Whist: Staying Relevant in Trendy Santa Monica Surroundings

Hotel Sign Santa Monica

"The Sopranos" fans might recognize Viceroy Santa Monica from Christopher Moltisanti's stay.

In a cutting-edge city like Los Angeles, seven years is an eternity, and to remain relevant after a span that long is asking a lot. When the Viceroy debuted in Santa Monica in 2002 with a chic Kelly Wearstler design, fashionable Westsiders flocked to fill poolside cabanas and outdoor tables were flooded with fans of Chef Warren Schwartz’s food. Schwartz left to open Westside Tavern in 2008 and Whist was at a crossroads. Would the restaurant recharge with another culinary talent? There were signs of life with Taite Pearson, and based on a recent meal cooked by new chef Tony DiSalvo and the booming patio, it looks like Whist isn’t ready to fade into obscurity.

Chef DiSalvo is a CIA grad previously logged time in high-profile kitchens at Jean Georges and Gramercy Tavern. He most recently ran Jack’s La Jolla, a multi-faceted restaurant complex named for his father. Now he’s applying his classic technique to optimize the season’s best ingredients.

Whist invited us to experience Chef DiSalvo’s tasting menu, which featured dishes that were all on the regular menu.

He started light, with a crispy ciabatta rectangle slathered with salsa verde and capped with a rosy bluefin tuna slab. Across the wooden plank, we found tangy fennel ribbons accented with Niçoise olives, roasted cherry tomatoes and lemon shavings, peel and all. Saffron aioli streaked the middle of the plate.


Salad Los Angeles

He started light, with a crispy ciabatta rectangle slathered with salsa verde and capped with a rosy bluefin tuna slab. Across the wooden plank, we found tangy fennel ribbons accented with Niçoise olives, roasted cherry tomatoes and lemon shavings, peel and all. Saffron aioli streaked the middle of the plate.

Scallop Los Angeles

Next, we discovered a single diver scallop, caramelized on one side, silky on the other and paired with a novel take on a Sicilian classic: caponata. Instead of the intensely rich eggplant dish, we received a tangy tangle of cauliflower, currants, pine nuts, capers and minced onion. The streak continued, this time with parsley puree.

Soup Los Angeles

The only dish that didn’t work for me was porcini soup, since it was unbalanced. It was hard to argue with the mound of earthy porcinis or crinkle-cut tuille studded with speck and sage, but the julienne of market apples conflicted with the soup’s flavor profile.

Pasta Los Angeles

My favorite dish of the night may have been sweet corn ravioli, featuring house made pasta purses, crispy pancetta bits and cherry tomatoes that cut the richness of the sweet lobster chunks. Rounding out the bowl, we encountered sweet corn kernels, fine onion strands and an aromatic basil broth.

Fish Los Angeles

Sicilian pistachios are considered best in class, with an intensity and deep green color that you won’t find anywhere else. Chef DiSalvo harnessed that flavor to amplify a relatively mild fish: Alaskan halibut. He crusted the firm fillet with Sicilian pistachios and served the fish on a bed of baby spinach that was submerged in a broth crafted from pistachio oil, pistachios, lemon, the halibut’s cooking liquid and a lingering spice pop from cayenne.

Lamb Los Angeles

Spiced Colorado lamb loin medallions were near flawless, seared outside, rosy inside and dusted with cumin. On the side, Chef DiSalvo added another interesting Mediterranean element, a pile of baby artichokes, Marcona almonds, Castelvetrano olives, mint, pill shaped goat cheese and shaved orange (peel and all, which adds bitter element).

San Diego County native Brooke Mosley is the restaurant’s standard bearer, with her pastries spanning the regimes of the last three chefs. It’s no accident that she’s enjoyed staying power. Both of her desserts were excellent.

Cheesecake Los Angeles

Deconstructed lemon ricotta cheesecake involved a trio of fluffy dollops, a crushed cracker crust, tangy huckleberries and aromatic (and decorative) drips of basil oil.

Apple Dessert Los Angeles

Mosley also baked a rustic apple tart with slices and dices of lightly spiced apple, a melting scoop of pungent Pt. Reyes blue cheese ice cream and a caramel sauce drizzle.

Chef DiSalvo has accomplished a lot during his three months in the kitchen. Whist can already more than hold its own with market-driven restaurants like FIG and Gjelina, and I’m looking forward to seeing how it progresses under DiSalvo’s watch.

Note: Whist hosted and comped this dinner.

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Joshua Lurie

Joshua Lurie founded FoodGPS in 2005. Read about him here.

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