Of the side dishes, mac 'n' cheese is a must. A svelte, creamy cheddar sauce, made with Fat Tire ale, cloaks each piece of macaroni — just the way it should. Fat asparagus are served with a bergamot-perfumed mayonnaise. And sautéed spinach is embellished with shiitake mushrooms. Vegetarians could easily put two or three of the sides together to make a meal.
For dessert, pass up the oatmeal-topped strawberry crisp for the silky butterscotch pot de crème crowned with a perfect lacy cookie. Or order up a chorus line of bite-size chocolate cupcakes, each wearing a swirl of dark chocolate frosting that makes it look like a little troll.
Just before leaving one night, I went through a door to the right of the bar to discover a huge inner courtyard patio where you can also eat. You won't have the same view of sea and sky, but then again those attractions are only visible before dark. You can enjoy more privacy too. And if you or your companion is dressed more for the tropics than Santa Monica, he or she can bask under the heat lamps without having to resort to a sweater or shawl.
Far north of the glitzy venues on Ocean Boulevard, the Shangri-la remains more of an insider's spot, somewhere to go for a quiet dinner away from the crowd. Good things sometimes come in surprising packages.