Strand House: a meal to remember [RESTAURANT REVIEW]
We continued with the pasta, which was simple in concept compared to our other starters – here the focus was on showing off quality ingredients rather than dazzling with exotica. The mascarpone gave the sauce a flavor and texture somewhere between butter and cream, a rich background for the lobster and peas. The portion was substantial, and though it was tasty we enjoyed about half of it as a palate cleanser and took the rest home.
Our next course was sautéed sea bass with rock shrimp and Spanish paprika, followed by grilled rack of lamb. The paprika sauce, called pimenton, was mild enough that the flavor of the fish was never overwhelmed, but had a cumulative spiciness. It wasn’t enough that we had to hit the water to cool off, but the final bites left a pleasant tingle. We alternated bits of fish with the orzo pasta with peas and rock shrimp that accompanied the dish, a set of simply composed flavors that were in perfect balance.
The lamb had a more exotic set of flavors that revolved around the charmoulah, a sauce native to North Africa based on pickled lemons, garlic, and coriander. This is an inspired match with lamb – the rich, meaty flavors that can sometimes taste gamey pair with the spicy, lightly vinegary sauce perfectly. The three large rib chops were served on a bed of almond polenta, which is not traditional but worked very nicely, the nutty flavors and corn richness a different foil for the sauce. Harmony suggested a glass of Eponymous red blend as a pairing, and her judgment was excellent, as the rich berry flavors in this Bordeaux blend matched the spiciness and full herb flavors that permeated the dish.
We took some of our main courses home because we wanted to leave room for desserts made by Seth Caro, who also created some of the signature cocktails we had enjoyed. Caro had been a winning contestant on the “Top Chef – Just Desserts” show, and the people at the table next to ours enthusiastically recommended the butterscotch doughnuts. As delightful as those looked, we decided on bread pudding and apple tart tatin instead. The caramelized apple tart was very good, with rich flavors of cinnamon and nutmeg, but I preferred the bread pudding, a dense pastry with a soft interior, delicately crisp exterior, and flavors of raisins and chocolate. I will try those doughnuts some time when my sweet tooth is in high gear, but would be perfectly happy to have that bread pudding again.
We had been so happy with dinner that we returned a few days later for Sunday brunch, bringing with us a skeptical diner who is very difficult to please: my mother. Mom looked suspiciously at the stylish interior, calculating whether we would be paying for the fancy décor and location rather than for exceptional food, and was wary of the French press pot that arrived at our table when we requested coffee. It was entirely in character that when I ordered a wild boar sausage pizza and my wife a salmon benedict, mom ordered corned beef hash and eggs. The quality of the coffee from the French press reassured her that this gadget really could make good coffee, and the baked apple pancake we ordered as a starter changed her tune entirely. “You have to learn to make this,” she informed me after the first bite of perfectly browned apples in fluffy batter. When her hash arrived, she exclaimed over the tenderness and flavor of the house-made corned beef – she had been skeptical about paying $16 for hash, but allowed that this time it was worth it.
My wife’s salmon benedict was similarly luscious, the smoked fish, spinach, and eggs topped by house-made hollandaise and served with herbed fingerling potatoes. As with the hash, there was nothing startling about the concept, but it was brilliantly executed. I had been attracted to a concoction of pork belly, bacon, a bacon biscuit, gruyere cheese, and hollandaise called the Last Supper, but I had to try one of their pizzas. Harmony was our server again, and she suggested one topped with wild boar sausage, spicy tomato sauce, broccolini, and guanciale (Italian cured and peppered pork jowl). Harmony’s recommendations were unerring – it was a symphony of flavors on a thin, crisp crust, and the leftovers were still good at breakfast the next day. We finished our meal and watched the surf by the pier and palm trees blowing in a stiff wind and all agreed that this is now our go-to place for special occasion brunch.
Which brings up the question of the cost, as this is one of the most expensive restaurants in the South Bay. At $75 for three for brunch and about $100 each for dinner, this is not an everyday place for most people. On the other hand, if I were asked to bet what meal that I have had in the last year that I will still remember a year hence, this would be it. The Strand House is an extraordinary experience in every way – food, service, and setting – and excellence like this doesn’t come cheap.
The Strand House is at 117 Manhattan Beach Boulevard – Open daily for dinner, weekends for brunch. Street or pay parking nearby, no dedicated lot. Wheelchair access OK, elevator to all areas. Full bar. Phone 310-545-7470.
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