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Friday, May 11, 2012

Two Restaurants for Mother's Day: Michael's in Santa Monica and Maison Giraud in Pacific Palisades

Mother's Day is a special time to appreciate our mothers and the mothers of our children. A leisurely meal in a pleasant surrounding is the perfect way to celebrate the women who are so central to our lives.

Brunch is the preferred meal for Mother's Day, when a sunny late morning adds to the celebration.

Michael's Restaurant (1147 Third Street, Santa Monica, CA 90403; 310/451-0843), located on Third Street in Santa Monica, half a block north of Wilshire, has an elegant dining room with the relaxed feeling of a private home. Surrounding diners at the rear of the restaurant, a lush patio garden obliterates all traces of the busy city a few feet away.
By staying focused on farmers market fresh, seasonal ingredients, owner/chef Michael McCarty has pulled off a magic trick, staying contemporary and innovative even as the culinary landscape changed. When the restaurant opened, market fresh produce was a rallying cry for a few talented chefs. Nowadays, just about every restaurant says it buys locally and seasonally.

The difference then as now is that fresh ingredients are a good beginning but to be something special, they must be prepared by a talented chef with a great palate.

For the West Side, Michael's is a member of a small group of upscale restaurants. On the spring menu, starters are priced from $18 for a half dozen raw oysters to $22 for the Maine lobster gnocchi with mains ranging from $34 for the Jidori half-chicken to $44 for the rack of lamb and New York steak.

But Happy Hour at Michael's is a bargain and it begins early (Monday-Friday 5:00pm; Saturday 6:0pm). Michael keeps Happy Hour happy until closing. With flavors inspired by the larger menu, the snacks are as varied as an crostini with duck confit or with burrata, arugula and Parmigiano-Reggiano, truffle-thyme fries, Andouille sausage with beer caramelized onions, piquillo pepper and avocado salad and an upscale riff on Roscoe's Chicken and Waffles in the Jidori wings with maple syrup and chile salt (addictive!).

For Mother's Day, Michael's has a Sunday brunch from 11:30am-2:00pm. The prix fix menu for adults ($65.00/person) and for children under ten ($30.00/person) has four to five choices per course in a three course brunch. The dishes are elegant (oysters with blood orange mignonette, petit prime filet with English peas, Shimeji mushrooms and white corn) and familiar (Eggs Benedict, Cobb salad, blueberry pancakes with chicken sausage or smoked bacon). Dessert is sensible (strawberry-oatmeal crisp with creme fraiche ice cream) or complex and rich (dark chocolate cake with vanilla bean ice cream, chocolate ganache and raspberries).
If you want to toast mom, Michael's has an excellent wine cellar, including wines McCarty grows and bottles at his Malibu home, and a selection of delicious cocktails (a blood orange mimosa, Stoli bloody bull, "smoke love" with single malt scotch and smoked mescal, the "dark side of the moon," a wicked mixture of gin, vermouth, orange juice, lime orange oil simple and Creme de Violette! and a "frozen white lady," a sweet, ice cold, lemony confection of a drink).

Up the hill from Santa Monica, Maison Giraud (1032 Swarthmore Avenue, Pacific Palisades, CA 90272; 310/459-7561) is an outpost of French cuisine in suburban Pacific Palisades. Paired down and minimalist, the dining room is elegantly efficiently. Outside on the covered patio, diners enjoy eating at sidewalk tables, shaded by trees.
Alain Giraud wants the restaurant to be a relaxed gathering place for everyone wanting a good meal in a quiet setting. Like McCarty, Giraud is a habitué of farmers markets, looking for the freshest, best tasting, seasonal products he can find.

In the bakery he shows his deft hand with buttery, effervescent croissants, brioche, Danish, and other sweet and crisp pastries. 
For Mother's Day, Giraud will serve brunch from 10:30am-2:30pm featuring the usual menu with a selection of omelets, custardy scrambled eggs, French toast, Nicoise salad, grilled salmon, quiche and Eggs Benedict. For Mother's Day, he has added a green asparagus salad with citrus vinaigrette, roasted halibut and spring vegetables and for dessert, a strawberry and pistachio confection.
Besides dining at the restaurant, Mother's Day can also be celebrated at home by ordering from the bakery and the take-out menu.