Santa Monica's Dakota Live Music Lounge introduced its new chef and menu at a media tasting last week, and Eater was on hand to meet executive chef Zach Saunders and sample a slew of his offerings. First off, the run-of-the-mill bar food has been replaced with fresh and creative small plates. Saunders, whose resume includes kitchen experience at Melisse, Anisette, and a two-year stint as chef de cuisine at 3 on Fourth, says he wants to get music-goers to come in for a bite to eat before a show, and is hoping to attract a separate dinner crowd as well. If Dakota, which took over the former Temple Bar space in the fall of 2008, can successfully attract those hungry patrons, customers should be more than pleased with Saunders' offerings.
He's done an excellent job of adding unexpected ingredients and housemade twists to his dishes, whether its kimchi in the fish tacos — a standout with deep-fried miso-marinated wild Atlantic cod — or candy-cane beet chips to go with a green goddess dip (the freshly made chips and dip plate changes nightly). Other items include a trio of Kobe sliders on Hawaiian rolls (the French-style slider is topped with wild boar bacon and cornichons) and a super-crisp margherita flatbread cooked over a wood-burning grill. The new cocktail list is heavy on the foo-foo choices and it's a bit hard to imagine the rock 'n roll crowd downing mango mojitos or a "Kilauea Pop Rock" made with bubble gum vodka and a pop-rock coated rim. But, there are also several stiff drinks on the menu too, including the Onolicious, mixed with Costa Rican rum and Dr. Pepper straight out of the soda gun. Mmm ? why didn't we think of that one?