed, matched and traded bites around the table.
The camel was a dense, rich meat with a strong game flavor — it’s not going to replace beef or pork any time soon, but it was interesting to try. It was best with the Dijon mustard or garlic sauces, bold flavors that enhanced the funky, earthy aspects. The elk was milder; the lean meat was served rare because it turns tough and dry when cooked even to medium. I’d eat venison and elk more often if I could find them, because they’re a healthy and tasty alternative to more common meats.
Marc was pouring a relatively neutral Zinfandel that day, a grape that goes well with natural meaty flavors. It was a safe choice, but it would have been a challenge for any sommelier to exactly complement the bounty of exotic flavors we had assembled. If you’re a wine lover who wants to bring something to pair with a camel burger or elk, you are allowed to bring your best guess — corkage is $10 per bottle.
The wild boar bacon had an excellent flavor, but the low-fat meat was on the tough side — it had been sliced thick and was chewy rather than crisp. I asked Marc about this and he agreed that it is easier to eat when sliced thinner and fried, but he said something of the essential and unique flavor is lost if you do.
As for the sausages, the duck with apple and brandy was something I could eat every day — imagine the chicken and apple sausages that have become popular breakfast items, but with a richer meat flavor and the sweetness balanced with just a dash of pepper. The pheasant sausage with cognac was also successful but more delicate, and had I tried it before the more robust items I might’ve been more impressed. My only complaint was that everything was served on standard soft rolls. I would have happily paid a little extra for a pretzel bun, slice of baguette, or whole wheat roll that would have been better suited to the meats.
As for the sides, the carrot salad was exceptional. Instead of the usual mayonnaise-based dressing, this was simple shredded carrot with raisins, a dash of citrus and spices. The other salads and the zucchini were all homemade and wholesome but not attention grabbers.
As we finished our meal, Marc came out with slices of three different cheesecakes: mango, espresso and berry, all on graham cracker crusts. I’m not usually a fan of cheesecake, but I was very partial to the espresso and also liked the other two. They had a lighter texture, and the mango cheesecake was among the best my wife had ever tried.
Our meal for three with wine and beer ran $81, and considering that most of the meal was unusual and expensive items, that was quite reasonable. Peas & Carrots is an interesting anomaly, a place where a very friendly fellow welcomes those with adventurous tastes, but has other options for those whose tastes are literally a bit less wild.
Peas & Carrots is open from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Mondays through Fridays, 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday and 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday. Park in the adjacent pay lot or on Wilshire Boulevard. Vegetarian/vegan options. Local delivery.
Peas & Carrots, 1260 15th St., No. 105, Santa Monica (310) 458-3300 Peasandcarrotssm.com