Thursday, December 28, 2006

Restaurant Review: Punch Grill, Santa Monica

I was recently (well, over a month ago!) invited to try Punch Grill, a new "casual yet elegant" restaurant in Santa Monica. I don't often dine out on the Westside since I live so far East, so I thought of it as a great chance to break out of the norm and try something new. I reviewed the website, then J and I set off on our merry way!

We arrived promptly for our 7:30 PM reservation and were warmly greeted by two hostesses, one of whom walked us to our large booth. The place is divided into a bar/lounge area, complete with flat screen TVs, and the restaurant, which may have been a Sizzler in its former life. Don't get me wrong- the room is elegant, but on one side of the restaurant is one of those large, garden windows that you normally see at a chain place. I must admit it does take something away from the nicely set tables for four that make up the middle of the dining room.

Our waitress quickly came and took our wine order, and the manager told us about Punch Grill's specialties. The Spinach Artichoke Fondue was a favorite, she said, as was their Filet Mignon With Garlic Cheese appetizer. Also, their Chocolate Soufflé was very popular but we'd need to place the order for it now since it took 20 minutes. We checked out the menu and decided to go for the soufflé, although we skipped the other two recs since I had remembered seeing both reviewed on other blogs. I wanted to try something different.

J decided to start with the Grilled Artichoke and I with the Tuna Tartare. The waitress informed us that the artichoke was now steamed, not grilled, and J said that was fine. When I told our waitress that I'd have the filet mignon for my main course, she suggested I try the flat iron steak instead, saying it was her favorite cut. I obliged, and asked for onion rings instead of french fries (I'm a sucker for a good onion ring!). J knew exactly what he was having when he heard the day's special of Sautéed Whole Crab (he's a sucker for a good crab!). We sat back, sipped our champagne, attacked the hot sourdough rolls in the bread basket and waited for the goodies to arrive.

Yummy tuna tartare....

My tuna tartare came mound in a perfect circle, surrounded by crunchy toast slices. You're probably wondering why I ordered the ubiquitous dish, but I can't help it- I just love the cool, soft tuna against the crunchy counterpoint that usually accompanies it. Punch Grill's version was a winner- well seasoned, mixed with the right amount of creamy avocado and very fresh. I was a happy camper. Unfortunately, J wasn't as content - the steamed artichoke was, well....a steamed artichoke, nothing more. The Italian vinaigrette that came for dipping just didn't have enough oomph to give much life to a steamed veggie. I think a nice, strong, garlicky aioli would work much better with such a plain dish. Either way, J finished it all and helped me with my tuna.

Our main dishes arrived and I think we both knew we had winners. J's whole crab was gleaming in it's garlic sauce and my steak looked perfect. The crab came with 1/2 sweet potato and 1/2 regular fries (half and half at our request) and both were perfect for sopping up the tasty juices of the crab, which was cooked to perfection. The aiolis that came with the fries weren't too shabby either, particularly with the sweet potato version. The flat-iron steak delivered on its promise and was so tender and juicy- I was so glad the waitress recommended it. And the onion rings? Golden, crispy circles of pleasure. What's better than a good onion ring? Not much.

The crab eyes J as he prepares to dig in....

One potato, sweet potato........

The chocolate soufflé, unfortunately, didn't really live up to the hype. When doused with the chocolate sauce it came with, it was rich and hearty, but alone it was more like sweet eggs and lacked the pillow-like consistency that a soufflé should have. Luckily J had ordered the key lime tart which was mouth-puckeringly tart and not too sweet. Actually, neither dessert was too sweet which was a pleasant surprise. So many places serve cavity-inducing desserts and it was nice to encounter sweets made by someone with a light hand on the sugar.

Chocolate soufflé

Key lime tart

Overall, I would recommend Punch Grill if you're in the mood for something special, but not overly fancy. It reminds me of places like Hal's in Venice where you can get fine dining-esque menu options in a more casual setting. The restaurant's own description of "elegant yet casual" pretty much hits the nail on the head. I'll definitely be back for that flat-iron steak and onion rings. My tummy is growling just thinking about them!

Punch Grill
3001 Wilshire Blvd
Santa Monica, CA


RIT387 said...

Welcome back! Glad to see you back in fine dining form.

deenster said...

WOW!!! Those onion rings look fabulous! Just looking at them makes my mouth water...

Chubbypanda said...

The lighting at Punch Grill must be horrible to work with. I noticed that both you and Eddie have very reddish photos.

- Chubbypanda