Green is terribly chic, when it comes to dining. So perhaps it should have come as no surprise that last week, just one night after Abode restaurant opened in a tucked-away courtyard in Santa Monica, with no sign outside to point the way, the place was positively hopping. Abode, after all, billed itself on an e-mail blast to the media as a "new sustainable restaurant."
The press release went on to present Abode, with executive chef Dominique Crenn at the stove, as a "chic, eco-friendly environment" with a "seasonal and artisanal approach to fine dining." Frankly, I was more interested in checking out Crenn's cooking — the French-born chef has an interesting background, with stints at Stars and Campton Place in San Francisco and the Intercontinental Hotel in Jakarta, Indonesia. "Sourcing all of her produce from local farmers, fishers and ranchers who use sustainable practices," the release stated, Crenn would show what she can do.
I arrived before my guests and sat at the bar sipping a litchi martini. The manager wandered over, asked me how I heard about the place (not wanting to give myself away, I said I had read about it online), then proceeded to tell me how eco-friendly the place is. "We use sustainable materials," she said. She pointed to a wall in the bar and explained that it was made from the ends of wood used for other parts of the restaurant, salvaged to make a handsome display.
The dining room is, indeed, striking, with great-looking midcentury-esque light fixtures, floor to ceiling wood screens, high-backed leather chairs and raised booths, with high, chocolate-colored leather banquettes. It was designed by Franklin Studios, the same outfit responsible for the look at Tengu, which sits just in front of Abode on Ocean Avenue.
Wait — leather chairs? Leather banquettes? How sustainable is that? I asked one of the servers, as I was led, once my guests arrived, out of the bar, where there was more leather — big leather sofas and chairs.
"It's sustainable," he said, laughing. "It sustains for a long time!"
Well, OK, décor is one thing. Maybe the food would be interesting. A couple of things on the menu caught my eye. One was pork rillettes — you hardly ever see that, so we ordered one for the table, and we weren't sorry: It was quite good.
Then the appetizers came — foie gras four ways, oysters four ways, and mussels in a creamy saffron sauce with braised leeks.
Main courses were a fish called cobia, wrapped in Serrano ham and crisped, with a pomelo-grapefruit-coriander broth, hazelnut emulsion and braised endive; duck breast with chocolate monkey tea, wild mushrooms, baby bok choy and citrus confit; and Wagyu "Japanese style" beef tenderloin with melted Camembert, wild cress and merguez foam.
As I later learned, the cobia was flown from Vietnam, the Serrano ham was from Spain (of course), and though there's perfectly good Wagyu raised in the U.S., Abode's was flown in from Australia. The menu listed it as market price, and yes, I should have asked how much, but I never imagined it would be $75 for a 6-ounce serving. Jet fuel, I suppose, is expensive.
John Dory is on the menu too — that's flown in from New Zealand. Black cod is from Alaska, the lobster's from Maine. Sustainable? Local?
And seasonal? Curiously, though the owners, Kelly Gleason and Anastasia Israel, long owned the vegetarian cafe Anastasia's Asylum, and though vegetables seemed to be prominent on the menu, there was hardly a trace of them on the plate, save for a small bit of endive with the cobia and some pieces of leek with the mussels.
But even as listed, they didn't seem particularly seasonal. Yes, there was pea soup, baby beet salad with wild cress, favas. But more of the produce felt out of season than in: Fuji apples, Meyer lemons , pomelo, endive.
Worst of all was the cheese selection. Not that the cheeses weren't good — in fact they were excellent, well-chosen, well-cared for, perfectly ripe. But local? Not on your life. Two were from Spain, one from Italy, six from France. Only one out of 11 was domestic — a Shaft blue. Last I checked, there was a thriving artisanal cheese-making movement across America.
Some things I can forgive, but one thing I can't is taking advantage of diners' sense of environmental consciousness in trying to make a buck.
Abode Restaurant & Lounge
Where: 1541 Ocean Ave., Santa Monica. The restaurant is located at the back of a courtyard on the left; there is no sign.
When: 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Mondays through Fridays, 5:30 p.m.-midnight Sundays through Thursdays, 5:30 p.m. to 1 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays. Brunch 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays.
Price: Dinner appetizers, $11-$26; entrees, $29-$75; cheeses, $7 per selection; desserts, $10-$14.
Info: (310) 394-3463Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun