Bruce Marder, the Venice Beach chef and entrepreneur who, most famously, launched West Beach Cafe in the '80s, has a shrewd eye for the right space. Last year, he and partners Marvin Zeidler and Steve Wallace nabbed a charming old structure on Ocean Avenue in Santa Monica as the site for their Italian restaurant Capo. When an old Brentwood bar came on the market recently, he and his partners moved in quickly. A few weeks remodel and voila!: Brentwood Restaurant & Lounge.
The single room, with bar at the front, has been painted black and outfitted with quilted black booths, white-clothed tables and comfortable wooden armchairs. The art on the walls is interesting, as always in Marder's restaurants. Here, a huge painting of a reclining female nude dominates the dining room.
Though Marder has taken on deli food (Broadway Deli), Mexican (Rebecca's) and Italian (Capo), his strongest suit is modern American cooking. And that's the concept at Brentwood Restaurant & Lounge. This is food that everybody understands: jumbo shrimp with Brentwood cocktail sauce (a gentler version of the original), a respectable Caesar, chilly oysters on the half shell, supple smoked salmon, fresh fish, aged steaks.
For pasta lovers, he's included a few standards like spaghetti carbonara or rigatoni in a porcini and beef ragu. Though there are several fish specials each night, meat is the main event at Brentwood. I ran into someone who raved that Brentwood's dry-aged New York steak was as good as the beef at the famous Brooklyn steakhouse Peter Luger's, which is quite a claim. Unfortunately, the night I decided to try Brentwood, the steaks had unaccountably run out by 8 p.m.
When we overheard one amply proportioned gentleman wax poetic about the London broil to his two cohorts, my dining companion decided he had to try it. Sliced, accompanied by pureed potatoes (i.e., mashed) and sauced with mushroom jus, it made a fine supper. With the burger at West Beach Cafe still fond in my memory, I ordered the 10-ounce hamburger with pommes frites (in Brentwood, they don't call them fries, I guess). It was an expert burger, straightforward in concept, with all the classic fixings, and a bun that was neither too soft nor too hard.
Add in "Dr. Bob's" splendid banana split made with a pint-sized banana and plenty of dark fudge sauce, and I'd be a happy camper if I lived in the neighborhood. Especially since the idea is to eventually stay open late--if there are enough night owls.
Brentwood Restaurant & Lounge, 148 S. Barrington, Brentwood; (310) 476-3511. Full bar. Open for dinner daily. Appetizers $6 to $14; main courses $12 to $29. Valet parking.