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If you are not looking to commit to just one entree but instead you want to dabble in a few dishes, you should head to Violet in Santa Monica for what Chef/Owner Jared Simons likes to call “promiscuous dining.” At Violet, you can choose from a sizable menu of small plate selections where there is most definitely something to satisfy your every craving. Upon entering Violet, where the artwork and walls are - what else - violet, you are greeted by an amiable staff and tended to by a knowledgeable server who lets you create your own casual dining experience. To share or not to share, that is the only question.
Violet’s medium-sized dining room is outlined with inviting banquette seating and there is a cozy bar in the back. Both areas are perfect locations to peruse the substantial wine list, on which many selections are available by the glass or in flights. Artisan beers are also available. Once seated, warm sourdough is served on a sheet of parchment paper and this sets the tone for the whole experience. Not fussy, Violet is all about the food. This makes a good vibe for a weekday get together or a date, or even a meal for one.
Violet’s menu lists several popular options, but one of the most noteworthy is the grilled Caesar salad with curried croutons and spicy dressing. It features a whole heart of romaine wilted perfectly on a smoky grill, but crispy and cool in the middle. This is a whole new way to experience salad and it whets my appetite for the next small plate. Without delay, a delicate presentation of seared scallops arrives at the table. The scallops are accompanied by a fragrant vanilla bean risotto and thin slices of sautéed baby zucchini. A tiny bunch of micro parsley sits atop the scallops and brings all the flavors and textures of the dish together.
Venison meatballs, the evening’s special feature, are served with creamy celery root puree and a liberal drizzle of port wine reduction. Chef Simon uses herbs and spices like a signature on each dish, and here it is a sprinkling of fresh thyme. Our server intuitively pairs a Rutherford Cabernet from Napa with the meatballs, and it is a great match for this course. Its fruitiness, in the form of blackberry and cherry, complement the meat and thyme nicely.
In a continuation of decadence, a bubbling little crock of Violet’s signature mac & cheese is presented to us. I must say, it is an exciting moment. This mac & cheese achieves the perfect proportion of crunchy, baked gruyere and hot, al dente elbow pasta. A pleasant surprise in this dish is the serrano ham and leeks. The cured ham provides the perfect amount of saltiness and the leeks are slightly sweet. Once you eat this, you will want it again.
Feeling very satisfied so far, we start thinking about dessert. As an interlude, our server brings over a glass of Wynns Coonawarra Shiraz from Australia. The strong notes of citrus and black pepper pair almost magically with the flourless chocolate cake and white chocolate gelato that we order. We also have the warm apple tart with caramel sauce and cinnamon gelato. Both are well-done interpretations of classic desserts and a fine finish to the Violet experience. Put simply, just as Chef Simon would prefer, Violet is a keeper.
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