Purple Reigns – Violet Restaurant

violet restaurant, santa monica

Violet
3221 Pico Boulevard (between 32nd Street and Centinela)
Santa Monica, CA 90405
310.453.9113
www.violetrestaurant.com

You might miss it because the storefront blends right in with the art gallery and other small boutiques on the block of Pico just east of Centinela. You might even mistake the bigger, flashier 310 Bistro and Lounge just up the street for it. But what you’re really looking for in this neighborhood is a subtle, simple, sleek silver sign that whispers “violet” in quiet, all lower-case, neon violet letters.

Violet carries out its color scheme theme from the moment you pull up to the valet, who’s wearing a glittering electric purple necktie. We hand off the keys, step inside to let them know we’re here just a few minutes before our appointed time, then immediately step right back out. No, no. It wasn’t bad. He needs a cigarette, and is thoughtful enough to do it now, since it would be rude to get up in the middle of a meal when he started fiending again. Thoughtful.

Violet is small, but feels spacious, making smart use of clean design and simple lines. Dark violet gray carpeting, cloth-less woodtop tables, chairs with ivory upholstered seats, and large framed mirrors on the walls feel very Pottery Barn; even the sleek brushed silver architectural accents and bar top feel PB, just a different page in the catalog. But the violet leather seating around the perimeter of the room, the bright almost Van Gogh Starry Night like abstract on the back wall, and a planter full of very Zen bamboo add some personality.

We take a seat against the wall, and of course, I sit on the outside facing the wall because, well, guys always like to sit facing the dining room. Better view for him? I’d like to think he was giving me the seat that would let me sneak photos.

iron horse pinot noir
the horse that trampled my brain

Our server drops by and offers water. He’s dressed in a funky version of conservative shirt and tie. We order Iron Horse pinot noir, take note of a few recited specials, then start our review of the menu. It’s a little hard to understand, as there are no categories, and different types of seemingly related foods are scrambled up with everything else. But that’s the way we’re meant to eat here at Violet. No formal course by course by course. Just order casually and eat what you like.

stemless wine glasses at violet
casual fare, no stems on the stemware
bread and butter at violet restaurant
bread on paper, butter in a…candleholder?

Cream of onion soup special was smooth, milky white in a wide shallow bowl and speckled with perfectly snipped chives. Like our surroundings, and the rest of the food to come, the soup was clean and simple, but I didn’t love it. He always talks about his mom’s creamed onions, so I let him finish the soup. ‘Cuz, you know, I’m sweet like that.

cream of onion soup at violet restaurant
crisp clean white – cream of onion soup
crispy goat cheese wontons
perfectly plump wontons still need polish

Even though I am not a fan of goat cheese, of course we had to get the crispy goat cheese wontons because just a few months before, I thought I was culinary genius when I made goat cheese, prosciutto, and dried fig wontons with garlic-sherry vinegar dipping sauce. I guess I’m not as inventive as I thought, LOL! Violet’s wontons are like your best friend’s baby sister in whom you see a lot of potential, but she’s still slightly plump in not quite the right places yet, over oiliness could use a bit of blotting, not quite tanned to crisp, and somewhat disheveled in appearance with edges that weren’t sealed shut all the way with the egg wash. She just needs a little more time to polish.

With cream (soup) and deep fry (won tons) already on the table, and beef on its way, I needed a vegetable. Sauteed baby spinach wasn’t outstanding. Pine nuts were an interesting addition, but didn’t really rescue the overall dish from being somewhat bland, except for a faint bitterness in the greens themselves. Nothing a dash of salt can’t fix. *sprinkle sprinkle* made it bunches better.

sauteed spinach and pine nuts at violet
sauteed spinach – that’s what salt is for
braised shortribs at violet restaurant
succulent, and suggestive, shortribs

Friends had gone to Violet a few weeks before and had mentioned the braised shortribs. Two boneless shortribs, each about the size of a very small tangerine, nestled in a mound of creamy..Omigod, I can’t believe I can’t remember what it was! I am certain they were potatoes, but had the Iron Horse already trampled me that much? With the exception of perfectly tender crisp asparagus laid quite suggestively between the ribs *naughty* and a garnish of fresh thyme, the dish looked suspiciously like the braised medallion of shortrib at Beechwood a few months earlier. But hey, they’re shortribs, and there’s not a vast array of different preparations for shortribs, right?

The shortribs were incredibly tender, with meat falling apart into supple tendrils of beef and fat right there atop the creamy…nooo! I still can’t remember what it was! Subtle flavors in the pool of sauce in the bottom of the bowl and soaking into the pillows propping up the beef. Since there was thyme on top, I am guessing it was thyme in the braising liquid that made me want to do the unthinkable in Tiffany’s Table Manners – lick the bowl. Instead, I tore off a piece of bread and sopped up the sauce. Not completely refined on my part, but that is what what one must do when it’s absofockinglutely delicious.

Strange as it may sound, it was only four small plates between two people and one of them a simple saute of spinach, and yet I was feeling quite satisfied. Still, it didn’t feel right to walk away from a new restaurant having only tried the few things we had. The table next to us ordered macaroni and cheese, and I even recall friends mentioning it, but instead, we ordered duck. I don’t like duck. But, maybe tonight would be the night that Violet would convert me.

duck breast at violet restaurant
not my night to convert to duck

Four medium slices of duck breast fanned out in perfect spacing over a small collection of what look like flattened golden golfballs. I tried these first. Soft yet still dense enough to require a bite, they were gnocchi. Lounging there in sauce that looked similar to the nectar in the bottom of the bowl of shortribs, and under the gentle weight of the duck on top, they had just ever so slightly soaked up flavor. I could have eaten them all, but I didn’t. I may be a first-born, but I know how to share.

The duck breast was still there, and I couldn’t really ignore it any longer. They looked scary to me, even though I could have mistaken them for petite cuts of beef or pork. I think I had it in my head that duck is a bird. Birds are white. Such dark, and rare, meat for a bird is scary. I’m such a damn baby. Eat the duck, dammit!

So I took a cautious bite from the edge that looked the most cooked and least fatty. It wasn’t bad, though I couldn’t taste “duck.” Maybe that was good. Maybe that was bad. It was most certainly tender, and I ate the whole slice, but after that, I decided to become absolutely intrigued by the small purple flower garnish. I asked our server about the flower.

I sniffed it. Then I practically shoved it up the server’s left nostril, trying to make sure my attention was entirely focused away from…duck. Is it lavender? He said yes. Are you sure? No. I asked the server to go inside and ask if it’s thyme. He had finished the duck and I was in the clear. When the server came back, yes, yes indeed it is a thyme flower. Confession: I knew that all along, I just hadn’t been converted. ;)

purple potato chips on the bar at violet
bar nosh: ooh la la purple potato chips

Dinner had been wonderful, but before dessert, I needed to take a quick break. I ran my hand along the silver bar top as I walked to the back and stopped at a small bowl. Inquiring minds want to know what those dark, almost black ruffles are in there? Purple potato chips – Violet’s bar nosh – and I was offered a sample. Thick and crunchy. Very very salty over an almost imperceptible sweetness. I think they remind me a bit of those *ooh la la* potato chips at the market that cost beaucoup bucks because they’re in a glossy black bag. Not Lay’s.

On my way back to the table, I stopped at the bar a moment to grab another “sample” of chips, reaching just beyond a guy now seated. There. White jacket….Ohmigod. It’s the chef. An embarassed smile, a hello to be polite, but shy because I know who he is. He stops me. He’s looking at me with a knowing smile. Is there toilet paper stuck to my heel? Were there remnants of the sauteed spinach stuck between my front teeth? Did I take too many chips? I can’t speak. I am mute in the presence of a man who…chefs. I mean cooks. See? Stumbling all over my words. He asked me how the food was.

I played dumb. Of course I knew who he was. For fox ache, I do research before I go somewhere to eat and Chef Simons’ darling photo is right there on the website. I answered him back with a question. Are you the chef? He is. Hello. And I shook the hand that probably didn’t prep the vegetables in my dinner, but still! I told him I loved it everything, even the thyme flower. Everthing except the soup.

Omigod. Did I just say that out loud? Did I just stand right there in front of the chef and tell him to his face that I didn’t really like his soup? I am a moron.

“Really? You didn’t like the soup? I thought that was one of my best things on the menu.”

I could have melted into the floor like the beef fat on the shortribs. And then I guess the Iron Horse was now at a full gallop trampling my brain. “I thought it was a little bland.”

*gasp!* What the…?!?! Did that just come out of my mouth again? Holy shite, shut up, Sarah!

Chef Simon chuckles and then asks me why, young lady, I’m taking pictures. Aha, so that’s why he was smiling. He had caught me in my food porn fantasy, and I thought I had been all sly going flashbulb-less. Maybe it was the wine, or maybe it was the fact that I was posessed by a goddamn demon. I burst out laughing. Right there in front of the man who just sent out the most tender, succulent shortribs to my table, I was laughing out loud. I actually had no idea what to say. Um, well, it’s nothing really. I just, uh, like to take pictures of food. I was stuttering. The chef, the wine, my completely moronic replies, were just too much to recover from. He asked me if I was from…some food related publication this that and the other? No. I swear. I am a nobody. He believed me. *phew*

Then it was easy and casual. We just chatted about Violet (Sorry about not liking the soup), his background in San Diego (Oh my god! I ate there when I worked in San Diego!), how much he likes being in LA over SD, blah blah blah. And I was in a complete chef-crush trance.

The server tapped me on the arm, pointing over his shoulder with a *raise eyebrows* Oh, bother. In my mesmerization with Chef Simons, I had completely forgotten about him. Oops! *double air kiss* for Chef Simons and off I run back to the table with the most charmingly apologetic smile I could sincerely muster.

lemon tart at violet restaurant
saved. half. for. you. lemon tart

“I got caught up having a word or two with the chef of this restaurant…” My words were falling on pissed-deaf ears. Had I really been that long? He had gotten a dessert menu, ordered, and already eaten half of a lemon tart because yes, I was gone that long. Apology apology apology, because of course I felt terribly guilty for leaving him there at the table alone, but moreso I just wanted to taste dessert. :) The lemon tart was a shimmering golden mass of silky smooth filling with the perfect balance of sweetness and lemony sass, barely held in place by just a paper-thin pastry crust, not quite crumbly shortbread, but not quite flaky pie crust either. I ate every last bite of the half that was left for me. Maybe it was delicious, or maybe I was trying so hard to focus on the tart because I was still breathless from my chef interlude.

It was late when we left the restaurant. We might have been the last ones there. As I shut the
door to the car on the passenger side, I saw Chef, jacket off now in just a plain white undershirt type of tee, had come outside, arm around the parking valet, talking about something funny I’m sure since they were laughing.

That’s the kind of restaurant Violet is. Casual, comfortable, totally unpretentious. Chef Simons isn’t trying to make a scene. He’s just wants to invite his neighbors into his Pottery Barn-esque dining room and feed them with really good food. He cares if you like the food. He even comes outside at the end of the night to thank the valet for taking care of his guests.

I’ll definitely be back to Violet. The chef was great. Oops, I meant the food was great. Except for the soup. ;) tags :: : : : :

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  • BoLA

    Next time I’m at Violet, I’ll have to pay my compliments to the chef. Last time I was there (several months ago), I had the endive and arugula salad which was fabulous – I’m a sucker for anything candied; the ahi tuna tartare was oh so delicious too – I love anything sashimi; and the chicken dish was moist and filling.

    Love reading your blog and your chronicles of living a most delicious life. Yum! :)

  • Anonymous

    I thought the food was just ok at violet and didn’t like the lack of a full bar. The chef was very cool and his girlfriend waited on us (sorry).

  • sarah

    LOL! yes, yes, of COURSE he has a girlfriend! (i actually suspected it was the hostess who seated us) but i can still have a crush ;)

  • McQuaid

    Great choice of wine. I have ridden Iron Horse into the sunset once or twice before.

  • Anonymous

    Next time, you should try the macaroni and cheese.

  • Anonymous

    Violet is awful, were you drunk and horny or something? Portions are ridiculously small and food quality was sub-Houstons. Don’t even get me started on the lame-duck service.

  • Jonah

    I was pretty underwhelmed by Violet, I felt like they were trying too hard with the presentation and the soup I had was waayyyy over salted. I also remember that our waiter wasn’t so good either, inattentive and seemingly stoned.

    That being said, I would give them another shot.

  • violet

    oh! i have to look into an LA trip one day. im (hopefully) moving to cali next year. i need to eat at my namesake restaurant :) i saw it mentioned on the eating la blog. thanks for the lengthy review. looks like a good little neighbourhood bistro.

  • parachute girl

    Ok Sarah –

    Loved your review. Never been. In Dec, we’ll meet up at Violet to ogle at the chef… er… I mean, food.

  • sarah

    drunk? not quite. i was very happily buzzed. however, you have no idea how not “horny” i was. i just happen to think of chefs and food-nerds the same way others may think of actors and stars. chefs are like celebrities to me, and i get totally “chef-struck.” :)

    as far as food portions, perhaps it should be made more clear that violet does small plates. some people love that style of dining, including yours truly. that’s why i am a huge fan of cocktail parties with hors d’ouevres, tapas, and dim sum. but others are not as fond of grazing small plates, and prefer one huge entree of one thing. that’s fine as well. people have different preferences about how they eat.

    as far as the quality of the food, that again, is a matter of taste. i didn’t love some things, and i was wowed by others, as well.

    (cheesemonger: i am not sure why blogger doesn’t put all of your comments through. i get notification of them in my email, but sometimes they don’t show up on the actual site. i am wondering if it has to do with the length.

    i don’t delete comments that others leave here unless it is spam or pornographic or obvious marketing or promotion, so i’m not sure what’s happening to your comments! i sent an email to the blogger administrator.)

  • LACheesemonger

    Hmm, well the post deleted was actually less than 300 words, maybe a long paragraph at best, at least 1/2 the size of the 1st one you deleted for me back a few dates ago, same length as this one. Oh well, maybe the CHLA team has administration rights on your blog too- has set specific topics/porn filter working on my usrnm, they’re after me! ;) (I’ve been watching too many epi. of X-files maybe? ;) )

    Are you able to ‘download image to disk’ from your browser to see if you thought my PS enhanced versions of your pics look anymore ‘pornolicious’ (new foodie term?). I thought I got those *cough* stiff rods *cough*; of asparagus, in more mouth-watering focus. The ones between the ahmmm…. warm soft flesh, uhh, meat, uh sashimi…oh nevermind; hmm, for some reason I think DS is short for Devilicious Sarah, she’s a bad influence on me, lol :phar: … sorry couldn’t resist.

    Judging from that Lebanese spammer post over the weekend, if I eblog register, I could have inserted the images into your blog instead of the static links to my photobucket acct pics, but then you’d have to delete the post anyway—sometimes extra images take forever to load on these eblogger accts. So it’s best you download them from my links, and decide for yourself if it’s worth the hassle. It’s not too difficult to learn how to use an image editing prog to quickly spruce up the pics yourself. I have to do it to almost all of mine-you’d be amazed at the difference btw that photo; that I took of the mulberries & melons in your comments section:

    http://thedeliciouslife.com/2005/07/preparing-to-tie-knot-with-chain-of.html ;

    ; looks like in the original form, much more difficult to distinguish finer details—almost all of your picts would benefit from the PS ‘unsharp’ mask filter, set as a batch macro around 100% sharpening- less than a minute per group of pics.

  • Anonymous

    You should have tried the mac & cheese. Heavenly and acts as an anti-depressant. Do not miss this dish the next time.

  • sarah

    absolutely not.

    i can’t believe i didn’t get the mac and cheese the first time!

  • LACheesemonger

    Geez Sarah, you deleted my earlier post (well thanks on the 1st one, but what did I say? on the 2nd that was so bad), but these more recent posts by anon’s are just mean. What’s up with you guys anyway, can’t Sarah just a have a little fun; doesn’t sound like her dates are impressing her very much, so she has to have something to enjoy then? Give her a break… though that was kind of rude, apologies an all, to neglect that date for so long. I hope her other dates don’t read this, that would make just about anyone not purely narcissistic, as uncomfortable and nervous as hell. Talk about performance anxiety, w/delicious Sarah seeing *naughty* images in the food and not having similar thoughts about the date, flirting with the chef’s… pressure’s all too much, hehe!

    Anyway, next year there should be a more advanced model of that Fuji F10 compact pointNshoot with more manual controls…should DS be interested in a relatively inexpensive replacement that will get her much better pictures. In the mean time, a photo image editing program like Photoshop Elements could help fix many of these photos too a limited degree. I did Q&D Photoshop enhancements on all of the Violet pics. as an example. Brightness& Contrast, along with varying degrees of ‘Unsharp’ mask to slightly sharpen them.

    From your browser, using cntl/alt or some key like that, while holding down the left button on your mouse/trackpad clicker will get you a popup/pull down menu for saving the image to your hard disk. From there you can reload the images (PITA but might be worth your time) for this current posting.

    I’ll leave the images up on my photobucket acct for a week, and then they get deleted.

    If anyone’s interested, I’m posting a 2 pics from my last weeks early morning trip to 4 farmer’s mkt on Sat.&Sun to coincide with DS’s weekend posting—all items should be available on limited basis this weekend and probably next weekend.

    restaurant

    wontons

    stemless

    spinach

    soup

    shortribs

    purple chips

    lemon tart

    iron horse

    duck breast

    bread and butter

  • Suzette

    Thank you so much for mentioning Violet, I’ve driven past it tons of times and never noticed it. We went there last night for dinner and it was amazing. Next time you eat there try the Mac and Cheese and the scallops. They were incredible, on a vanilla risotto that was so flavorful we actually thought about ordering more just for the risotto. The only thing I only liked instead of loved was the grilled caesar, and I just thought it was too warm and wilted.

  • Anonymous

    this is a great review. however, a true gentleman would never let you face the wall! get rid of this guy, asap.

  • sarah

    LOL! well, i think that was my preference…to sit against the wall..let’s me be a little more inconspicuous when snapping pics, though i don’t know how sly it is when the damned flashbulb goes off!

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