No Looking Back

BY Lesley Balla | June 23, 2017 | Feature Features

A talented young chef helps Michael's usher in a new persona in Santa Monica.
The restaurant's potatoes a la plancha with Parmigiano-Reggiano, bonito flakes, furikake aioli

I'M SITTING AT a bare-top table eating slices of soft buckwheat sourdough with creamy butter studded with toasted barley and sipping on a concoction made with mezcal, togarashi and black carrot reduction. The place is buzzing on a Friday night, with food-obsessed millennials taking pictures of dishes in the dim light. Toto, I don’t think we’re at Michael’s anymore.

Only we are. The Santa Monica restaurant that Michael McCarty opened in 1979 is, in essence, the Michael’s that we all know and many have loved for almost 40 years. There’s still a market-driven ethos, one McCarty himself helped create back before “market-driven” became an overused buzzword. There’s the amazing patio, covered on cool or wet nights, surrounded with a jungle of big leafy plants. But it’s clearly a new dawn for the restaurant. The table linens are gone, as are the white patio chairs that screamed 1993 well into the aughts. Inside, there’s new art on the walls—prints and paintings pulled off of McCarty’s family home’s walls.

The most striking change, of course, is the menu, created and executed entirely by the very young and talented chef, Miles Thompson. Barely 30, he made waves across L.A. and the country for his modern interpretation of California-centric cuisine at Allumette. After it closed, he went to Sonoma to work with SHED in Healdsburg, which focused solely on locally grown produce and a reverence for all things seasonal. Now he’s fast-forwarding Michael’s into the 21st century.

Michael’s has long been heralded as one of the birthplaces of California cuisine. Since its inception, the restaurant has served as a launchpad for culinary talent, from Jonathan Waxman and Nancy Silverton to even newly minted Top Chef winner Brooke Williamson. It’s time for a new generation to take the reins.

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