Mario Batali at the Beach
Shutters on the Beach
1 Pico Blvd
Santa Monica, CA 90405
Dining date: 1/28/12
Mario Batali needs no introduction. As one of the most famous chefs in the country, I’m sure he draws crowds whenever he’s doing a food event. When I heard he would be hosting a lunch in Coast Restaurant at Shutters on the Beach, my interest was piqued. When I heard it would be three courses (with wine pairing) for a seemingly-reasonable $65 per head, I jumped at the chance.
Batali was in town promoting his cookbook and this was one of his stops. The lunch was held at Coast Restaurant within Shutters on the Beach, a beachfront hotel in Santa Monica. It was a really nice day, and the window-covered restaurant maximized this to great effect. We dined on the sunlight patio, literally beach-side. Perfect!
Before the first plate was served, some appetizers made their rounds in the dining area. There were actually 5 different ones to choose from, but only 3 made it to our table (we didn’t get the white bean alla toscana or arancini with bolognese). Boo.
Fried squash blossoms with ricotta
Roasted baby peppers stuffed with tuna
The fried squash blossoms were very familiar from trips to Pizzeria Mozza, and were just what I expected. Fried just right, they were light, crispy and creamy. The breadsticks were nice too, with the meaty proscuitto working in tandem with the crunchy breadstick. Finally, the pepper stuffed with tuna was perhaps the most interesting of all – the sweetness of the roasted pepper was a nice complement to the meaty tuna.
As the appetizers made their way around, so did the drinks. Prosecco and bellinis found their way onto our table time and time (and time and time) again.
Flor Prosecco NV
Patio seating on a nice day? Check. Nonstop sparkling wine? Check. We had the ingredients for quite an afternoon. After about half an hour of passed appetizers, we were served the first course.
Rabe, Potato and Ricotta Ravioli
Bastianich Friuliano “Adriatico” 2009
Al dente pasta was filled with a creamy potato and ricotta filling, bathed in a sage butter sauce. I’m a sucker for fresh pasta, and these ravioli didn’t disappoint. The plating was surprisingly inconsistent though, with one person getting only two ravioli (while the others got three), as well as the sage garnish missing on one plate.
Next we were served the main course with a side dish, as well as a duo of wine pairings.
Braised Chicken with Sweet Onions and Parmigiano
Spaghetti Squash with Soft Herbs and Robiola
La Mozza Perazzi 2009
Bastianich Vespa Bianco 2008
The chicken was braised then seared, giving the skin a bit of crispiness. I thought the thighs were perfectly cooked, tender and fairly juicy; however, the sauce of red onion and red wine didn’t have a lot of flavor. It was topped with fried diced pancetta (!) which added a slightly pork flavor with a delightful crunch. Some crusty bread was placed on the bottom to soak up any juices/sauce, but I didn’t think it was necessary. Finally, the squash side was a nice touch – it was sweet and sort of creamy, complemented by a creamy cheese.
I liked that there was a duo of wines to pair, one red and one white; while very different, they both paired with the chicken pretty well. I enjoyed both but preferred the red.
Flor Prosecco Rosé NV
Lastly, we were served dessert. The cannoli came out about as expected, with its light, orange-accented cream and crispy shell. Simple and satisfying.
Batali was in the restaurant the whole time, spending most of it mingling with guests. He made it a point to visit each table for a brief chat, and stayed after the meal to sign anything and everything people brought.
The lunch exceeded expectations and was a lot of fun. The food was good and the alcohol plentiful, however the interaction with Batali is what made this meal memorable. It was a pretty unique experience, and I thought the $65 was very reasonable given everything we ate/drank (as well as the Batali factor). I couldn’t think of a better way to spend a winter day in SoCal.