Nyesha Arrington’s latest venture slipped quietly into the former home of the underrated Santa Monica Yacht Club, but fast established itself as a welcome addition to a Santa Monica stretch that lacks quality options—though Native’s slightly nosebleed-inducing pricing may make it more a destination for meals of note than casual walk-ins.
The menu, which actively promotes the local provenance of its ingredients, has enough pleasing twists to it to support repeat visits. And, for the most part, the kitchen gets it right. A superb starter of French lentil crackers came served with an addictively smoky eggplant mousse ($15), and grass-fed-bison tartare ($17) was lifted from the mundanity of most preparations by the addition of Korean mustard. The juicy and slightly charred Kurobuta pork chop entrée ($28) got a huge thumbs-up from my wife, who considers herself something of an expert on matters pork-chopular; the sweet-savory glaze of gojuchang provided perfect counterpoint to the pork’s natural fattiness, while the Hinona turnips added necessary texture. The short dessert list is also well executed, particularly the fun offering of deep-fried chocolate ($12).
But it doesn’t all work. The bar can be hit or miss, and one attempt at a sazerac was so tooth-achingly sweet it should have been served with the number of a dental office. The kitchen made mistakes, too. While the flavors of the filling in the short rib dumpling ($29) were terrific, the wrapper had been significantly overcooked. More unforgivable was allowing a Strauss farms rib-eye to leave the kitchen cooked to gray inside, rather than the requested medium-rare—particularly shocking when you consider its $59 price tag. However, even the best restaurants make mistakes; it’s how they deal with them that shows if they’re serious. At Native, our eager and efficient server whipped both drink and steak away without a second word, with much better examples soon delivered.
The final check can cause sticker shock, and even more so if one adds a bottle from the genuinely interesting wine list: A standard meal of two appetizers, two main courses, two sides, a shared dessert and a bottle of wine can rapidly leave $200 as a distant image in the rear-view mirror.
That high price potential might understandably deter many, and yet, there’s something about the combination of great ingredients, welcoming service and imaginative—if sometimes flawed—cooking that makes me think Native could carve out a niche for itself in Santa Monica, and very easily find its way into my rotation of regular haunts, if I developed a money-conscious dining strategy.
WHAT TO EAT
The French lentil crackers with eggplant mousse are a must-have; follow these with the pork chop, a side of melting leeks and a deep-fried chocolate dessert, and you won’t go wrong.
WHERE TO SIT
The layout’s changed little since the transition from the Santa Monica Yacht Club, and the outdoor space is still the place to be if the weather’s nice.
WHAT TO DRINK
Have your pre-dinner drinks at the bar (just avoid the sazerac), then take advantage of the excellent wine list and the short-but-solid selection of beers by the bottle with your meal.