A Weekend at the Santa Monica Shore

Sometimes you just need to escape reality, head to a city close by and pretend you’re a tourist.  It had been a long week and we decided a quick jaunt out of the OC was in order.  After some online research, it occurred to us that we had never actually stayed in Santa Monica before.  Next thing we knew, it was settled and we were packing the car.

Months prior on a day trip to Santa Monica we had passed by a hotel on Ocean Avenue that was fairly new.  I wasn’t sure of the name but I did remember the style and vast amount of glass windows that made up the structure.  I found it immediately, The Shore Hotel.  Once the room was secured we were on our way.

It wasn’t until after check-in that we realized the prime location.  Located on Ocean Avenue directly across from the Santa Monica Pier and walking distance from Third Street Promenade; the hotel was a perfect choice.  The ocean views were fabulous and the dramatic atrium lobby with its playful So Cal style serves as a great backdrop.  We noticed a photo booth inside the lobby; we will definitely be checking that out later.

The room was of decent size and also showcased great views from our balcony.  We decided on Locando del Lago for dinner but our reservation wasn’t until 7 pm so we ventured down to Blue Plate Taco for a pre-dinner cocktail.   We sat in the small dining area outside and ordered Spiked Aquas Frescas.  Mine was composed of vodka, strawberry, watermelon and elderflower while my other half went with rum, apple, pear and cinnamon.  Both were delicious.  After our drinks it was quarter past six; a stroll around third street promenade to people watch and window shop sounded perfect.  The vibe is healthy with a bit of an eclectic twist.  The streets are lined with performers hoping tonight might be the night they finally catch a break and get whisked off to Hollywood.  Others are there to entertain and earn some extra cash.

Upon entering Locando del Lago we ask for a window seat; the people watching is just too good to not continue.  While viewing the menu we order our go-to cocktail, a Raspberry Lemon Drop Martini.  It was perfectly done; the bartender has clearly mastered his art.

We received a call from a friend that saw on Facebook we were visiting Santa Monica.  He happened to be picking up a new phone two blocks down so we invited him over to meet us for a drink.  Once he heard where we were he invited himself to dinner.  While we were waiting for his arrival we asked the server about the restaurants’ background.  He was a wealth of knowledge and shared with us that since opening back in 1991, the restaurant has established a reputation for producing authentic cuisine from Northern Italy’s Lombardy region featuring specialties from Milano and Bellagio on Lake Como.  He was then kind enough to take us through the entire menu and after hearing his favorites we ordered the Tartara di Tonno Ahi and Burrata, Prosciutto e Fichi to start.

The appetizers arrived the same time as our friend Brian.  The Tartara di Tonno consisted of Tuna Tartar, Lone Ranch Farm Avocado, Red Onion, Balsamic Dressing and Plantain Chips.  The Burrata, Prosciutto e Fichi had Burrata Cheese, Parma Prosciutto, Red Wine Poached Black Mission Figs and Baby Arugula.  Both were a hit and within minutes were gone.

We let Brian take a minute to view the menu and then placed our entrée order. For my dish, I chose the Biancostato di Manzo, Braised Beef Short Ribs, Fresh Oregano, Sautéed Broccolini and Potato “Williams” with Black Truffle while Mike had his usual the Filetto con Spugnole e Castagne.  Filet Mignon, Toasted Chestnuts, Morel Mushroom Sauce and Winter Green Sauté.  Brian kept it classic with the Lasagna di Pollo e Pesto. Lasagna, Smoked Chicken, Market Basil Pesto, Yukon Potatoes, Béchamel Sauce and Parmesan.  We dug right in, the talking stopped and all was quiet; at least until our plates were finished.   The server brought out a small portion of the Butternut Squash Risotto, he said it was a must try and he was right.  We would have to come back for that one!

After another round of drinks we were stuffed but who goes to a great Italian restaurant without having dessert? Not the three of us; especially when desserts are made in-house on a daily basis. The winners from the dessert menu were the Vulcano di Cioccolato with warm Molten Chocolate Cake and Caramelized Bananas and the Torta di Frutta a Farmer’s Market Apricot, Strawberry, Cherry & Peach Tart, with Almond Cream, Raspberry Sauce and Vanilla Gelato.  Heavenly!

After the fabulous meal, we headed back to the hotel; thankful for the walk although short.  Once inside the lobby we put the photo booth to good use and made a few postcard mementos to take home with us; such a great idea!

The next morning we awoke early and headed for the pier.  With the classic iconic amusement pier, gleaming bay and tanned surfers taking on the early morning swells, we could tell it was going to be a perfect day. This is not your stereotypical beach town. A visit to the pier wouldn’t be anything without a ride on the solar-powered 130-foot-high Ferris wheel. Yes, it is a bit touristy, and yes, it might be crowded, but it is, after all, the city’s iconic symbol.

It was getting close to lunch time and since we had skipped breakfast due to still being full from the night before; our appetites were starting to make a comeback.  The Patriots game had just started and we needed a place to catch a glimpse at how they were doing.  We asked two different locals and both had the same answer “Ye Olde Kings Head Pub”.  Luckily it was close to our hotel and easy to find.  We checked in on the score, Pats were up; I was happy.  We ordered two mimosas from the bartender and sat down to watch the game.  My other half wouldn’t stop talking about sushi so after about an hour we paid the bill and headed down the street to Sushi Roku; a place we had passed on the way to the pub.

The restaurant was open and we were able to watch the Sushi Chefs work their magic.  We tried a few items the Filet Mignon Wrapped Asparagus, Jidori Chicken Skewers, the Black Truffle Tempura Handroll and Baked Lobster with Creamy Miso Sauce but overall the Tuna Tataki was our favorite.  It was so good that we ordered two because neither one of us wanted to share.   The presentation is simple and modern just like the décor while the service is accommodating.  The food is nontraditional in a good way and delectable.

After a two hour siesta, we ended our day on the beach watching the amazing Cirque du Soleil style performers showing each other up on the rings.  We even took a shot at it ourselves although I don’t see a future for us, unfortunately.   We were able to catch an amazing sunset while sitting in the sand and we couldn’t have asked for a more beautiful end to our weekend getaway.