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.
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