2015-05-19%20shutters0166_revisedexteriorpreferred-550?v=1

Eating Our Way Through Santa Monica

Luxury Travel Weekend for Three

I wandered into the Shutters at the Beach sanctum around noon, clothes crumpled from too-early and too-long hours of flight, followed by two bedraggled teens who had clambered down from a two-week mountain hike mere hours hence.

We weren’t impressing anyone.

We were there for two reasons:  1. Experience the famous Shutters on the Beach with (somewhat opinionated) teenagers, 2. Eat.

Westporters love California, Santa Monica specifically. One hears talk about where to stay, but rarely about where to eat. For most of us, dining is a key part of traveling. And because I’m a giver, I decided to make it a key part of our long weekend.

After careful research, I chose three (well, four if you count breakfast) entirely different restaurants which typify the increasingly eclectic California dining experience.

Which brings us to our wrinkled selves in the lobby of one of the coast’s finest hotels.

A testament to the luxury experience, in its truest form, is how staff treats guests regardless of their appearance. The man at the front desk could not have been kinder or more inviting.

He swept out his arm to indicate we were in the “living room”; a large sitting area reminiscent of Sister Parish. Lovely furniture arranged in conversational sets, the primarily blue tones evoking its beachfront location. Outside, the terrace treated guests to a stunning view of the beach and the ferris wheel on the nearby pier.

The man directed us to the third floor, holding open the door for my wayward crew and even pushing the button.

Our small room was filled with an elegant king-sized bed, artwork, and charming touches: Chinese ginger jars, coral, old-fashioned juggling balls in a whimsical cardboard box.

Books, chosen for their content and their covers, are placed throughout the rooms and the living room. The Old Man and the Sea, Chateaus of Loire Valley, memoirs, and books of art. That they are holdable and readable lends Shutters a festive and inviting sensibility.

But first: lunch.

We ate outside at the aptly named Coast, Shutter’s casual restaurant with an elevated-retro vibe, specializing in California cooking. We shared a delicious Caesar salad and Margherita flatbread pizza while watching the parade of visitors stroll along the boardwalk.

We also breakfasted at Coast each morning: large stacks of fluffy pancakes with Nutella and whipped cream, mostly. Crispy, buttery almond croissants, and colorful plates of broiled tomatoes, eggs, sausage, and asparagus.

When speaking to me, waitstaff and servers said “Miss” instead of “Ma’am,” which, well, I thought was fabulous.

A shout-out to the hot fudge sundae with preserved cherries from room service later that afternoon. We huddled around it as though worshipping an idol, spooning it into our mouths until my son muttered, “This is the best sundae I’ve ever had.” (We also received a surprise plate of fruit and a bottle of lovely Prosecco).

DINNER that night was at Zingué, a French-inspired eatery in Venice Beach (and other locations). By 6:00 on Friday night it was bustling with chic young people sipping cocktails while breathlessly discussing recent encounters or quietly working on novels.

It has an urban bistro feel, with a large central bar and a flat-screen televising the women’s World Cup, which thrilled my daughter. The design is pared-down, accentuating its artistically plated dishes.

The menu features tartines, niçoise, and quiche, as well as riffs on French standard fare: apple camembert paninis and prawn tacos.

My daughter loved the popular “Le Bowl” - Brown rice and “forbidden rice,” avocado, tomato, arugula, comté, cilantro and Sriracha with a frittata and grilled chicken. My son inhaled the Rigantocini Bolgnese, and I ordered, as recommended, the Garganelli aux Morilles. Now, I’m not one to feast on ‘shrooms, but this simple, umami dish was tasty and unique, just as a French feast should be.

The popularity of the Zinqué restaurants, and enthusiasm for all things Français, convinced the group to open “à côté”, a bodega, in this location. Surprisingly successful, this bodega sells curated European products in addition to culinary items prepared in their kitchen.

The shelves are full of French wines, hand lotions, linens, even Italian toothpaste Marvis.

You can walk in, take stock, and before you know it you’re halfway home with a Nicolas Vahé Cutting Board, a grilled whole branzino with chimichurri, and a bottle Clos Saint-Jean Deus Ex Machina Chateauneuf-du-Pape 2018. Voila!

JUST as its bread bowl is indicative of a restaurant’s quality, the swimming pool is indicative of a hotel/resort’s quality.

Shutter’s pool is elegant, serene, and tidy. Though not large, it was never crowded during our visit. The staff is attentive and friendly,  and promptly swept away and replaced discarded towels with fresh ones. A word on the towels - these custom babies are fun and fabulous. They’re a lovely shade of blue with words streaming across: Play. Daydream. Waves. Sun. Ocean. Shutters on the Beach. Writers dig words.

There are white terry-lined chaises near the pool and lined up on a patio overlooking the beach for, you know, guests who enjoy spectacular views of the sea while they relax in sand-free comfort sipping cocktails.

We spent considerable time in the jacuzzi and the pool, especially in the evenings when we had it almost to ourselves. Active teens take up a lot of space in swimming areas.

The cabanas, decorated in - you guessed it, blue! - coordinating patterns, look like living rooms in an upscale seaside cottage. My kids and I spent an early evening sprawled across the cushioned chaise and pillows while they sipped their first virgin piña coladas. The drinks were delicious, and I spent a large part of the next day fielding their requests for another one.

DINNER the next night was at 1 Pico, Shutters main dining room, celebrated as “outstanding” by the LA Times and heralded by Forbes as one of the best restaurants in LA.

The ambience is affluent-casual, New England yacht club, with enormous windows overlooking the palm trees and beach. One would feel comfortable wearing anything from (clean, well-cut) shorts to suits.

Here’s the thing about 1 Pico and, shoot, all of Shutters: it transports. It’s relaxing, smooth, and - I want to say quixotic but that takes it too far. I’ll put it this way: I get a kick out watching people (not in a creepy way. Stop.), and there are plenty of intriguing people to ponder, in and around everything in Santa Monica. But people are one thing, crowds quite another. Shutters is designed, successfully, to be a respite from the bustle, even when it’s busy.

So there we found ourselves, at the precipice of what promised to be a wonderful dinner, in the catbird seats.

Feeling decadent, I ordered an excellent martini with blue cheese olives, ever so slightly dirty. It’s one of three I’ve had in my life and it just seemed the right thing to do, even though 1 Pico is known for their wine.

Our waiter was knowledgeable and attentive, patiently waiting for my kids to navigate the menu while I peppered him with questions.

We started with the Kale Caesar Salad, Focaccia and Burrata (luscious local burrata, 24-month prosciutto), and Grilled Blue Prawns with a perfectly tart and crisp baby gem salad.

I warned my kids ahead of time that we’d be sampling each other’s orders, to try different meals and get a sense of the cuisine. So we all dined on Wagyu Filet Mignon and New York Strip (both Black Hawk Regenerative Farm, Kentucky), and line-caught Oregon Halibut.

Indulgent? Yes. Memorable? Absolutely. I sipped my martini while we proffered slices of our steaks and fish on bread plates for each of us to sample. The melt-in-your-mouth steaks, perfectly prepared, were served with three sauces, including a truffle sauce which I wanted to eat with a spoon.

The dinner was so good, in fact, my kids took photos of it.

Dessert, of course. A creamy chocolate lava cake, panna cotta with luscious fruit compote, and a whimsical fudge sundae generously sprinkled with caramel corn - what a fun idea!

SHUTTERS on the Beach opened in 1993; the only 5-star resort on Santa Monica’s beach at the time. It was built by the Slatkin family who once owned the Beverly Hills Hotel.

They strove to emulate the gracious and opulent homes of Cape Cod and the Hamptons. In 2005, its interior was overhauled by designer Michael S. Smith who went on to re-design Obama’s Oval Office in 2010 and was appointed by the President to the Committee for the Preservation of the White House from 2008-2016.

It’s primo location is near the Santa Monica Municipal Pier which is home to the Pacific Park amusement park, which opened in 1996.

Closer to the hotel is the original muscle beach (remember Arnold?), now home to rings and ropes and swings. In the evenings, especially, numerous people of varying skill levels come out and practice flips, climbs, muscle-ups, and other impressive feats.

And where there’s water, there’s surfing. Perhaps the best of these is Learn to Surf LA. Since 2002 they’ve been teaching private and group lessons for people of all ages.

Their instructors are thoughtful and enthusiastic, and provide all necessary equipment, from wetsuits to boards.

Important for all parents, Learn to Surf LA is vigilant about fun, but also safety practices including investing in the pricier but less “dangerous” surfboards. For 12 years, they’ve been recognized for the safety track record and exceptional customer service.

BRUNCH the next day was our final meal on our dining tour. I chose Cobi’s as much for its cuisine as for its riot of design and color. Deemed one of Santa Monica’s top eateries, it’s the 2020 wild child of designer Cobi Marsh and partner chef Lance Mueller.

We walked from Shutters down Main Street, keeping a careful eye out for the restaurant. Main Street, as you may know, isn’t the most visually stimulating of streets. Then suddenly *BOOM*, you’re staring at a bright pink building with green trim.

It’s a jewel box of a restaurant, opening up to a bar with silk flowers, hung by their stems, coating the ceiling. The dining room is festooned in pink floral wallpaper. Textures and patterns, from the upholstery to the mismatched vintage china, create a cozy yet energetic atmosphere complimenting the eclectic, primarily Southeast Asian menu.

We sat on the patio, the outdoor flora equivalent of its interior. It’s bustling - tables are full and a handful of hopeful diners loiter by the hostess.

To start, we ordered the large grilled prawns in ginger and yellow bean sauce. My son was momentarily taken aback, realizing he’d have to snap the heads off. But he did, and they were super tasty.

I sipped the Ginger Pear cocktail, a light not-too-sweet drink with soju, pear purée, ginger, sparkling wine. Soju, as you may know, is a rice-based “Korean vodka.” It’s never caught on in the U.S., probably because it has half the alcoholic content of our own vodka.

Following prawns were the popular Gary’s Fried Chicken with habanero brine, chickpea batter, lime, honey and chili glaze; then Nasi Goreng with fried egg, rice, sambal terasi, long beans, and we added pork belly.

Both dishes are enticing and inventive twists on basics: fried chicken and fried rice.

The entire restaurant is a unique sensory experience in contrast to most other area eateries. I’m not crazy about the term “instagrammable,” but in this case, I have to use it.

AFTER a final (virgin) piña colada at Coast, we gathered the dirty backpacks that the staff cheerfully held for us after we checked out.

Upon returning home, almost everyone I spoke to about Shutters had a story from when they, too, stayed there. It was a memorable stay, well worth the redeye home.

ShuttersOnTheBeach.com (including 1 Pico and Coast)

For special offers, ShuttersOnTheBeach.com/special-offers 

LeZinque.com/venice

Cobis.la

LearnToSurfLA.com

"For most of us, dining is a key part of traveling. After careful research, I chose three (well, four if you count breakfast) entirely different restaurants which typify the increasingly eclectic California dining experience."

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