Sunday, November 4, 2012


A new restaurant on the scene in Santa Monica is called Tar and Roses - an odd name, perhaps. According to writer Jonathan Gold, it's a wine-geek phrase - a description of flavor notes divined from complex red wines.

And what could be more evocative than tar and roses on one's imaginary palate?

We visited Tar and Roses on a cool autumn night. We were seated in the back courtyard - a cozy brick-walled space open to the sky but warmed with heaters.  Like many new restaurants, the menu offers lots of small plates, things to share and nibble. Everything looked so delicious we took our time to decide.

Bacon popcorn - why ever not?

We slaked our hunger and thirst by sipping prosecco and nibbling the amazing bacon, brown sugar and chile popcorn.

In addition to its wine list with a vast selection of Italian red wines you've never heard of, Tar and Roses is known for its wood oven cooking. The menu even tells you what kind of wood is being burned each day. The day we were there, it was walnut wood.

Think wood-roasting and you think meat - right? And meat there definitely is - there's a dry-aged rib-eye, there's short ribs, there's wood roasted chicken. You can even get a roasted goat dinner, if you order in advance.  But the wood roasting lends surprising results to vegetables - bringing out the sugars in common root veggies, caramelizing them with high heat. So the big revelation for our dinner wasn't the meat - it was the carrots.

Baby carrots, wood-roasted, served with Moroccan spiced creme fraiche and currants. The carrots are Farmers Market fresh, yellow, orange and dark purple. You just pick them up by their tops and eat them - the smoky sweetness is addicting.

The hottest new Cinderella vegetable of the decade is the brussels sprout - once demeaned, now lifted up from the ashes and decked out with pancetta, garlic, and - here - chestnuts. Roasted brown, they're dabbed with a piquant sauce of grainy mustard.

Another good autumn dish is ricotta gnocchi served in a balsamic reduction with chunks of roasted butternut squash, and garnished with shavings of hard white goat cheese and brussels sprouts leaves (an excess of brussels sprouts is never a bad thing.)

All this vegetable goodness in abundance, and if you check the menu there's still more to try. Roasted beets. Cauliflower with anchovy pesto! Charred baby lettuce. A farm-stall paradise!

But on to the meat!

The meaty portion of our meal began with oxtail dumplings - little bite-size pockets filled with smooth, mellow beefy goodness, dabbed with a bit of sriracha sauce and green onion, the savory broth still clinging to them.

The perfect lead-in to a chunk of braised lamb belly served over a bed of arugula, and topped with an apple-mint chutney. The meat was so tender it disintegrated under the fork, and the bright tang of the chutney sets off the rich, gamy flavor of the meat perfectly. Mopping the bitter arugula in the flavorful sauce was a great way to finish the meal.

Such a tasty way to spend a cool autumn night! We'll be back to try more.

Thanks to the generous diners who let me take a picture!

The whole fried snapper dinner for two looked awesome! Next time!


Anonymous said...

I so envy you. The carrots and brussel sprouts look awesome. I am going to try roasting some sprouts before Thanksgiving to see how they taste. Thanks for the inspiration.


mikey said...

Oh yeah. Last night I made an herb roasted pork tenderloin, Israeli Cous Cous and steamed haricot verts. I was going to brown some mushrooms and shallot and throw them in with the Cous Cous, but at the last minute, even after I'd chopped them, I decided to toss the Cous Cous with green onions and a light grating of horseradish. I sauteed the mushrooms and shallots in some bacon fat in my wok, steamed the green beans for one minute then tossed them in with the mushrooms until they just started to crisp up.

The pork was delicious, tender and rich, and the Cous Cous was a nice, sharp counterpunch, but those baby green beans absolutely stole the show. That was one of the best things I've ever eaten...

ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

The hottest new Cinderella vegetable of the decade is the brussels sprout - once demeaned

But not by me!

smalltownme said...

My mouth is watering.

Gilly said...

Just looking at those photos makes me hungry - and I've just had breakfast! Aunt Snow, it looks absolutely wonderful, and so delicious.

And I love sprouts, so would love to try them roasted!

Karen (formerly kcinnova) said...

Those vegetables look absolutely fabulous! I keep going back to the carrots...

Claudia from Idiot's Kitchen said...

I'm getting caught up on blog posts I've missed in the last few days. You had me at Prosecco and bacon popcorn!

Anonymous said...

I have been wanting to go for quite some time and now you enticed me even more