That is The Market at Santa Monica Place - a well curated collection of artisans bringing their passion projects to the fore. Kind of defying the concept of artisanal, by being placed at the top of a high profile luxury shopping complex - but somehow it works. I love a great underdog story, and it's like the underdogs have made it, finally getting the recognition they deserve with a platform to broaden their reach to a more mainstream audience - both of their wares, and of the larger message that local, sustainable, handcrafted is in demand, and has 'arrived'. Soaring almost literally over the heads of 800lb gorilla chains, and a tendency for mass consumption of goods of the lowest common denominator. And foodies everywhere across the city are cheering them on.
retro-cool ice cream purveyor whose marketing hook involves servers 'in character' as 50s pin-ups being one of the first 'stalls' you see - and signs like the one pictured at left emblazoned with fun foodie philosophy / catchy food-inspired one-liners adorning its walls.
L'Artisan du Chocolat, easier and more central for me to get to now than their Silverlake boutique (in terms of having other stores around, so I can make an afternoon of a trip to The Market, after the beach or shopping, versus having to drive out to Silverlake specifically just for my chocolate fix). Love their hand-painted chocolates with wide range of flavors from matcha to mango-wasabi to bacon to shitake and korean garlic (flavors available vary).
Norcino Salumeria, across the way, offers case upon refrigerated case of beautiful charcuterie and cheeses. You can try their cheese plate (any 3 cheeses from menu for $12, add $5 for glass of wine) at the bar, or sit in the deli to enjoy a panini made with their finest selection of cured meats. I was delighted to see that they carry Sottocenere, one of my favorite cheeses laced with black truffle, swaddled in a beautiful edible grey vegetable ash rind - though the going rate was $35/lb there.
Last but definitely not least, in the far corner is the restaurant that had me screeching to full stop the minute I spotted their blackboard specials. The Curious Palate actually has a location in Mar Vista, close to the farmer's market (they specialize in farm-to-table cooking), but is making its debut in the higher profile SM space here. I loved the casual counter space with full view into the open kitchen, as well as their narrow strip of, but lovely, outdoor terrace seating that allows diners to enjoy the gorgeous SoCal summer / sea-air. But it was the menu that really captured my attention - some of the magic words were "Black Rice Beignets with Santa Monica Sea Urchin" and "Lamb Sweetbreads". So we had no choice but to stop in for a bite.
My friend 'Designer' was with me, but not feeling the same bottomless hunger that is my constant companion, so she opted for the small plate of Macaroni and Cheese ($8). This was a good enough dish, with light creamy cheese and a lovely crusted top - but otherwise overshadowed by the other amazing dishes.
Perhaps I wasn't as subtle as I would have liked with the food paparazzi shots, but without us ever at all mentioning the blog, our super friendly server surprised us with a dish 'on the house' near the end of our meal: Razor Clams - ceviche, leche de tigre ($10). This was beautifully presented in a glass jar with a side of plantain chips. The citrus and onion flavors were skillfully controlled so as to neatly cut through the shellfish, while not overwhelm it at the same time - so that the freshness of the clams were highlighted, not covered, by the marinade. I loved the smooth slivers of clams, which offered a nice chew counterbalanced by the crisp and fruity crunch of the plantain chips. Loved this dish and would defnitely order it again the next time we're back.
All in all, so happy to have this exciting new waystation for affordable gourmet in the midst of the somewhat overpriced dining terrace offerings at Santa Monica Place.
And so glad that I can now pick up my favorite foods for easy weeknight meals, as an easy stop on the way back from the beach, at The Market. All this gorging and I can feel good about it, afterall, I would be supporting local artisans in their sustainable food efforts, even if I'm buying the gourmet goods at the mall.
***See my full set of 35+ photos from The Market at Santa Monica Place here ***
The Market Santa Monica Place
395 Santa Monica Place, Santa Monica, CA 90401