Monday, July 30, 2012

dineLA: Summer Lovin' at Sunny Spot

One of the stops I knew I needed to make in this inaugural Summer edition of dineLA (where hundreds of restaurants citywide offer 3-course prix fixe deals - July 16-27 this time) was chef Roy Choi's Sunny Spot.

The rebel, rule-breaking chef who melded street flavors into genius korean-mexican cuisine, and trailblazed the whole gourmet food truck craze, had in his latest creation sort of come out of left field.  The concept of Sunny Spot as most people initially understood it, is Caribbean flavors in a "roadside cookshop" style venue.  As a huge marketing geek, I was at first a little put off by the garish pink and red branding of the place - thinking it would be a gimmicky monstrosity with over-the-top flavors and presentation. 

But I did like the food from his other restaurants/trucks: A-Frame, Chego and Kogi - and I figured dineLA was the time to check Sunny Spot out (the $35 3-course prix fixe deal meant lower investment and unlike many other restaurants in the program, their menu actually looked exciting!).

I hadn't decided what day I would go, and figured I could sidle up to the bar if I went on my own after work one day.  Apparently the main dining room is a first come first served open seating area - so I got a table pretty easily early evening one weeknight.  The decor was actually more elegant than I expected - bright colors, yes, but pretty tastefully done, clean lines, in a cheery, airy space bathed in natural light pouring through the floor to ceiling windows via the open back patio.
I started with a Ting grapefruit soda, a refreshing accompaniment to What a Jerk Wings ($12 on regular menu) - double coated, double fried.  Three giant wings that could have been a meal in themselves. Crispy with bold, in your face flavor like Roy Choi does it best.  Underneath in case you didn't get enough flavor? Sinus-clearing aioli made with three kinds of chilis tempered by orange juice.  This was definitely not date food - I dug in both hands and elbows and killed several trees' worth of napkins before leaving nothing but bones and sauce on the plate (I can't really handle that much spice...).
To cool the heat of jerk wings, came a side that was also pretty huge - could have been a starter on its own: Sesame Coleslaw.  This was a nice accompaniment to the jerk wings, and I appreciated the generous portion size, but as I'm not a big salad/veggie eater (sorry chef!) I couldn't finish this.   Oh and apparently they make their own ginger beer in house too, so I got that, downed it.  Lovely and refreshing.
Then came my favorite dish of this entire dineLA summer session: Pan Roasted Skate (not on regular menu, next closest item is Whole Roasted Fish Red Snapper $35) coconut carrot puree, watercress, gremolata.  I LOVE skate and had been excited to see it on the dineLA menu, a beacon of light in the drudgery of "beef or chicken" menus.  AND I had to have it after my fabulous server Shannon confirmed that this is not offered on the regular menu.   This was a plate so beautiful it could reduce *ahem* "a" grown woman to tears (ok, "this" grown woman to tears).  Perfectly roasted so that it's intoxicatingly flavorful outside, and super tender and juicy inside, and its gorgeous 'panelled' texture featured to full dramatic effect.  Coconut gave it island flavors, tempered by carrot puree to balance it with savory deliciousness. Love the accompaniments too of watercress cooked to a spinach-like consistency and gremolata (condiment made from lemon zest, garlic, parsley) for layers of flavor.
The skate was also generously portioned and came with a cup of Black Bean Soup - made with coconut cream, black bean and apparently Red Stripe?! I liked the flavors, but it was a little too thick for me after the preceding hefty courses. The thing that I did love and wanted to note was the presentation - in this gold-gilded, elegant tea cup and saucer set.  Love it.  Touch of luxe in dishware made it felt like I was at some country club in the Caribbeans - without the stuffiness, as the dining room is fun with pops of color that feels very unpretentious.  And I love any place or anything that makes me feel like I'm on vacation, while right in town.
And for the sweet finish: Coconut Sundae (next closest dessert on regular menu is Hot Fudge Sundae $7) - toastd coconut ice cream, raspberry jam, and shortbread crumble

Sounded simple, but turned out to be one of the best desserts I've had this dineLA - textures and flavors just worked perfectly together so that you get the creaminess, rich chocolateyness, fruity goodness from the jam acounterbalanced by the crunch of shortbread crumble.  Plus I think it was a liquer-soaked cherry? on top.  Amazing.

Last but not least, I wanted to acknowledge excellent service by Shannon.  UNLIKE the front hostess, who was sort of cold and I suspect most recently worked at some Hollywood hotspot and thought to apply the same level of 'hospitality' - Shannon was warm, friendly - seemed like a genuinely nice person who was, yes, a ray of sunshine on any given day - and definitely throughout my meal.  I didn't feel at all like a second class citizen just because I was there for dineLA, and she struck just the right level of attentiveness, making sure I had extra napkins for the wing-destruction, and checked in to make sure I was enjoying each course - and because I was by myself she came by to chat as much as I wanted but didn't overstay.
All in all, a shining example of dineLA dine right, and could be my second favorite after Craft.

I would definitely come back to Sunny Spot again even at regular price/- I didn't choose the Jamaican Oxtail Stew this time, though it sounded delicious, because it's offered on the regular brunch menu - so I'll definitely have to go back to try that.  And see how the Hot Fudge Sundae stacks up to the Coconut one.

On a 7 point scale:
Flavor - 6 bites
Presentation - 5.5 bites
Originality - 5.5 bites
Ambience - 6 stars
Service - 6 stars
Overall experience - 6 bites
Price - $$$ (3 bite marks)
Probability of return visit - 100% 

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Sunny Spot  

822 Washington Blvd, Venice, CA 90292
Ph: 310.448.8884

Parking: Valet $5 is probably easiest in this area
Website: sunnyspotvenice.com
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Sunny Spot on Urbanspoon

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