Whist in Santa Monica
Part of the joy of food is sharing your passion with others, and for my first visit to Whist at the Viceroy in Santa Monica, everyone from the hostess to the servers to the manager and kitchen staff seemed genuinely excited about food, and were effortlessly determined to give my companion and me a joyfully memorable experience. (Spoiler alert: they succeeded.)
To start, we let our server, Warren, choose our wines for the evening. Not only were his pairings for each course spot-on, but his colorful knowledge of every selection – from champagne to port – also impressed.
I used the same “dealer’s choice” strategy for dinner, and let the chef choose our menu with similarly excellent results.
Right away I was excited to see the grilled octopus salad arrive at the table. Having just returned from Portugal, my expectations were high, and the tender, pleasantly smoky octopus delivered. The great combination of fresh Mediterranean flavors (bright celery leaf, mint, olive, and tahini vinaigrette) in the dish were, all in all, also a great reminder of my recent trip.
Other standouts from the meal included the perfectly cookedroasted Maine lobsterand accompanying tortelliniover a velvety white bean purée with earthy fennel and forest mushrooms. The slow-braised lamb belly (yes! lamb belly) might have been the most tenderly delicious piece of meat I’ve ever eaten. The fact that the latter was personally brought to the table by chef de cuisine, Top Chef contestant, and culinary eye candy Chris Crary made it all the better.
For dessert, the Meyer lemon bar with toasted meringue and huckleberry compote balanced nicely between sweet and tart, ending the already great meal on a terrific high note.
**At the time of this posting, Whist’s menu (including the five-course Groupon Reserve tasting I enjoyed) has been replaced by a new spring menu featuring 46 small, sharable plates. The five-course dinner is no longer available except to those with an already-purchased Groupon Reserve deal (the good news: Groupon Reserve offers a select group of members truly amazing offers to some of its most high-end venues like Whist or Petrossian; the bad news: you have to be invited to join).