Tar & Roses
602 Santa Monica Blvd
Santa Monica, CA 90401
Dining date: 2/16/12
Tar & Roses opened late last month, one of the bigger restaurant openings so far this year. Andrew Kirschner is the chef behind Tar & Roses, formerly the executive chef of nearby Wilshire Restaurant. He brings with him food that’s been described as “rustic new American,” centered around a wood burning oven. A different type of wood is burning in the oven each day, marked on each menu. On this evening, it was oak (almond, olive, walnut, apple were the other options) – to be honest I don’t really know the difference (and how it impacts the menu from one night to the other), but it was kind of cool to see.
I was invited to come in for dinner; the restaurant was already on my radar so I was happy to do so. The menu is fairly extensive between charcuterie & cheese, snacks, vegetable side dishes and a host of small and large plates – we gave the kitchen the freedom to send out whatever they wanted.
popped corn crisp bacon, brown sugar, chili
We started with this popcorn dish, accented by an addicting combination of bacon, brown sugar and chili. Quite nice!
short rib chickpea pancake, pico de gallo
Next, the kitchen sent out this off-menu item. The chickpea pancake was an interesting replacement for a corn/flour tortilla, topped with tender, meaty chunks of short rib and a bright pico de gallo.
chicken oysters on a stick tamarind
Of all of the dishes on the menu, I specifically requested this one. I mean, they’re chicken oysters! Tender and succulent pieces of the chicken oysters (the nub of meat connecting the thigh to the breast) were charred in the oven; its smoky flavor was complemented by the sweet tamarind sauce. Pretty delicious.
wood roasted english peas sea salt
Kind of like edamame, but a little sweeter with a fresher, more grassy flavor.
charred little gem lettuce pickled sardine, burrata, dijon
The smoky char of the oven was a nice complement to the lettuce; creamy burrata was a cool, fresh pairing while the pickled sardine added a touch of acid.
balsamic glazed ribs chili, fried basil
These ribs weren’t quite as meaty as I expected; rather they were pretty bony. The flavors were good though, with a sweet glaze and an expectant pork flavor. Some heat from the chilies and fried basil leaves added extra depth of flavor.
charred octopus yukon potato, salsa verde, piquillo pepper aioli
I liked the octopus, tender with the smoky char of the oven. The salsa verde was integral in brightening up flavors.
wood fired duck egg gigante beans, tomato, guanciale
A bunch of savory flavors at play in this dish – runny egg, creamy beans, fresh tomato and the salty guanciale. To bring it all together, the smoke of the wood perfumed the dish throughout. A really good combination.
bone marrow pickled onion marmalade, sea salt, sourdough
The rich roasted bone marrow also exuded some of the smoky flavor. The sweet marmalade and lemon zest were ideal pairings for the spreadable marrow.
braised lamb belly apple chutney
We continued with the rich flavors with this really tender, flavorful lamb belly. I see pork belly everywhere, but why don’t I see lamb belly more often? These were tasty morsels, especially with the sweet, fruity apple chutney.
shellfish pot clams, mussels, shrimp, curry
This pot was filled to the brim with fresh shellfish. All of it was cooked pretty well, but the curry is what heightened the dish. Essentially a Thai style curry, it was milky and full of flavor. A highlight for me.
duck breast pea tendrils, dried cherries, hazelnuts
For me, the interior of the duck was a touch under my ideal temperature. The skin was perfectly crispy, and I enjoyed the addition of the dried cherries. I love pea tendrils (most often found in Chinese restaurants), and this one didn’t disappoint.
hanger steak wood roasted duck fat potatoes, romesco
The steak was cooked medium rare with a nice char on the outside. The romesco added more depth to the beefy steak, and duck fat potatoes were a fail-safe accompaniment.
wood roasted half chicken heirloom tomato bread salad
This was a pretty good roast chicken. Not exceedingly moist, but not dry either. The tomato bread salad was the difference-maker to me – crispy nuggets of bread were complemented by fresh tomatoes and sopped up the chicken fat and juices.
wood roasted whole branzino meyer lemon risotto
Next was this whole branzino roasted in the oven with lemon and herbs. The oven did wonders for the fish, leaving moist flesh with a smoky perfume and a crispy skin. I liked the meyer lemon risotto too, which added some fresh citrus without being tart.
The kitchen also sent out a bunch of sides to go along with the large plates; here were two of them.
wood roasted potatoes garlic, spicy tomato aioli
Garlicky and creamy, the potatoes were tender with just a touch of smokiness and a little bit of heat in the aioli. I may have been missing some of the texture that I really enjoy out of potatoes, though.
wood roasted cabbage caraway, fennel
Similar to the charred gem lettuces, the cabbage definitely benefited from the wood imparting its flavor. I didn’t get too much fennel flavor but I didn’t mind.
strawberry and blood orange crostata honeycomb ice cream
I appreciated the fresh strawberries as well as the herb topping, while the crostata was warm, sweet and crispy. The ice cream was quite good too, a contrasting pairing for the warm crostata.
vanilla rice pudding passion fruit, almonds
As advertised, a warm vanilla flavor came through in the creamy rice pudding, which still had just a touch of bite in the rice…just how I like it.
This was a good meal. The food clearly centered around the wood-burning oven, with most of the dishes exhibiting its smoky perfume. We sampled a ton of dishes and nothing really disappointed; Kirschner’s cooking was pretty well-executed overall. It’s a great addition to the Santa Monica dining scene…selfishly, I just wish it was closer to me. I’m not alone in that thinking – the restaurant was pretty busy on this Thursday night and I expect it to be that way for the foreseeable future.
Note: This meal was hosted.