A well-known Toronto chef has quietly shifted his focus to the West Coast, with plans to open a vibey wine and small plates restaurant in Santa Monica soon. Sean MacDonald, who was named Canada’s best young chef in 2016 by San Pellegrino, is set to debut Bar Monette in a familiar space just blocks from the beach next month, offering refined bar snacks, high-end touches like caviar and truffles, and blistered Neapolitan-style pizzas. Here’s what to expect.
Bar Monette will take over the shuttered former Little Ruby space by mid-January, offering lots of marble and green tones to go along with vintage silverware and old-school china plates. The food is intended to be a mix of snack items that will pair well with wine — think jamon, Manchego cheese, and peppers; charred carrots with horseradish and celeriac gastrique; or snow peas with crab XO sauce and pea puree — and Neapolitan pizzas, a dish that MacDonald says he fell in love with while cooking at home during the pandemic. Margherita pizzas will serve as a baseline pie for the restaurant, with other options veering away from the traditional, like a pesto Dungeness crab pizza with pine nuts or a cheesy comte and raclette pie with truffle honey. “I want that puffy crust,” says MacDonald, “but with truffle and possibly caviar. Just really nice and also aesthetically pleasing.” Nicholas Iaboni, who comes to LA via Toronto, is on as executive chef to help MacDonald oversee the restaurant.
The Calgary-born MacDonald is known as a focused, precise chef with an artful eye for fine dining plating. His previous Toronto restaurant Est earned accolades for its six-course menu and similar wine bar atmosphere, but changed hands during the pandemic. Now MacDonald is taking a similar approach to greater Los Angeles, opening an even more cool-kid wine bar hangout not far from tourist-heavy Third Street Promenade. The restaurant will still offer plenty of sharp angles and colorful plating contrasts (like this kabocha squash dish shown recently on MacDonald’s Instagram page), but without a ton of fuss to the feel of the room itself. “I just really want to create a space that everyone wants to come in and feel at home,” says MacDonald. “Even separate from the food itself, I want a space where people just want to hang out with friends and have a good time.”
To help aid the relaxed lounge feel, MacDonald says that he designed many of the restaurant’s touches himself to make it feel studious without being stuffy. “The vision is to make it a cool Victorian-style space, in a way, a modern library mixed with a tapas and wine bar,” he says. “There will be lots of decoration on the walls, almost like Renaissance images, plus dim chandeliers and lots of marble. It’s going to have this big bar, and on it will be this patinaed copper sink with ice and wine inside.”
Expect Bar Monette to open by mid-January 2023 at 109 Santa Monica Boulevard in Santa Monica proper, keeping afternoon through late evening hours six days a week (closed Mondays). Don’t expect this to be MacDonald’s only LA project, either; the recently married transplant (Bar Monette is named after his wife) says that he’s in the city to stay for a while, and is also working on another standalone project slated for West Hollywood.