The New Dining Deck at Santa Monica Place

Santa Monica Place opened today to much anticipation. The mall recently underwent a huge renovation. While the general structure remained the same, the top seemed to been blown off, paving the way to a “Dining Deck.” The three-story mall features two stories of shopping and the top floor is reserved for dining. There are six stand-alone chef-driven restaurants and the Dining Deck has several “fast-casual” places. I was pleased to see some familiar names like Charlie Kabob.

The deck had seating and booths that very much reminded me of a fancy hotel rooftop. You have great views of the ocean. And if you’re good about parking, you can park in the structure to directly enter the Dining Deck. I hear there are plans for late-night Friday Happy Hour by all the restaurants.

Here are the highlights from my tour of the six restaurants.

XINO

Xino is a beautiful restaurant featuring two bars including one on the deck overooking the Promenade. I asked the owner whether he’d consider making that lounge space into a dance floor on weekends and he said he’s in talk with the City of Santa Monica. Something about noise but he hoped so!

The lamb chop with the curried rice was delicious! The lamb was so tender.

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Pizza Antica

Pizza Antica served up some delicious thin-crust pizza and there’s a small wine bar in the front that I think will do well.

I was really into this heirloom potato pizza. I didn’t think I’d like it after a disastrous potato pizza I had weeks back but I thought they did a good job by using such small thin pieces. I definitely could see myself coming here for a meal with friends after a long day of shopping. I’ll need the carbs to refuel from the way I shop!

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La Sandia

Richard Sandoval brings his popular La Sandia restaurant to L.A.

I really liked the citrus pop of the shrimp ceviche. The hacienda-styled restaurant was airy and beautiful. I could imagine friends gathering for tequila and music in the court yard.

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Zengo

Zengo is another Richard Sandoval restaurant. Other locations are in DC, New York and Denver. This restaurant is a Latin-Asian fusion restaurant. Somehow they managed to incorporate the two cultures into one harmonious space.

Of all the restaurants I toured, Zengo was the one I wanted to spend more time at. Maybe because we were being rushed through and they had the most food to taste. Doing this tour was very much like speed dating! 15 or so minutes at each restaurant. I felt like I completed a 22-course menu in the span of 45 minutes! If I had more time, I would have loved to be able to savor my miso cod with jicama or eat more of the lovely flan.

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Sonoma Wine Garden

Don’t let the name food you, Sonoma Wine Garden serves wines from more than Sonoma. They aim to have 50 wines by the glass as well as glasses from their two Enomatic machines. You can create your own tastings with one to three ounce pours.

Looking over the menu, I loved all the thoughtful dishes to play up the flavors of wine. My picks would be the oysters, the Sonoma foie gras, lobster spaghetti and the cioppino. The burger looked intriguing with the pickled beet root. And let’s not forget about the boozy desserts including the riesling apple cake  or champagne popsicles.

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Ozumo

Owner Jeremy Umland who also owns the Sonoma Wine Garden explained he spent 15 years in Japan and respected the culture very much. Ozumo serves not just sushi but robata as well. We were greeted with delicious sake recommended by former sushi chef turned sake sommelier, Jess.

While I enjoyed my chicken wings, bacon-wrapped enoki mushrooms and a couple of pieces of sushi, I was mostly intrigued by the wide variety of veggie sushi. The “kelp” looking one turned out to be eggplant.

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Santa Monica Place is going to open up a specialty market on the Dining Deck level. They’re describing to be similar to San Francisco’s Ferry Building next Spring. I can’t wait to see!

In the meantime, which restaurant to go back to first?

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