There's a new restaurant on Santa Monica's Third Street Promenade that's centrifuging balsamic vinegar for house-made kombucha cocktails, while hiring divers to handpick Santa Barbara sea urchins for a maritime risotto. 1212, by all standards, is elevating Third Street’s culinary fare from fast-casual and chain restaurants (no offense, Chipotle, we love you) to chef-driven.
The bar/restaurant's most outlying offering is probably the Electric Daisy cocktail, a lavender gin-based cocktail adorned with a “buzz button,” the bud of a petal-less daisy that temporarily numbs your tongue. People experience this with differing severities, so best to have it toward the end of your meal, if you'd like to savor it in full capacity. Other drinks are equally of note, if less outlandish (but only slightly). The Not So Tiki Now is a mezcal-based drink sweetened with coconut palm syrup — which entails bartenders beating coconut leaves for hours just to extract the sap (yes, really). The Cranbucha Kosmo is probably the least alcohol-tasting of the lot, made with house-made kombucha and cold-pressed cherry juice, finished with atomized balsamic vinegar. The drink that best encapsulates summer, however, is the A Lo Cubano cocktail, a tequila-and-lime-based drink that’s as palatably inclusive as they come — not too sweet, not too tart, not too spicy, even with its infused jalapeño. The fun comes with the caviar lime that it’s garnished with. The fruit’s “adult pop rocks” are juice vesicles that burst tartness in your mouth in a fashion not dissimilar to the fizzing candy.
While the production of these drinks is notable — perhaps even eccentric — it’s secondary in importance to the actual experience of drinking them. The complexity of their making is, paradoxically, evident in the simplicity of their consumption. They just taste good. All cocktails are the brainchild of Fred Ghiassi, sommelier and beverage coordinator at 1212, who has previously been at Cassia. Ghiassi takes pride in mixology. “Alcohol isn't the star of the show for a lot of these cocktails,” he states. A lot of the concoctions make for easy drinking, and, on a sunny L.A. day, steps from the beach, that’s not such a bad thing.
1212 is, of course, a full-service restaurant, and its culinary offerings are not to be overlooked. Chef Walter Greenwood, previously at Commander’s Palace in New Orleans, with a pit stop in Vegas along the way, nods to his time in the Big Easy with a weekend-only special of Maryland soft shell crabs (a glaring exception to the largely local menu). Deep-fried to a crumbly crunch, they’re worthy to soak up any alcohol you might have in your belly — but they usually run out by Saturday night, so call ahead to see if they have them. The “bacon and eggs" are also compelling as a grown-up version of the classic breakfast pairing, with house-smoked pork belly drizzled with pasteurized egg yolk. The gorgonzola-stuffed dates, while not as playful or experimental as some of the other menu items, are a must-try. If you’re looking for something a bit lighter in keeping with that summer heat, get the gazpacho, which is sweet, slightly spicy and studded with watermelon radish. It’s more fun than a salad and possibly more refreshing.
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The food here is satisfying, but if you don't get a chance to wash it down with a drink, you will have missed much of what makes 1212 special.
1212 Third Street Promenade, Santa Monica; (310) 576-9996.