Native, Nyesha Arrington's bright and airy new restaurant in Santa Monica, has been humming for a few days. The menu is short and focused, the staff seems practiced yet relaxed, and the space is refined but comfortable.
Native took over the space formerly occupied by Santa Monica Yacht Club. Arrington's connection to Santa Monica and the Westside go way back; her Korean grandmother, who taught her to make dumplings and started her love for cooking, would take her to Venice Beach often when she was growing up.
Arrington attended culinary school at the Art Institute, and worked with chefs Raphael Lunetta and Josiah Citrin at their restaurants, JiRaffe and Mélisse. Later on, she made a name for herself as executive chef at Wilshire, all in Santa Monica. Her last restaurant, Leona, was in Venice, but she was excited to return to this beach city that kicked off and shaped her career and craft.
Returning to her roots is why she called the restaurant Native. “Everyone is a native of somewhere. Being a native Angeleno is something I'm very proud of, and with this restaurant I really want to celebrate L.A. further,” Arrington says. That's why, instead of calling her restaurant's food “California” cuisine, she's viewing it as “Los Angeles” cuisine, with all of its varied influences inspiring and informing her cooking.
Native's menu contains a half-dozen dishes in each of three sections: To Start, And Then, and Vegetable. (There's a separate dessert menu.) Arrington prefers to home in on a small set of ingredients that interest her, and place larger orders with farmers, rather than dealing with smaller quantities of a bunch of ingredients. For her it's a way to control costs, and she finds it cuts down on food waste, too.
It also allows her to really dive into ingredients at their peak. “It all comes together through the lens of the Santa Monica Farmers Market,” which operates just blocks away every Wednesday and Sunday. “Every dish is going to have a seasonal component, a culturally driven component, and that's really what makes up Native.”
The menu definitely plays with expectations. Arrington's chestnut spaghetti is gluten-free, with ground chestnuts replacing wheat flour, and it's tossed with shiitake mushrooms and burrata. Her short rib “rolled” dumplings are a tribute to her grandmother. Her Tehachapi Grain umami porridge from the brunch menu is savory rather than sweet, which may be strange to those used to sprinkling brown sugar on their oatmeal but is not uncommon in Asian cuisines.
To drink, Native offers a well-rounded collection of local beers. “Parameters were as far north as Santa Barbara, as far south as San Diego and as far east as Orange County,” says general manager Julian Kurland, who curated the list. Kurland also worked with wine purveyor Garber & Co. to put together a list of affordable wines. Cocktails, both shaken and stirred, were developed by bar lead Adam Flamenbaum in collaboration with Redbird's Tobin Shea.
The rest of the core Native team includes business partner Luis Villaneda, assistant general manager Ryan Johnson, executive sous chef Greg Heitzig and sous chef Alex Granados.
620 Santa Monica Blvd., Santa Monica; (310) 458-4427, eatnative.la.