Cocktails, Flavor, Nightlife, Ambiance
Mon Ami, one of the many culinary sensations recently emerging in Santa Monica, is a testament to the city's evolving gastronomic landscape. Located on Ocean Avenue, across the street from the iconic Santa Monica Pier, you'd never know it was there. Walk past the Red O, down a romantic walkway and through a big wooden door to find this lush, vine-covered courtyard hideaway. It's truly a hidden gem, and only those in the know are aware that tucked away is a vibrant escape from the Santa Monica hustle.
The visionary behind this epicurean paradise is the PCH (Pacific Coast Hospitality) Group, well known for the live music and cocktail lounge Canary in Santa Monica and other restaurants worldwide. During a recent evening at Mon Ami, Nas, the owner, stopped by our intimate dining alcove to share his inspirations and journey. He assembled the Mon Ami dream team, including Chef Daniel, Assistant GM Elvis, GM-sommelier Fabrizio, and the ever-efficient Events Manager Courtney. Together, they've curated an inspired ambiance, menu, and cocktails reflective of Nas's Mediterranean vision.
Step into Mon Ami, and you'll find yourself transported to the shores of the Mediterranean. The restaurant's design and authentic Italian, Spanish, and Moroccan textures create cozy dining areas that mirror the aesthetic and vibe Nas seeks to create-a genuine and immersive dining experience reminiscent of sultry evenings in European coastal cities.
Friday and Saturday nights at Mon Ami transcend the typical dining affair with a DJ setting the stage for a vibey nightlife scene, something for the revelers who come to eat, drink and dance. Mon Ami is more than an upscale meal; it's an immersive Mediterranean experience where the boundaries between dinner and after-dinner blur, reflecting the European vibe Nas aspires to reproduce.
PCH Group's in-house team is the mastermind behind Mon Ami's exceptional cocktail selection, revealing to us the meticulous artistry of each creation. The house favorite seems to be the El Rey. A Mozzarella-Washed Vodka with Clarified Tomato-Basil Cordial. As a fan of fresh Caprese salad during my travels, the experience was akin to Willy Wonka crafting a bespoke elixir from the essence of my salad. It also perfectly complements the pasta and meats.
Nas and Elvis curated an unforgettable evening, guiding us through the stories behind each cocktail, many inspired by Nas's global adventures. To kindly accommodate my request not to be overserved, they presented the cocktails in charming tasting glasses (and yes, I'm manifesting Chanin's Mediterranean Odyssey Flight on the menu someday).
While it was impossible to indulge in all, there were a couple of standouts, like Count Camillo, which proved a robust powerhouse and featured Nosotros Artesanal Mezcal, Amaro Ramazzotti, and Aperitif. The Amalfi Spritz, a play of Prosecco, cucumber-basil cordial, and Italicus Bergamotto, charmed with its lightness. The Casablanca, crafted with Maker's Mark 46 Bourbon, Honey Egg white, Passionfruit, and Lemon juice, felt like a confectionery masterpiece. The Marbella Margarita was a symphony of sweet and citrus notes, with Nosotros Blanco tequila and a tantalizing mixed wild berry Coulis, Dry Curacao, and a zesty touch of lime juice. The La Gondola, crafted with El Tesoro Tequila Blanco, Aperol, elderflower liqueur, and grapefruit, surprised even a grapefruit skeptic like me with its perfect balance of sweetness and a subtle hint of sour.
Elvis enlightened us on the meticulous mixology behind the scenes before the restaurant opens each day. Many coulis and cordials are thoughtfully prepared in advance, showcasing the depth of preparation that goes into each cocktail. For instance, the mixed wild berry featured in the Margarita also plays a shared role in one of the desserts, seamlessly connecting the dots between the bar and the culinary delights awaiting us.
Most of the menu is sourced from the local farmers' markets. The diverse and flavorful dishes encourage sharing and exploration. First, we tried the Lobster Alla Catalana Pasta-Tagliolini pasta with lobster in a sublime tomato-saffron sauce, effortlessly transporting us to the sun-kissed Mediterranean. Then, the Gnocchi Genovese, a vegan and gluten-free pasta dish that turned potato dumplings into art, lightly tossed in a vegan broccolini-pesto sauce with a medley of mushrooms, shallots, and pistachios. Every dish showcased Chef Daniel's skillful composition of textures and flavors.
Despite my usual aversion to poultry, we savored every mouth-watering bite of the 7 Spice Chicken, which was a revelation (add spices!). Marinated in a house-made seven-spice sauce, every bite revealed a complexity that elevated it beyond the ordinary. A true testament to the culinary prowess behind the scenes, Chef Daniel! We also loved the Steak Au Poivre, a ribeye adorned with mushrooms au Poivre and served with fire-grilled tomatoes and onion.
Did we save room for dessert? Of course! The Cassava Pearls featured Tapioca Pearls with seasonal fruit, pistachios, and the same mixed berry coulis from the cocktails. It was a vegan and gluten-free delight showcasing, once again, Chef Daniel's creativity. The Reine Des Fraises, or "Queen Strawberry," wowed us with sorbet, brown sugar crispy rice, and almond-cinnamon foam-a regal combination of textures and flavors.
The star of the show was Nas's inspired creation-the Loukamades. Nas shared a nostalgic tale of his late-night adventures in Greece, where friends made a 4 AM run for these heavenly Greek Donuts. Served with honey drizzle and Cardamon Chantilly Cream, these golden delights captured the essence of Nas's Greek escapades and added a sweet touch to our Mon Ami experience.
The atmosphere transformed as we relished the abundance of flavors experienced through the night. The DJ's beats weave seamlessly into the ambiance. Mon Ami wasn't just about food; it was a feast for the senses and the mind.
Nas envisions Mon Ami, alongside the revitalized Georgian Hotel and Bar Monette, as the catalyst to reclaim Santa Monica's status as the go-to destination on the Westside. Mon Ami (French for 'my friend') manifests Nas's culinary camaraderie, where passion, dedication, and the alchemy of exceptional food intertwine to create an unforgettable experience.
IF YOU GO...
1541 Ocean Ave Suite 150, Santa Monica, CA 90401
Phone: (424) 645-5550
Chanin Victor, the Travel and Lifestyle Editor at the Santa Monica Observer, presents her column "Travel Trends" bi-weekly in the print edition, offering readers a glimpse into the ever-evolving world of travel. Become a Subscriber Today! Beyond her role at the Observer, Chanin is a versatile freelance travel journalist, crafting engaging narratives that transport readers to intriguing destinations. In her 9-5 role, she serves as a creative director, dedicating her expertise to promoting tourism destinations across Southern California, blending her passion for storytelling with her professional pursuits. Based in Los Angeles with her family, Chanin seizes every opportunity to embark on new adventures. Discover her travels and insights at chaninvictor.com - PLUS - if you're interested in Chanin's family-friendly travel stories, inspiration and travel tips, look HERE: https://chaninvictor.com/travel-trends/ at the Santa Monica Observer!