It’s not often that I am so enthralled by the fare brought to me at a restaurant that I abandon all interest in the things around me. Under normal dining circumstances, I would have popped my head into the adjacent bakery, meandered over to the bar space inside and critically analyzed the menu for hours to come after I had ordered, regardless of how tasty my choices turned out to be. But not this time. There was no possibility that I would move myself from the perfect place I was seated on the private sidewalk patio, no way that I would gaze stealthily at what others around me were eating, and no chance that I was interested in drinking anything other than what was sitting in my wide-mouthed wine glass. No, there was not a single reason for me to be green with envy or purple with rage – tonight, I was a bright and blissfully orange, all thanks to the newest outpost of La Grande Orange in Santa Monica.
Perfectly placed on the corner of one of Main Street’s charming blocks, lined with iron lampposts, twinkling string lights and inviting eateries, La Grande Orange is slated to become the place for trendy, social locals to see and be seen – all while eating impressively flavorful and seasonal food and selecting libations from a California-bent wine list. While the season- and local-driven menu is no stranger to the LA dining scene, LGO creates a truly unique compilation of Asian, Mexican and California-cuisine dishes that somehow all complement each other and play their own distinctive melodies. Take, for example, my selection from the other night: the two of us ate a progression of Sweet Potato Sushi, followed by Brussel Sprout Salad, and capped off by Salmon Au Poivre – all washed down with a bottle of Qupe Syrah from Santa Barbara.
The artfully arranged pieces literally popped with the contrast of the bright orange flesh of the tempura-fried sweet potatoes, creamy green slices of avocado and almost metallic quality of the Japanese barbecue sauce drizzled tastefully over the top of the rectangular platter. Served alongside an identical plate furnished with two pairs of smooth wooden chopsticks stacked neatly aside two smaller rectangular bowls holding soy sauce and a creamy, slightly smoky and sweet sauce; the rolls disappeared so quickly that, by the time I remembered to take a picture of this appetizing masterpiece, there were only two pieces left to document.
Next up was the Brussel Sprout Salad, undeniably one of the best salads I have ever eaten (and if you were sitting anywhere close to me, you would have heard this coming from my unfailingly full mouth for the rest of the evening). Its inventiveness astonished and delighted me; single leaves of brussel sprouts were piled high onto a perfectly suited large round saucer, punctuated by small gems of dried cranberries and whole roasted, slightly glazed marcona almonds, and topped with razor-thin sheets of manchego cheese and a honey-mustard vinaigrette that defied its every heavy, overpowering stereotype.
Our final dish for the night, the Salmon Au Poivre, can only be described as charming. As we had mentioned that we were sharing everything, we were delighted when two beautifully arranged, oval-shaped plates were set before each of us. Carefully set on top of each bed of not-too-wilted (as often happens) baby spinach sautéed in a refreshing lemony vinaigrette, was a half-filet of some of the most flawlessly prepared salmon I have ever seen. I have heard that restaurants and at-home cooks alike too often overcook salmon, but impeccably seared, leaving a trace of rich pinkness in the middle, this beautiful, just-flaking piece was without blemish. Topped with a black peppercorn crust that was just enough to give you a kick without making your eyes water and throat burn, this glowing, golden-brown-crusted filet lingered on my plate for much longer than I anticipated, simply because I did not want to lose its presence to my greedy tastebuds. The Syrah paired effortlessly with our choices, transitioning flawlessly from one course to the next and providing a rich yet refreshing taste whenever we need to sit back and take in the visual power of the meal before us.
Every tiny detail works to make the everyday diner feel at once pampered and peaceful, and the meticulous attention of the LGO team to each element of the dining experience truly leaves each visitor wonderfully appeased and delightfully important. From the European carafes filled with flat water, the generous amounts of space between tables, and the translucent screens subtly separating the patio from the main dining room, to the friendly, watchful and knowledgeable service of the newly-minted wait staff, my entire time at LGO was spent not only marveling over my delicious (and promptly delivered) fare, but also quietly appreciating the pleasant, respectful and helpful presence of our table’s servers. The pops of sunny color coming from the orange-hued chairs and glowing votive candles offset the smooth, linear qualities of most all of the décor, reinforcing the message that this LGI outpost is the trendier, more nightlife-friendly sister of the two locations in Pasadena and Phoenix.
La Grande Orange has not only made me change colors, but it has also transformed my tastes as a diner. Not a typical enthusiast of modern décor, I found myself murmuring about how much I loved the ever-so-subtle, square-shaped silverware, and how appealing the alternating angles of the patio tables were to the eye. Reluctantly removing myself from the heated bench on the patio that had served as the foundation for my exhilarating experience, I realized that I had already decided on sampling the “Surfer Style” Tuna Soft Taco Platter and the Del Mar Seafood Salad with Iceberg Lettuce. Mexican food?? Iceberg lettuce?? Two culinary components that I faithfully dislike and discuss with disdain were now the two things I wanted most desperately upon my return to LGO. This, I consider the mark of a truly innovative and unique establishment, one that draws its diners out of their culinary comfort zones by offering them menu creations they enjoy, then tempting their tastebuds with other items that might be just as good. I have yet to visit LGO again and satisfy my curiously out-of-character cravings, but I can confidently assure you that when I do, I’ll be that much more of an ever-maturing seasonal fare foodie.
La Grande Orange
2000 Main Street