bar sizzle, food fizzle – ma’kai restaurant and lounge

101 broadway ave (@ ocean ave.)
santa monica, ca 90401

There are some places you go for the scene, where the food is merely an afterthought, and Ma’kai in santa monica, is one of them. admittedly, sometimes i need a little sizzle, so even back when it was still kai, I had wanted to try it. But on weekend evenings, I didn’t want to wait in the line that snaked around the corner, up Ocean Ave. lots of beautiful people in stiletto’ed sandals and silk camisoles, even in the dead of (southern california) winter.

so i go on a weeknight, and it’s still a scene, with a bouncer at the door, and though there is no line at the early hour of 7 pm, there is a long wait for a dining table. that’s no wonder since most of ma’kai is dedicated to the “scene,” with a large bar center-stage. the hostess (who is on her way out the door to make an audition – ha!) says we are welcome to sit anywhere and order from the menu, so i did a quick self-tour of the place. it was a bit like a trip through a miniature tropical ikea, showcasing different styles and spaces, this one complete with live mannequins. in the front space, three young ladies, perched on low, cushioned benches, peer over colorful cocktails and do the up-and-down once over on everyone who walks in the front door. i felt their six eyeballs on me, and i volleyed it right back. to all three of them, no less. yes, i can throw the attitude just as well, if i want to!

next to them, a mismatched couple must be on a first date. they’re sitting uncomfortably in high, panama-jack wicker chairs. another small space is dressed up like a comfortable living room with several overstuffed couches squeezed around a cocktail table. the only real dining room is hidden away in the back corner, and i catch a glimpse of it through a small doorway.

ma’kai is on a corner, so there are two front patios, one on ocean avenue and the other on broadway. it’s well past sunset, but the firepit on the ocean-facing patio must have been very bright. one of the hipsters in the gang lounging around the pit is wearing sunglasses! there’s a livelier happy-hour group of trendy professionals on the opposite end. no space here (thankfully), so we sit on the other patio, equipped tonight with dining tables.

our very pretty waitress who has, it appears, graduated from hooters up the street to ma’kai, recites from memory all of two specials, which i think was quite an accomplishment for her. i ordered a drink and remembered why i typically stay away from specialty cocktail menus. the key lime martini was a gorgeous lime green in the glass, but was so sweet i gagged. i wasn’t going to let almost $10 go to waste, so i held my breath and downed it in one shot. the rest of the night, i stick to citron/soda.

and i needed each one of those three citron/sodas to anesthetize my tastebuds to the food. it wasn’t horrible, but had i been of sound mind and stomach, i would have been more than mildly appalled at the final bill for four small plates that were merely mediocre. fried calamari, atop spring greens and a forgettable dressing, were cold and a bit greasy. sip first citron/soda.

a dipping sauce tried desperately to save chicken on skewers billed as satay, but even the spices weren’t enough heat and juice for the cold, dry, overcooked meat. *gulp* finish drink.

i was disappointed when the coconut shrimp were put on the table. admittedly, i was expecting a deep-fried coconut coating (similar to the ones from an australian steakhouse chain that shall remain nameless), but these shrimp were sauteed, sprinkled with coconut flakes and served with a coconut dipping sauce. they were plump and pretty, perfectly lined up on a long oval dish, but of course, looked much better than they tasted. a second citron/soda, please.

the shishito peppers were sauteed in a tangier, lighter sauce than i’m used to, but ma’kai serves almost an entire crop of them, far too many to be a “small plate.” now i’m on my third drink, chatting away with our dining neighbors to the left and right, so we share the shishitos, and still we have more than half left. our new friends give us a taste of their asparagus wrapped in pork, but after four drinks, it could have been spam carpaccio and i wouldn’t have known the difference.

oh well, i knew what i was getting into, so the little letdown in food wasn’t a surprise. i won’t go back for dinner, but if i have it in me to wait in that line, perhaps i’ll return for the night scene, because hey, every once in a while, i need a little local sizzle.

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  • Anonymous

    I, of course, will make time to wait in line with you if you so desire… :)

  • Anonymous

    sorry about your key lime, but both of the times i’ve gone there for drinks the key lime has been spot-on. one of my “checking out new bars” friends is NOT into sweet drinks–hopefully your bartender was just having an “off” night.

  • sarah j. gim

    well, i actually think the key lime martini was made exactly as it was supposed to be; it’s just me – any sweet cocktail is a little much for me, especially before dinner!

  • Anonymous

    Obviously you have plenty of attitude yourself, and it sounds like you went into Ma’kai looking use it. It is clear that you were looking for something to complain about from the tone of your text.
    Your people comments are about women who you stared down, or the waitress you were better than, or the hostess who had an audition. What is up with that? What about the guys?
    Who goes to a place like that for fine dining anyway?

  • sarah j. gim

    awww…i don’t mean to sound like i was complaining. i actually had a very good time there, and that was exactly the point – it’s not a food place – it’s a funtimes place (for me, anyways…)

    and my apologies if the comments about the ladies were offensive (?). none about guys because, well,i don’t look at guys that much :)

  • Anonymous

    Wow! “Anonymous”, Sarah has absolutely ZERO attitude when she walks into a bar, and I know this from personal experience. All she is trying to do in this blog is give her opinion on different restaurants and bars around town, for her writing, and our reading pleasure. And she does a damn good job at it, too. But her blog is her opinion, and she is entitled to hers, just as you are entitled to yours. So go ahead, post comments about how your experience with the food/ambiance/whatever was different and/or better. However, taking cheap shots at Sarah personally and making unfounded and negative comments about her attitude are mean spirited and have no place here.

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