Location: 2454 Wilshire Blvd, Santa Monica, CA 90403. (310) 586-1707
Date: September 28 & December 26, 2019
Cuisine: New American / Italian
Rating: Great Atmosphere / Tasty
With my parents and some various other friends in town for the holiday weekend I needed a place where we could do a 10-12 person dinner — ideally in a private room.
Fia is in the same (gorgeous) space as the old Wilshire, just with a new (more Italian, but not totally) concept. They have inside, lovely patio, and a cool private room.
FIA, A DISTINCT DINING CONCEPT LED BY DECORATED CHEF BRENDAN COLLINS (BIRCH, WATERLOO & CITY, MELISSE), COMBINES CALIFORNIA PRODUCE WITH EUROPEAN TECHNIQUE TO CREATE A GLOBALLY INSPIRED, SEASONAL MENU.
I forgot to photograph the patio, but above is our room. Now I do have to say that they had a pretty hefty “room minimum” here, and it required a set menu. The set menus were tons of food and fairly reasonable for what they are, but the “room minimum” was considerably higher than the set menu X 12 (which is how much the room fit) — so they wanted you to order an obscene amount of alcohol. As I bring my own wine… this was a little tricky, and more on that later.
Our set menu. We modified it a little bit on the fly (actually in advance, but they had some staff changes and the mods were lost, but then restored on site). We also added some food, which was gratuitous, but we were way under the room min anyway.
From my cellar: 2002 Billecart-Salmon Champagne Cuvée Nicolas-François Billecart. VM 94. The 2002 Cuvée Nicolas François Billecart comes across as rich, powerful and opulent. This latest release of the 2002 was disgorged in July 2015 and finished with a Chardonnay-based liqueur whereas the previous release, disgorged in May 2014, was finished with a Pinot Noir-based liqueur. This is a distinctly vinous, almost shockingly raw, visceral Champagne from Billecart-Salmon. There is no shortage of volume or intensity, that is for sure. Stylistically, this year’s release inhabits a whole other world relative to last year’s release. Dosage is 4 grams per liter.
Hamachi, lime, chili, basil, radish. Very bright flavors, zesty, and a tiny bit spicy.
Hawaiian kanpachi, ginger, Calabrian chili, shallots. I liked this one best perhaps of the crudos because of the almost Thai (sweet and spicy and tangy) sauce.
Big eye tuna carpaccio, aqua pazza, avocado, black garlic. Good as well.
Heirloom cherry tomato, bocconcini, tomato consommé. Really nice “capresse” salad (in that it included tomatoes and mozzarella like cheese). The herbs and the vinegar tones brought it up a lot.
Bought from the list: 2017 Domaine William Fèvre Chablis 1er Cru Vaillons. VM 90-92. The 2017 Chablis Vaillons 1er Cru comes from 3.6-hectares located mainly in the heart of the valley. It offers light pressed flower scents on the nose with hints of nettle and dandelion. The palate is well balanced with a fine bead of acidity, crisp and taut with a precise finish that just needs to develop a little more power. Very fine.
Rock shrimp cakes, horseradish aioli, caviar. Fritters.
Pudwill farms black mission figs, candied walnuts, ricotta, grilled toast. Delicious fig and ricotta combo, heightened by the balsamic.
Slowly roasted Brussels Sprouts, black garlic aioli. Nicely done Brussels.
Cauliflower with raisons (12/26/19). Cauliflower is the new black, it’s everywhere.
Artisanal cheeses from home and abroad, dried fruit, walnuts, truffle honey.
Heirloom green leaf salad, calamansi fennel seed vinaigrette. Is what it is.
Chicken liver mousse, port gele, toast, cornichons.
A zone of the liver. Replaces the “off the menu” fois gras — sigh. Pretty nice though, with the port gele adding that sweet note to go with the liver.
Burrata, San Danielle prosciutto, seasonal fruit on a waffle. Pretty, and we had the ham on the side — would have looked better all combined. Nice flavors too.
Prosciutto on the side.
Seasonal vegetable salad, mushroom vinaigrette, soft herbs. Probably the most boring dish of the night, but I’m not a vegetable guy.
From my cellar: 2009 Domaine René Leclerc Gevrey-Chambertin 1er Cru Lavaux St. Jacques. BH 89-92. A somewhat curious nose of reduction with a background herbal character leads to fresh, vibrant and stony middle weight flavors that are supple and almost delicate on the clean, austere and linear finish. This clearly is quite backward and youthfully awkward today though there is no reason that it shouldn’t sort itself out in time.
House made cavatelli, black truffle, parmesan, brown butter.
And with the truffles. Delicious and rich pasta with a lot of heft.
Risotto cacio e pepe, 24 month old parmesan, tellicherry pepper. One of my favorites, like a cacio e pepe congee really. Lots of cheesy bitey rice.
Acorn Squash Risotto, Sunchokes, Toasted Seeds, Goat Cheese (12/26/19). Also very yummy. Rich.
Dungeness Crab Ravioli, Scallop, Ginger, Champagne Crab Sauce. (12/26/19). Very tasty.
Hand cut capellini, lobster bolognese, san marzano tomato. Solid take on this zesty lobster pasta.
Braised rabbit tortellini, dates, pistachio, sage. Interesting sweet, savory, and meaty stuffed pasta. Really lovely.
From my cellar: 2007 Domaine la Soumade Rasteau Cuvée Fleur de Confiance. 95 points. Black/purple color with a lifted nose of blackberries, currants, and toasted vanilla. The palate is dense and volatile with loads of alcohol (15%) keeping it buoyant and ripe. Flavors of black currant, black tea, suede leather, and bitter chocolate form the core. Finishes long and silky with hints of tobacco. Just a great effort from Domaine la Soumade. It’s well-balanced, delicious, and unique for the appellation. Produced in a modern-style. Drink now until 2022.
Lasagna, Beyond Meat Bolognese, spinach, almond béchamel. Not as good as I hoped — mostly because of the vegan thing.
Stuffed Manchester quail, fig, prosciutto, brioche. Nice little stuffed bird.
Baja style whole grilled Dorade Royale. Well grilled fish.
Creek Stone Farm prime filet mignon, horseradish butter.
Torch that butter.
And after. A rich and solid hunk of meat.
Black sesame cake, sesame crumble, mango sorbet. Interesting textures.
Lemon merignue, lemoncello granite. Loved the multiple takes on lemon — I love lemon.
Chef’s box of macarons. Texture was too hard and they didn’t have a strong enough flavor — not the greatest macarons — but macarons are hard.
Overall, we had a great time, tremendous amounts of food, and very good service. The private room was lovely. The whole restaurant is gorgeous. Really atmospheric tres-la patio.
Food was better than I expected, and I had heard good things. Very bright flavors and the pastas were great. Mains were a little less exciting, but still good. I rarely love mains at normal restaurants.
Set menu food price was pretty reasonable too, although menu prices are fairly steep. But you can see that portions are good sized. The base menu was a lot and with our additions an obscene amount.
My only issues were some policy quirks. I don’t like the room minimum being a lot higher than the food price. And I wasn’t old about it until weeks after I booked the space (and didn’t feel like finding a new one). Room min was $1500 (tax and tip don’t count either). The largest set dinner menu was $106 a person (which isn’t bad). But the room sits a max of 12. We had 11, with only 9 adults. Even at 12, that would be $1272 which leaves $225 of alcohol — or $18 a person. Hard perhaps when you have people who don’t drink, but maybe possible. With our count there was a $500 gap — which I had to make up by buying two bottles off the list. I hate buying bottles off the list as they are about 4X retail and I have 1000s of bottles. Wine lists like Fia have some nice wines, but they are way too young in general, and they have a much smaller selection than I do in my basement. They just can’t afford to stock a broad range of wine — and certainly not in my specific taste. No new restaurant can so I don’t blame them for this.
Which brings me to the other policy problem: the curse of the annoying 2 bottle per table corkage limit. They did allow me to open 3, but I just don’t get the 2 bottle limit thing. Insert rant here — and this is not unique to Fia at all, but I’ll just complain here again about it again — but it doesn’t make any sense, not from a service level and not financially. I know they want to make a certain amount of money from alcohol sales. Fine. Calculate the per cover (person) average profit on alcohol and set a corkage to around that number. Don’t limit the bottles. It also makes no sense that a table or 1 or 2 can open 2 bottles and a table of 11 can also open only 2 bottles. Make it one per person… but wait… that’s still stupid. Just don’t have a limit. Charge the correct corkage. NO BOTTLE LIMITS. This dinner ONLY worked with the corkage limit because I bought 2 bottles and because we had a bunch of lightweights (keeping the number I needed to bring down). The limits make it IMPOSSIBLE FOR WINE GROUPS TO EAT AT THE RESTAURANT. We bring specific wines. We bring 1+ bottles a person. Doesn’t work with limits. We come during low volume nights (weekdays) and we order huge amounts of food. At $35+ a person of corkage (pure profit, no cost of goods) I’m sure we would always be a way above average table in terms of profit. If it’s not, raise the corkage to $40 or whatever. The limit just excludes us. So now if I want to come back here with one of my wine groups, we either have to come with only 3 people (and finesse the limit), or we have to call up and argue the house policy with the manager/owner. Crazy. Wine groups keep restaurants alive after the initial buzz has died down.