Tar & Roses (Santa Monica, CA)

Tar & Roses
602 Santa Monica Blvd
Santa Monica, CA 90401
Dining date: 2/16/12

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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

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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

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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

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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

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Kind of like edamame, but a little sweeter with a fresher, more grassy flavor.

charred little gem lettuce pickled sardine, burrata, dijon

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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.

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Note: This meal was hosted.


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