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Jonathan Gold Lauds Nyesha Arrington’s New Santa Monica Restaurant

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The former Leona chef captures the essence of LA flavors with her new Native

Native Santa Monica
Wonho Frank Lee

This week Jonathan Gold reviews Native, Nyesha Arrington’s restaurant in what was once SMYC. The former Leona chef has designed a place which the Goldster describes as being perhaps the quintessential LA restaurant.

[Native is] devoted, at least in the abstract, to the idea of being Angeleno: a place where flavors from a dozen culinary traditions collide on a plate, tied together with exquisitely seasonal produce from the nearby Santa Monica farmers market, a list of funky natural wines and music that seems drawn from a KJLH playlist circa 1983. [LAT]

The Top Chef contestant offers a menu that reads both like a “cruisy first-date pub” and a fine dining restaurant:

There are no tacos on her menu; at least not yet. That’s another kind of small-plates restaurant. But there are roasted beets dusted with pistachios and moistened with what tastes like vadouvan-flavored cream; a fat curl of crisped octopus tentacle with smoky, tangy yogurt and a handful of house-made corn nuts; and a mustardy, hand-chopped tartare, made with Wagyu beef, where the crunchiness comes not from the slivered pear you’d expect in a Korean yuk hwe but from sprouted seeds that have nearly the same texture. [LAT]

Sadly, not all of the dishes are hits:

Arrington’s essays in culture don’t all work. The Korean-ish braised short ribs rolled into blintz-size dumplings, a carryover from Leona, are still pretty stodgy, and the pork chop glazed with the fermented Korean chile sauce gochujang is delicious but dry. I admire the effort required to transform the Cantonese takeout standard beef and broccoli into a modern dish — she uses hoisin and bone marrow! — although I’m thinking the bland, slippery sauce isn’t quite what she had in mind. [LAT]

Ultimately the Times critic seems happy enough with the food that “tastes like L.A.,” and recommends the lentil crackers with eggplant, melting leeks Wagyu beef tartare, loup de mer with salsify, and rabbit with spaetzle.