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Tasting Menu: Hungry Cat Santa Monica Canyon

David Lentz and crew prove that good seafood can be served near the ocean.

May 20, 2011|By S. Irene Virbila, Los Angeles Times Restaurant Critic
  • Hungry Cat bartender Tess Vigil serves up the perfect cocktail during dinner hour at this seafood haven on the beach in Santa Monica.
Hungry Cat bartender Tess Vigil serves up the perfect cocktail during dinner… (Barbara Davidson / Los Angeles…)

Finally, someplace to eat good seafood a stone's throw from the Pacific! That would be the new Hungry Cat Santa Monica Canyon at the corner of West Channel Road and Pacific Coast Highway — that bunker-like building that has been home to a slew of failed restaurants, including, most notably Bruce Marder's American brasserie, Brass.-Cap.

Happy to say the bunker effect is no more. That long wall facing PCH now has actual windows with a discrete view of sea and sky. It makes a huge difference. The kitchen has windows too now so you can look in and see David Lentz and crew at work cooking lobsters and soft shell crabs (the season just began for those delectable items), whole grilled fish and more. The menu here has just one non seafood item: the Pug burger, of course.

Meanwhile, a nonstop crowd of seafood lovers has already discovered the place and is happily slurping oysters and littleneck clams at the raw bar or the regular bar where you can order from the full menu as well. Extravagant types are working their way through one of the towering fruits of the sea platters. One tier is $50, but you can build your own two-tier selection as well. The gigantic Hungry Cat platter is a full three tiers, loaded to the max with oysters, clams, mussels, peel 'n' eat shrimp, king crab, lobster and more, enough to feed four for dinner.

So much of the menu is appealing to anyone who craves fresh seafood. There's fluke ceviche with fried avocado, a Dungeness crab salad with green goddess dressing, or grilled octopus with roasted grapes, arugula, almonds and romesco.

You can get a whole grilled fish too, maybe a New Zealand red snapper lavished with the Moroccan spice rub charmoulah, pickled raisins and pine nuts. Or a perfectly cooked piece of halibut with black trumpet mushrooms and a subtle Santa Barbara uni sauce.

Not to forget the cocktails, which have been a strong suit at the original Hungry Cat in Hollywood since it opened. Consider the Greyhound Proper made with Plymouth gin, fresh grapefruit juice and candied grapefruit or a Pimlico that matches Early Times whiskey with fresh lime and orange juice, and mint. The wine list offers a fine minerally Muscadet for those oysters. And if you're into craft beer, the restaurant has a small select list.

What's not to like? The fact that the place is practically booked up for the next two months already. (Remember, though, that the two bars are first come first serve). The noise level can be punishing, depending on the night and the crowd.

Can't get a table? Come for the weekend raw bar and cocktail hours, from 3 to 5 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday afternoons. A walk on the beach, a little surfing, followed by oysters and cocktails.

Sounds very civilized for the beach. And just what the neighborhood needed.

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