It took a while for me to post this, another birthday celebration, this time with my closest friends, at Tar & Roses, a restaurant I was invited to try when they first opened, but never had time to visit. Now, almost two years of opening, it was still on our list-to-try, so a reservation was made to share a meal with the people I love.
Our server Matthew was great, allowing us as much time we needed to peruse the menu, seeing it was our first time there. Since there were a bunch of things we wanted to try, we made it a democratic process whereby everyone was able to offer input on the night’s feast.
We started with Popped Corn ($7) reminiscent of kettle corn, but SO much better because this popcorn was coated with brown sugar flavored with bacon fat. Crisp bacon bits were dotted around the popcorn so you get a little surprise every few bites. The salty, sweet crunchy goodness was taken up a notch by a hint of chili, leaving a bit of heat to the finish.
One of the specials of the evening was Chicken Oyster Skewers ($7) which I enjoyed tremendously because of its aromatic nature. I know one of my friends found it too greasy but I thought the tartness of the tamarind sauce really helped cut the fat and ended up being a great accompaniment for the next dish as well.
Duck Liver Pate ($9) arrived in a little glass jar with a layer of duck fat covering a creamy spread which we schmeared liberally over the grilled sourdough slices. The peppadew pepper salad added a freshness to the unctuous duck liver pate but there wasn’t much of it, so I suggested pairing the tamarind sauce for the chicken with the liver. Turns out, it was a great combo!
Ordinarily, I’m a huge fan of Bone Marrow ($11) but I didn’t care for the one here. There was an excessive pool of oil underneath the marrow itself. The onion marmalade had a great flavor on its own, but wasn’t acidic enough to cut the greasiness of the marrow. We also didn’t taste any salt on the marrow which resulted in a bland gooey blob tasting of nothing. Definitely not one of my favorites.
I’ve had pig tails before and loved them, however, Crispy Pig Tails ($8) here were not really crispy. Underneath the thin layer of almost crispy fat lies a thick gnarly fatty, sinewy and very gamey interior which the sriracha, honey, cilantro could not mask. I did not care for this one at all.
Our next dish is a seasonal one with thinly sliced sweet persimmons. Persimmon Salad ($12) comprised of pomegranate seeds, goat cheese, greens and candied walnuts. While the persimmon and pomegranate were great together, and the dressing perfectly light and refreshing, I’m still not a fan of goat cheese (chevre) so I ate around it.
We all agreed that Squid Ink Fettucine ($13) was a great dish, but severely under-seasoned. I love octopus, and while I enjoyed its natural flavors, it was in desperate need of salt. I usually have my salt and pepper grinders in my purse, but had changed bags so didn’t have them with me. Boy was I kicking myself for forgetting.
Same goes for the Ricotta Gnocchi ($11) with asparagus, pea tendrils and lemon. The gnocchi itself was perfectly executed — pillowy morsels of pure heaven. The sauce was again lacking salt, a shame because like the fettucine, would have been two outstanding dishes of the night.
For our next set of dishes, we agreed on vegetable sides. Wood Roasted Sunchokes ($9) was a perfect choice because not everyone at the table has had them before. The chunks of delicious Jerusalem artichokes were topped with goat cheese, lemon and crunchy hazelnuts. Everyone loved this.
No matter how often we order Brussels sprouts and how many restaurants offer it in one form or another, I never tire of them. Wood Roasted Brussels Sprouts ($9) shared space with salty pancetta, rich nuggets of chestnuts and mustard seeds. This dish was loved all around and fought for every little bit left on the plate.
King Trumpet Mushrooms ($9) were also delectable. I love this mushroom because of its meaty texture and use it often at home. There isn’t much water content so it doesn’t shrivel up like regular mushrooms. Topped with a soft egg and flavored with rosemary and chile de arbol, this is a must for anyone who loves mushrooms!
Roasted Beets ($8) were prepared with the skin on, retaining all the flavor within. Feta, tarragon and horseradish make for good accompaniments to the sweet red and golden beets. Fragrant, salty and sweet.
After the vegetable, Matthew came back to take our orders for entrees. Hangar Steak ($26) was cooked to a perfect medium rare, sliced, and plated over potato cream, chanterelle mushrooms, tomato and charred onion. The meat needed more salt but otherwise, well executed.
When our last dish, the Whole Fried Snapper For Two ($58) arrived, there were ooos and ahhs all around. We didn’t expect such a display to grace our table. A whole fish with its head and tail intact is scored criss cross, lightly floured and then deep fried. The fish was perfectly seasoned and while there was a delicious dipping sauce served alongside, it really wasn’t needed. The cold soba noodles on the side was also tasty, lightly coated with sesame oil and topped with nori strips.
I could have stopped here, but of course, my friends weren’t about to leave without having some dessert. The only one which was calling out my name was Affogato ($8), a generous scoop of Tahitian vanilla ice cream and some robust Stumptown coffee which we poured over the luscious cold mound. Absolutely incredible!
The Chocolate “Tar” Bar ($9) was quite rich with something crispy to give it a textural crunch including hazelnuts. The salted caramel ice cream was also a good addition.
I was surprised by the Sticky Toffee Pudding ($9), a moist sponge cake-like “pudding” complete with whipped cream, making for a really delicious finish to our meal.All in all, we had a lovely time, but we all agreed, the star of the night was definitely the snapper!
Tar & Roses
602 Santa Monica Blvd
Santa Monica, CA 90401