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Santa Monica Restaurants Seduce Foodies with dineLA  

By Melonie Magruder
Lookout Staff

January 28, 2011 -- Get on your marks, foodies. dineLA, the "Who says we don't know fine cuisine?" county-wide, week-long dining celebration has returned.

The event – launched by the Los Angeles Convention and Visitors Bureau in January 2008 to encourage locals and visitors to explore new food experiences – has proven so popular, it's been expanded to two weeks and is now held twice a year.

This iteration runs from January 23 to 28 and from January 30 to February 4.

Santa Monica restaurants have joined in from the beginning, and a quick survey tells you why - participating restaurants all report fully booked reservation lists and new loyal customers.

The idea is to offer a prix fixe menu with several courses designed to give diners a good idea of the chef's culinary zeal - all at reduced prices to encourage diners to try something new.

Eating out is one of Santa Monica's most popular activities, according to surveys by the city's Convention and Visitor's Bureau, ranking right up there with beach-going.

Some 42 local restaurants are participating in all city districts, serving up everything from south-of-the-border to haute cuisine Française.

Kim Baker, director of marketing for the Santa Monica Convention and Visitors Bureau, said that most local restaurants are keen to participate in dineLA for a simple reason.

"They're packed all week long during dineLA," Baker said. "And the chefs get to try out new ideas on maybe a not so typical audience."

Baker said that Santa Monica diners definitely have a certain love for their local bistros.

For a third year, Santa Monica was rated by ZAGAT as Best Neighborhood for Dining Out. Accordingly, it is not surprising that SM restaurants jumped onto the dineLA bandwagon, whether for the first time or as a veteran.

Cory Hogan, manager at the Border Grill, said chef Leo Lopez likes to try out a mix of new and old dishes for the event. Their prix fixe menu offers a three-course spread of Mexico’s most revered recipe options for the wallet-pleasing price of $16 (lunch) or $26 (dinner).

“We’ll throw in one of our signature dishes, like Yucatan Pork,” Hogan said. “And we find that we get a lot of regulars who come back, along with new visitors.”

Chef Benjamin Bailly’s menu at Fraiche is a Mediterranean bistro meets Italian pleasure carte that pairs traditional French steak/frites with Farmers Market vegetable risotto.

Chinois on Main, Wolfgang Puck’s French/Asian fusion mash-up has been a hit with locals during dineLA since the first day. Chef Rene Mata has been with the restaurant group for 25 years and serves up new dishes to celebrate the Chinese New Year (though the prix fixe menu will not be available on February 3 or 4).

“dineLA has always worked well for our type of restaurant,” manager Bella Lantsman said. “Our philosophy is to put the dish in the middle of the table and encourage everyone to taste.”

La Vecchia Cucina’s classic Italian cuisine by chef Mark Mollica has pulled top ratings from ZAGAT and they hope to introduce new recipes to old customers during dineLA.

Tiato Market Garden Café is the newcomer to the event, having just opened five months ago.
Owner Catherine An said they were highlighting their popular items on the dineLA menu and were pleased to book 10 people for the event the first day.

“We mix healthy cuisine and American comfort food (i.e. eggplant tofu vs. a Reuben sandwich),” An said. “We’re family-run and very much a neighborhood restaurant. But we think this will be great exposure to new customers.”

Valentino’s manager, Giuseppe Mollica, said that Chef Nico Chessa sees dineLA as a challenge and designs a new menu for the event.

“We end up drawing customers from all over L.A.,” Mollica said. “It’s a great opportunity to find new people who might not otherwise find our restaurant.”

Baker thinks one reason dineLA is so successful in Santa Monica is proximity.

“Most of the restaurants participating in dineLA are within walking distance of our residents’ homes,” Baker said. “So, while we do a lot of outreach to international visitors, Santa Monica folks can just walk down the street. It combines the best of what our city has to offer.”

To find the Santa Monica restaurant closest to you and check out their dineLA menu click here.

 

"The chefs get to try out new ideas on maybe a not so typical audience." Kim Baker

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