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Something New for Vegetarians -- and Meat Eaters -- in Santa Monica

 
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By Zina Markevicius
Special to The Lookout

August 15, 2017 -- In Santa Monica, it takes a lot more than another avocado toast or IPA to grab the attention of locals. But on the edge of town, tucked in the Santa Monica canyon, is the fresh new hotspot, Tallula’s.

The modern Mexican cantina impressed even my very hip 15-year-old vegetarian friend. “I haven’t seen anything like this before,” she said, and she knows what is going on in this city.

Tallula’s menu emphasizes vegetables over meat, new flavor combinations rather than traditional, and a lightness and finesse instead of heavy food. All plates are meant to be shared, and all plates are at least a bit surprising.

Tallula Restaurant
Left: Market fish tostada (Photos by

Zina Markevicius)

For example, the nachos “sencillo” is served on a plain steel baking pan with a heavy sprinkling of raw chopped white onions, as well as melted cotija and fontina cheeses, a few greens, a bit of cream sauce, and salsa.

The onions appear intimidating, but they prove to be a light, crisp counterbalance to the salty cheeses. The only disappointment was leaving behind the melted cheese tantalizingly encrusted on the sheet pan. A spatula would have come in handy.

In addition to the brightly colored walls, the Technicolor food cannot help but provoke a smile.

The grilled swordfish tacos arrive as three perfect purple circles on a plate. The blue corn tortillas are a royal purple and are topped with “Mexican sauerkraut,” a magenta pickled cabbage. The warm, thin slice of swordfish is complimented by a creamy aioli that works with the vinegar from the cabbage. This dish is modern comfort food.

Even traditional dishes like enchiladas and caesar salad are turned on their heads. The enchiladas are filled with mashed mushrooms and ricotta cheese, covered with a deep red ancho sauce. The consistency is unusual and very different from typical meat filled enchiladas.

It was the favorite of the vegetarians in our group. The ceasar salad features bright lemon more than the traditional, and the pumpkin seeds and parmesan gremolata offer crunchy, salty bits, again for a lovely balance of flavors.

The one weird dish is the Monterey squid. Here, the unusual combination of vegetables and seasonings overpowers the thin strips of little squids. A very spicy, earthy eggplant puree does not come together with the nectarine, basil, mint, and other ingredients. But it is an interesting dish not to be found anywhere else.

Market fish tostadas were more familiar but also fresh and light. On top of a puffed tortilla, charred shishito peppers give an umami flavor to accompany a thin layer of raw swordfish and a thin layer of creamy avocado. It is hard to share one of the tostadas, but most would want to keep it all for themselves anyway.
Tallula's Hot Chocolate

There are only a few meat offerings. The meat special of the night was a brisket taco, and regular menu items include lengua sope (beef tongue) and larger plates of chicken and carne asada to share. The meat eaters in our group were very satisfied, as were the sweet tooths.

Tallula’s most popular desert is the tres leches cake. The pan dulce is a trio of buns with sugary tops, plus a mug of chocolate for drinking or dipping.

Left: Sundae and pan dulce deserts

The buns lost their charm when dipped in the dark, thick chocolate, but spoonfuls from the warm mug were most satisfying with the spicy cinnamon. The accompanying candied whole cocoa beans were another surprise--spicy and exploding with flavor. The sweet corn ice cream sundae was straightforward ice cream with blueberry compote and caramel corn.

All the colorful, interesting food might get too upscale, if not for the comfortable atmosphere. High ceilings, wood beams and plants hanging in macramé make the restaurant feel relaxed and homey. The stools on the small patio and in the bar are not ergonomic, but the friendly staff, fresh cocktails and intriguing food make up for it.

Tallula’s is absolutely packed with people, so reservations are highly recommended. The Sunday night crowd included a mix of young families and groups of friends just in from the beach. On site valet parking is a must.

Opened in May, the beachy cantina is a project of the Rustic Canyon restaurant group which includes Santa Monica favorites Milo & Olive, Huckleberry, and others. Clearly, this team is leading the local food scene. Tallula’s tagline is “hecho con amor,” “made with love.” You can feel the love here in the Santa Monica canyon.

Tallula’s, 118 Entrada Drive, Santa Monica, CA 90402, (310) 526-0027, tallulasrestaurant.com.

 


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