I checked out Nyesha Arrington's menu at Wilshire in Santa Monica last night. The restaurant's new executive chef is on her way to becoming a house-hold name after winning 'Chef Hunters' on The Food Network and competing on this season's 'Top Chef: Texas'.
So I was surprised that the joint was kind of dead, until I realized it was Monday night after Thanksgiving weekend. More than likely most folks were happily at home eating up their leftovers as I took a seat outside on the patio where I could admire the dancing flames in the fireplace and the knobby trees draped in glittering lights. I wouldn't miss those leftovers one bit.
We ordered the octopus salad to start. I had read that Arrington's Korean grandmother had introduced her to the unique flavors of kimchi, bulgogi and octopus from a young age, and she's been known to incorporate these flavors into her dishes. This dish turned out to be a small revelation. The octopus was soft and tender and not plagued by the oftentimes natural chewiness associated with the mollusk. They were considerably large pieces and yet as soft as a scallop. It was accompanied by fresh parsley, tomatoes and slivers of cucumber for a refreshing kick.
Next up for review was the pork belly. It arrived with french lentils and a poached egg (which is always promising). It's hard to go wrong with pork belly and a well-executed poached egg. My gut was right, and the dish was rich and hearty with smoky notes and garlic confit. Little croutons delicately soaked up the egg yolk, after a soft nudge of my fork had it spilling over the lentils, the same way that sunshine pours into a dusky room and quickens your pulse.
The halibut arrived and with an excited glance I predicted greatness. I was sadly disappointed. It was dry instead of tender and the sauce that accoutred it barely enhanced it at all. I expected the first bite to melt away in my mouth after seeing the crispy, golden brown hues but there was nothing buttery about it. Finally, the earthiness of the king trumpet mushrooms was a slight consolation.
As was the wild boar papperdelle. This meat dish was both savory and sweet with perfectly textured al dente noodles. It had bits of olive which complimented the meatiness of the wild boar and the sweet mixture of vegetables in the sauce. It was a welcome reprieve from the halibut and was gone before I could get a picture! Please do find it in your hearts to forgive me.
Dessert was a no-brainer. I ordered the sticky toffee pudding with crème fraiche ice cream probably because I know it's Princess Kate's favorite dessert. I remember reading the recipe and loving the fact that it's naturally sweetened with finely chopped dates. I can't go to Palm Springs without stopping for a milkshake made from the palm dates that grow on all the palm trees. Anyways, the moist sponge cake came in a pool of toffee goodness, and the crème fraiche ice cream had just the right amount of sourness to avoid sugar sensory overload.
Check out the creative menu at Wilshire below and see for yourself!