The opening of the new Santa Monica Place mall has been exciting for those of us who knew the old, tired mall that stood in its place years ago. Perhaps some of the most exciting parts have been the new food options, some of which are entirely new to Los Angeles. La Sandia and Zengo from chef Richard Sandoval are two of those new restaurants.
I was invited to try out the food and drink at both places last week, and I came away from the experience pleasantly surprised. These restaurants — the Mexican La Sandia and the Latin-Asian fusion Zengo — are nicer than your usual mall joints, with some pretty respectable cocktails, too.
We started out with cocktails and appetizers at La Sandia. My favorite drink was the cucumber-serrano martini made with mezcal, cucumber, serrano chili, citrus and chili piquin salt on the rim. I love spicy hotness as well as cucumber in my drinks, so this was the prefect combination. I also really enjoyed the shrimp quesadillas made with shrimp, Mexican cheeses, black bean puree, chipotle aioli and topped with crema and avocado. So tasty!
Moving on to Zengo, which is a small plates concept, where I ordered an orange and jalapeno cocktail that I liked for its combination of sweetness, tanginess and spiciness.
As for the food, the edamame slathered in X.O. sauce (Chinese spicy seafood sauce) is a nice twist on the traditional soy bean appetizer. The fusion sushi rolls — both the Volcano Roll, with seared salmon, peekytoe crab, cucumber and chipotle aioli, and the Vegetariano Roll, with grilled asparagus, red pepper, avocado and lemon-sake aioli — were surprisingly good (I’m always a little weary of fusion-y rolls, you know).
Other menu highlights include the Peking duck-daikon tacos with duck confit, orange-coriander sauce, curried apple slaw and daikon slices, and the crispy tofu topped with napa cabbage, lemon aioli and sesame-chili sauce. Both were light in flavor, mostly because of the lack of carbs. The Scallops Al Mojo de Ajo, with seared scallops atop a bed of bacon-corn-edamame salsa, roasted garlic soy and yuzu-sriracha aioli, were also good, though I found the contrast between the warm scallops and the cold “salsa” to be a bit off-putting. Too bad, because the flavors were nice.
Overall, while I didn’t love every dish that I tried, there was enough good food and drink between the two restaurants that I would definitely go back. Next time I’ll try the guacamole prepared tableside at La Sandia. I’m a sucker for guac.