Catch: An Unexpected Find

catch is chef michael reardon’s restaurant in the casa del mar hotel right on the santa monica beach. while generally i’m not one to go to a hotel for the restaurant, catch is an unexpected find. i wouldn’t call it a bargain, but the place delivers excellent value for the tier of restaurant it occupies. i like also the inventive use of ingredients and quiet attention to detail. there’s subtlety and precision in reardon’s work, and he’s cooking his heart out without a tv show or restaurant empire to publicize him. i like his stubborn insistence that every dish represent him well.

HB and i had:

  • tuna nigiri starter
  • dungeness crab fondue
  • HB’s main: kurobuto pork loin
  • my main: alaskan halibut
  • dessert: mango tart tatin

first of all, the tuna nigiri was heavenly–tender, fatty, pink, and supremely fresh. room temperature. for me, sushi has always been that disorientingly sensual experience of what it would be like to eat your own soft lip. (or, cannibalistically, someone else’s, for that matter.) however, it was a pricey near-sensual experience ($18 for two pieces). i’m sure the sushi bar at catch is divine. but i won’t be indulging in it soon at those prices.

the dungeness crab “fondue” was also incredible. big bites of buttery crab (mellow and sweet meat) in a gorgeous bright green pureed pea sauce surrounded by an outer ring of golden pureed uni. pleasing to the eye and the tongue. the flavors were complex and intriguing: all the ocean scent and flavor of the sea resided in the uni, not the crab, and the grassy green of summer peas balanced the seafood beautifully. i’m not a huge uni fan, but i loved how it was used as an accent here.

we waited a bit too long to have our plates removed. but when the pork and halibut arrived, we were not disappointed.

let me preface by saying that HB is not one to rave about a piece of fish. however, he practically sang hosannas over the alaskan halibut. it was dressed with thin-sliced lemongrass, celery leaf, truffle, morels, sweet corn, parsley, and fava beans. elsewhere i’ve tried to explain why i felt as if colicchio’s mains at craft felt underdeveloped; reardon’s halibut is a shining example of why sauteed vegetables accompanying a main (especially a fish) are a necessary complement to the dish. in this case, they transform an ordinary, expertly-roasted piece of halibut into a meditation on summer flavors. i loved the combination of green grassy with earthy mushroom (sparingly), punctuated by the sweet pop of corn kernels. a light browning of the halibut (carefully done, with no hardening or dryness as i might have suspected at first glance) gave the fish some weight relative to its dressing. excellent and nuanced, with flavors that unfolded into a story.

the pork was a triumph of roasting–a very large portion overall, lovely caramelly brown and tender with a light pink center, on a bed of mustard greens cooked with tiny maple-glazed bacon cubes and onions and leeks in what tasted like a red wine reduction. amazing how the mustard greens absorbed the bacon’s smokiness. a bit of garlic in the apple gnocchi kept it from being a twee idea. we stripped the meat off the bones like the starving cavemen we are. just wonderful. we were so pleased.

i really think we should’ve gone for the chocolate terrine (next time), but instead we shared the mango tart tatin. it was the only blot on the experience–mango is a bold, sexy-hipped fruit with a big flavor, and when the tart arrived dominated by large hunks of mango (looking like peach cling halves), i felt the proportions were off. maybe if the mango were sliced thinly instead, or cubed? we also spun our wheels over whether the skin had been removed or not, as some of the mango slices were slightly toothsome on one side. while it’s no doubt a culinary marvel to remove the bitterness of mango skin through cooking, it seemed a bit academic to make that point given the entirety of the experience of the tart tatin.

the crust was a little too chewy to my tastes, and the tahitian vanilla bean (and rum) ice cream, while delicious, contributed to a general impression of gumminess of the dessert. i really do think the flaws were all of the textural/compositional kind, as opposed to oddities in seasoning or ingredient choice. given our experience of the rest of the dinner as artfully, even masterfully controlled, the mango tart tatin felt a little less than well-executed.

to catch‘s credit, when we mentioned we were less than thrilled with our dessert (though we still managed to eat a goodly portion of it; adequate sample size and all, you know), they comped it.

i loved the chic beachy decor and serene atmosphere. it’s actually possible to have a conversation at a decent decibel level. and you get lovely glimpses of ocean as the restaurant has been thoughtfully designed with graded “stadium seating” in mind: the tables right by the windows are lowest, next up a level is the sushi bar, and furthest back are high tables and bar stools too pretty to be labeled as such. and there’s none of that slipshod “hotel restaurant/captive audience so why even bother to try?” feel–instead, the cooking is disciplined, thoughtful, and beautifully done.

catch, we’ll be back!

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