Santa Monica’s newly-busy Main Street is going to be living on Isla time this week, as Crudo e Nudo creators chef Brian Bornemann and designer and partner Leena Culhane open their wood-fired, seafood-focused fantasyland. Isla has taken a journeyman’s approach to its opening, beginning as a side project that stood alone from the raw seafood specialties developed at Crudo e Nudo down the street. For a time, the plan had been to partner with a different operator nearby to open something with a bit of fire and flash, but when that deal never materialized, Culhane and Bornemann hit the road for pop-ups and private events, growing their menu stop by stop. Now they’ve landed in the former Little Prince space to partner with that restaurant’s owner-operator Shane Murphy instead. It’s all a bit of wandering kismet, culminating in an opening on Wednesday, April 5.
Isla’s menu, under Bornemanns’s direction along with chef de cuisine Houston Stock (Momofuku Ko, Benu), slips in and out of ports across the Mediterranean. There are Spanish influences and North African spices, guinea hen and duck breast preparations, and lots of charcoal skewers. The restaurant eschews red meat but does offer some fowl, and leans extensively into vegetables and classic California takes as well like a citrus salad and whole roasted cauliflower. There will be wines by the glass and bottle, and cocktails from Kent Thompson (Here’s Looking at You, Tasting Kitchen). Look for strong amaros, vermouths, and sherries as a nod to Spain and, more locally, the booming Spanish restaurant scene in LA right now. The opening menu is below.
Artist and designer Culhane worked quickly to flip the Little Prince space, making it even more warm and inviting thanks to plenty of pink and orange hues. Deep woods and vibrant light pieces pull focus, while gauzy curtains and exposed rafters bring together a feeling of comfort and familiarity, like a farmhouse dinner with friends that’s been cooked on charcoal out back and served on speckled stoneware plates.
The culmination of Isla’s flavors and scenery feels perfectly at home on Main Street in Santa Monica — a surprising statement in itself, given the years of ho-hum dining on that Westside drag. Now Isla is here to turn the party up another notch, with Bornemann, Culhane, and Murphy pulling out all of their hospitality chops to make this stunning newcomer shine. Isla begins capturing coastal breezes and local customers this Wednesday, April 5 at 2424 Main Street, with service from lunch through dinner, (noon to 11 p.m.) Wednesday to Sunday. Expect brunch next month.