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EATS: Restaurant Reviews and News | FIRST IMPRESSIONS

By the Sea

The Beach House above Pacific Coast Highway is an inviting getaway, offering more than seafood.

June 25, 1998|S. IRENE VIRBILA | TIMES RESTAURANT CRITIC

Pining for a beach house this summer? Liza Utter, proprietress of the Beach House on West Channel Road just above Pacific Coast Highway, has one you can borrow for the evening, if you don't mind a few other guests. Come for a drink in the large, inviting bar, or stay for dinner. This beach house comes with a resident cook. She's Josie LeBalch, former chef at Remi, and more recently, Saddle Peak Lodge.

In a spare, casual room decorated with matchstick blinds, flickering candles and black-and-white snapshots of beautiful people kicking back at the beach, the duo are presenting a stripped-down menu the first few weeks. Utter doesn't want to stress the kitchen, and is planning to add new items slowly. "Why put a 200-pound strain on a muscle in the beginning when you can get the same results in the long run starting with a little less weight?" says the buffed blond weightlifter-restaurateur.

For my part, I'm hoping the bucket of clams becomes a regular: It's not really a bucket, but a shallow bowl of plump clams in a fennel-perfumed broth. I liked the salads, too, especially the one of arugula and fennel embellished with grapefruit, raisins and pine nuts. There's a fine grilled salmon steak that comes with rather oily parsnip potato pancakes and a pan-seared whole trout--not something you see very often. But the menu isn't all seafood. LeBalch is cooking up short ribs with tangy barbecued beans and veal breast rolled up and braised like pot roast. She's roasting game hens in a brick oven with a sweet--too sweet--maple syrup glaze. For dessert, if you've still got room, there's a make-it-yourself sundae.

Dining at the Beach House isn't as relaxing as it could be, however, because of the high noise level. But then you can always retreat to the somewhat quieter bar for dinner (until 10:30 p.m.)--or noshing up until midnight. At which point it's time to go back home to your own--non-beach--house.

BE THERE

The Beach House, 100 W. Channel Road, Santa Monica; (310) 454-8299. Open Tuesday through Sunday for dinner only. Valet parking. Appetizers $7 to $10; main courses $14 to $21.

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