After a much-anticipated remodel of the old Spitfire Grill, the Santa Monica Airport complex once again has a restaurant on its 227 acres – a welcoming, family and dog-friendly community space with one helluva bar menu where you’ll find one page devoted to a list of 17 different gins from around the world, including downtown L.A. The Cloverfield has finally landed.
The sprawling parking lot has been built out into an inviting enclosed patio in the shadow of bamboo and mature pepper trees overlooking the soccer field across the street. The bar, which was for a time held up by salty old pilots telling war stories for the last 30 years at the Spitfire Grill, has been replaced with silicon beach families and returning locals alike. The tired old food choices have been replaced with a menu that is alive and matches the palate and climate the neighborhood has been starving for.
While there has been a dramatic decrease in jet traffic at the shrinking airport since the pandemic, there are enough small craft taking off and landing to keep those who toddle entertained.
Currently just open for dinner, with brunch coming soon, the menu is tidy and well-rounded with appetizers like shrimp ceviche, chicken liver mousse, nachos and a great charcuterie for two that includes a delightful spiced fig jam. There’s a selection of pizzas, like the wild mushroom with taleggio, mozzarella and cream with a paper thin crust that is a menu highpoint. The beauty of the market sous vide chicken salad is that while you know it is dressed, it is as subtle as the gentle hints of bleu cheese hidden in between bites of greens topped with chompy almonds.
For bigger appetites, main dishes include pan roasted salmon, steak frites and a black bean and ancho chile veggie burger with toasted cumin-avocado spread and shaved red onion on a potato bun. For dessert, the zeppole with crème anglaise is a perfect ending to watch the sun set between the palm trees.
Irish entrepreneur Sean Martin took over the space from Santa Monica native John Clarizio – who ran the Spitfire for more than 30 years – and has breathed new life into the tired old hangout. Most refreshing of all, Martin has brought in sommelier and former Tallula’s general manager Mary Thompson who oversees the inspired cocktail program. There’s a great wine and beer selection, but gin is the celebrated spirit here.
The Aviation is a chilly mix of Aviation gin, maraschino liqueur, crème de violette, lemon juice garnished with a fresh housemade maraschino cherry that will take you back to a childhood of violet pastilles. Customize your gin and tonic from a choice of 17 different gins and a variety of five tonics. The classics, like the negroni, pisco sour and Manhattans, are on point as well as a martini which is served with salami-stuffed olives.
Martin, who has been in the U.S. since 2017, renamed the restaurant as an homage to the airfield’s original name, Clover Field. The Army Air Corps dedicated the field in 1923 to World War I pilot Lt. Greayer “Grubby” Clover, who grew up nearby and was killed in action. The airport now includes museums, events at the Barker Hangar, flight schools, parks, art schools, college facilities and one energetic restaurant (make reservations via resy.com).
The Cloverfield, 3300 Airport Ave., Santa Monica; (424) 500-2075.