High standards, not high concept
The Stanton succeeds with mildly eccentric riffs on classic dishes
Some restaurant concepts are easy to describe because they’re gimmicks. If, for instance, you plan to offer flavors from around the world in tacos and change the whole menu weekly, you have an easily comprehensible though dubious strategy. If brilliantly executed it could develop a following, but it risks being a place people visit once or twice and then abandon in favor of somewhere with less high concept and more reliable food.
That very thing has happened at the south end of Hermosa’s downtown in the space that used to be Hot’s Kitchen. Hot’s focus on weird tacos was well received at first, but erratic execution, bad service, and an abrasively outspoken chef doomed the place.
The establishment that took over after the building sat vacant for three years could hardly be more different. According to owner Jason Cortes, who played professional soccer before opening the restaurant, The Stanton is named for a British slang term for a sports clubhouse. That’s likely to be lost on American customers, but it’s still a clue about the vibe here. The goal is to be clubby and relaxed, with a menu centered on modern takes on food from everywhere. Their slogan is “globally inspired, locally sourced,” and they live up to it with a wide variety of house-made items.
The first of these to arrive at your table will be sourdough bread and butter, and you may have to restrain yourself from devouring it all and ordering more. Instead, consider two appetizers that use that bread for dipping, vegetarian meatballs in marinara sauce or the truffle fondue. The meatballs are made using Impossible brand fake meat, which is good enough that I wouldn’t have guessed they hadn’t at some point made a mooing sound. They’re a nice platform for brightly fruity marinara, and we deployed some sourdough to get all of it. I was even happier with the fondue, which has large shavings of black truffle atop a molten mix of gruyere, cheddar, and fontina cheeses with roasted garlic and white wine. Fondue was hip in the ‘60s and is now a guilty pleasure, and this is the only place I know in the South Bay that serves it. The portion of both the meatballs and fondue doesn’t look like much, but they’re filling and great for sharing between two people.
The other hot starters we tried were the grilled uni oysters and “sticky chicken” wings, the latter served in a garlicky sweet sauce with cucumber shavings, sliced watermelon radish, and pieces of Fresno chili. The only heat in the sauce is from those chilies, and if you’re not in a mood for heat they’re decent with the Fresnos left out. Their wings are good but not essential, and I preferred the oysters, which are grilled and then topped with both uni butter and raw uni and a few dots of caviar. The heat from the grill makes the expressions of briny ocean flavors more aromatic, and if you like shellfish this is a must-have.
Only two salads are offered, lobster salad with citrus and a vegan spinach and arugula mix with beets, quinoa, butternut squash, and a walnut vinaigrette. Adding roasted squash to salad may be my favorite recent food trend, and it certainly works here. The pricing at fourteen dollars seems high, similar to other starters that use more expensive ingredients.
There are six substantial entrees, three sandwiches, and a soup on the current menu, and for a list that short the influences are wide. We looked longingly at the Thai seafood bisque, lobster roll, Cuban sandwich, and other items and tried the braised short rib, smoked ribeye, lobster pasta, and curried eggplant. The eggplant is offered medium or hot, and it is significant that mild is not an option. The house-made curry sauce has layers of flavor and noticeable heat even if you ask them to leave off the togarashi pepper that usually tops it, though it comes with some tzatziki sauce on the side that helps cool things down. In an Indian restaurant they would offer yoghurt-based raita to do that job, but the Greek sauce usually associated with gyros does the same job nicely. It’s a fine vegetarian entrée, or if you happen to get the eighteen-ounce ribeye and split both, it’s an amazing dinner for two. The ribeye was lightly smoked before grilling and arrived a tender and juicy medium rare, just as I ordered it. The smoky flavor isn’t similar to southern barbecue because the meat hasn’t had the dry rub or long slow cook, so the effect is of a backyard cookout with someone adept at the grill. The steak is served with only some house-made pickles and some chimichurri sauce, though sides of roasted mushrooms and potatoes, fries, or rice are available.
The boneless braised short ribs were another keeper, the fork tender rib meat simmered pot roast style in wild mushroom gravy with potatoes. As much as California cuisine is about the wok, sauté pan, and quick broil, slow cooking has its virtues and they’re on display here. The portion is very substantial and you’ll want some more of that sourdough to mop up the last of the gravy.
The best of the entrees we tried was the lobster pasta, house-made linguine tossed in a white wine, shallot, and saffron sauce and topped with whole claw meat. It was simple and perfect, a masterfully executed recipe that focuses the attention on the quality of the ingredients.
Beers, wine, and a few cocktails are offered, and our server offered both recommendations and samples from their by-the-glass list. That selection is not huge, but it is well curated, and corkage is free for bottles purchased from Uncorked, $25 otherwise.
The Stanton offers three desserts, Italian bombolone doughnuts, regular or dairy-free ice cream, and a dark chocolate tart topped with roasted macadamia nuts. We have only tried the tart so far and found it to be just the silky, rich classic we hoped for. It was topped with a dairy-free coconut whipped cream that was very light and a perfect match to the rich and nutty flavors, and a fine finish for a meal.
Dinner for two with two glasses of wine ran about $65 each, quite reasonable for this quality of food in a Hermosa Avenue location. Though they’ve only been open for a month or so, The Stanton is purring right along – service when dining on the patio was excellent and food above reproach. The mix of modern and classic ideas works, and I expect this place to stand the test of time.
The Stanton is at 844 Hermosa Avenue in Hermosa. Tues. — Sun 4:30 p.m. -9:30 p.m. Street parking, patio dining or to-go, alcohol served, a few vegan items. Reservations recommended. (310)-372-7462. Thestantonhb.com. ER
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