Best Of :: Santa Monica
Best Up-and-Coming Chef: Miles Thompson, Michael's
The recent reinvention of Michael's, the 38-year-old Santa Monica mainstay that helped to define modern Californian cooking, rests mainly on the brilliant decision to hire Miles Thompson, the young chef who used to run Allumette in Echo Park and then left town for a couple of years. Thompson's cooking was always assertively modern, but in the time he's been gone from L.A. it has become more refined, more clever and more umami-driven. This is food that's cool to look at (in some cases for reasons that are almost subversive), but it isn't so cerebral that it becomes a killjoy. Pure pleasure appears to be the base ingredient in all of Thompson's cooking. Crab and uni chawanmushi is built upon a base of savory egg custard, topped with large hunks of Dungeness crab and the decadent funk of uni, punctuated by delicately floral ginger sprout. Burrata comes lolling in its bowl with orange orbs of trout roe across the top; underneath is a sweet and tart chow chow, which sits in lovely contrast to the milky cheese. Thompson's arrival at Michael's offers hope that, rather than shut down our venerated institutions, we might honor them by moving steadily forward, keeping the components that are worthy of preservation (in this case the iconic, irreplaceable glamour of the restaurant's leafy patio) and installing youth and vitality where it's needed.
As lowbrow morphed into pop surrealism and then again into new contemporary, Copro Gallery was there. The venerable art hub founded by Greg Escalante (who also co-founded Juxtapoz magazine) traces its roots back to the 1990s and, for more than 20 years, has saluted both established and up-and-coming names. In more recent years, Copro has become the launchpad of viral art; the "Conjoined" series of group shows curated by Chet Zar has brought forth oddities such as Kevin Kirkpatrick's hyper-real busts of Beavis and Butt-Head and Kazu Tsuji's consistently stunning sculptures of artists and historical figures. Copro has been striking hard with shows from dark art masters Zar, Clive Barker and Chris Mars. This summer, it paid tribute to the icons of spooky and sexy images by hosting Heavy Metal's 40th-anniversary show, a group exhibition with a heavy-hitting roster packed with artists like Dan Quintana, Olivia de Berardinis, Ausgang, Alex Pardee and more.
Was there ever any doubt that Esters would be a boon for Santa Monica? When the team behind Rustic Canyon, Milo & Olive, Huckleberry and Cassia turned their attention to creating a neighborhood wine bar, it would have been foolish to bet against its greatness. Esters is a partnership between Zoe Nathan and Josh Loeb and longtime Rustic Canyon wine director Kathryn Coker, and it serves many purposes: wine shop, market, restaurant. But we love it the most for its concise but playful wine list, and as a place to stop by after work and sit on the breezy patio and drink a glass or three, and munch on some cheese and oysters and charcuterie. If you want a fuller meal, Esters can provide that as well: For its size, the tiny kitchen puts out an incredibly impressive selection of food, everything from avocado toast to a 72-hour braised short rib steak. There's a full calendar of fun wine events, a boozy brunch service, and bartenders who are thrilled to talk you through the wines — if you really love one, you can buy a bottle to take home. What more could you ask?
Rip City Skates began life on April 1, 1978, selling skateboards to kids who were lured to the Santa Monica shop by the seven or eight pinball machines founder Jim McDowell brought in. He shared the profits — quarters were divvied up on a regular basis — with what he described as an Italian guy who drove one of those Lincoln Continentals with suicide doors. Of course, the business, run by McDowell and partner Bill Poncher, became one of the world's preeminent skateboarding storefronts. But before that they also sold tennis-shoe roller skates endorsed by one O.J. Simpson, McDowell says. And one day in the early 1980s, a guy named Shawn Stüssy walked in with a pile of clothing for sale, inaugurating Rip City's voyage into beach-lifestyle wear, which also included the early sale of Jimmy'z pioneering Velco-fly shorts. Today, you can find all the contemporary skate brands your heart desires — made-in-America setups start at about $100 — but the shop's pièce de résistance is probably its vintage decks, which include boards from Dogtown, Santa Monica Airlines, Powell-Peralta, Gordon & Smith and more. Prices start at several hundred dollars and reach into the thousands. But McDowell and Poncher don't mind if you stop by to just breathe in the Dogtown & Z-Boys history. Kids still come in just to chill before a sesh at the Cove Skatepark nearby. The pinball machines are gone. But the skate shop still rips. In 2018, it will celebrate 40 years of laid-back retail.
O'Brien's is no ordinary pub quiz. It's reputedly Southern California's most difficult trivia night, requiring players to have knowledge of 18th-century literature, 20th-century philosophers and 21st-century surf spots. You'll also be facing the stiffest competition — almost every player in the bar has previously appeared on Jeopardy! or Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? Some of Jeopardy!'s winningest contestants and former competitors in the Jeopardy! Tournament of Champions are regular attendees. But if you're worried about intellectual intimidation, fear not — the vibe at O'Brien's is welcoming and friendly. The quiz wranglers, Mark May and Beth Milnes, have been organizing the game for two decades. They're more than happy to get you situated. You're likely to get your ass handed to you in competition, but O'Brien's is kind enough to have two categories for cash prizes: one for the highest scoring team and one for the highest scoring team with no Jeopardy! members. Who knows? The latter might just be you.
Trust your instinct. Pay attention to your gut feelings. Listen to that little voice inside. Let your conscience be your guide. You may be asking yourself, "How?" and the answer is simple: Trust your intuition. If only it were that easy to do. Luckily, the Southern California Psychic Institute can help. No, this academy won't teach you how to become a storefront fortune teller. Yes, you'll learn to do palm, tarot, aura, spirit guide and/or past-life readings, but who you're really learning to contact is yourself, beyond all your day-to-day, terrestrial baggage. Under the auspices of Santa Monica's Church of the Rose, husband and wife Joel and Barbara Hipps founded the Southern California Psychic Institute in 1995. More than 20 years later, the school continues to provide healing and meditation classes, which teach you to relax, breathe and visualize who you really are beneath all the projections and expectations of others. You may not be able to predict winning lottery numbers, but you will realize that your true self can't be defined by others, and that you are more than just the sum of your life experiences. You are who you are, and the sooner you realize exactly who that is, the sooner you'll be able to understand what it is you're supposed to be doing on this planet.