The hardest part of dining at Local Kitchen + Wine Bar is remembering the name. Is it Local Food and Wine? Local Wine and Kitchen? Is there a “bar” in there? Frantic Googling to help confirm the name continually brings up places like Local Kitchen and Wine Merchant in San Francisco, or Local Foods Kitchen in Fort Worth.
Local Kitchen + Wine Bar is owned by chef Maire Byrne, who in 2009 opened Thyme Market and Café (not to be confused with Burbank’s Olive & Thyme), a space specializing in baked goods, sandwiches and salads, which felt like Santa Monica’s Joan’s on Third (before Santa Monica got a Joan’s on Third). Thyme is more for a casual daytime meal while Local, a block east, is intended as a swankier date-night haunt (though both are open for lunch and dinner). The duo are upscaling the mom-and-pop commercial stretch of Ocean Park Boulevard around 16th and 17th streets — and finally giving residents a stumbling-distance watering hole.
The easiest analogy is Huckleberry and Rustic Canyon a mile and a half north on Wilshire, though Josh Loeb and Zoe Nathan’s empire is more ambitious in both its cuisine and, so far, its real estate, as it marches across Santa Monica with Milo and Olive, Sweet Rose Creamery, Cassia and wine bar Esters.
The kitchen of Local Kitchen is run by Stephen Murray, an alum of Napa Valley’s Bottega and Orange County’s Pizzeria Ortica. The Italian-American menu features various baseline requirements for new restaurants these days, including small plates, craft cocktails, pizza from a wood-burning oven and, of course, fruits and vegetables from nearby farms. Calling a new restaurant “local” is practically a tautology.
Pizza is central to the menu, and it ranges from a simple margherita to one with littleneck clams, bottarga, nduja and dandelion. Similarly, the rest of the menu has some basics, like a Tuscan white bean soup and a New York strip, though many items try for something more innovative, like an orecchiette pasta with saffron, charred chicories, bone marrow butter and gremolata. The seasonal persimmon pops up in a couple dishes. There’s also an enticing array of brunch pizzas, including one with bacon, egg, potatoes, ricotta, Swiss chard and Parmesan. The desserts include gelato and sorbetti, plus chocolate hazelnut doughnuts, which also show up on the list of brunch starters.
The design manages to split a small space into four distinct sectors: a dining room with exposed brick; a counter looking over the open kitchen; a well-heated outdoor patio with long wood beams over top and pillows on the banquette; and the titular wine bar, with a tower of bottles.
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Local has some kinks to work out — it was closed on a recent Monday when the online hours stated otherwise (the website has since been updated) — but it’s been packed since it opened two weeks ago, and on a recent visit, even those who made reservations had to wait. The atmosphere is pleasant, amidst a crowd of middle-aged professionals, and it’s already giving this daytime commercial strip some needed nighttime conviviality.
Local Kitchen + Wine Bar, 1736 Ocean Park Blvd., Santa Monica; (310) 396-9007, localkitchenandwinebar.com.