Birdie G's: Dining Review

Jim Sullivan
Reinvented Jewish comfort food shines from a Santa Monica star.

The team behind Rustic Canyon opens a Midwestern-style supper club in Santa Monica with the makings of a classic.

Noted Rustic Canyon chef Jeremy Fox's latest, Birdie G's, is a combination of two throwback institutions — the big-city grill and the Midwestern supper club — as well as an irreverently modern take on secular Jewish cooking.

Westsiders could already thank Fox and his Rustic collaborators, husband-and-wife restaurateurs Josh Loeb and Zoe Nathan (Cassia, Milo & Olive, Tallula's), for largely ensuring that Santa Monica — famously progressive in politics and conventional in palates — isn't forgotten amid Los Angeles' rising stature as a global food capital. At Birdie G's, they have found a canny way to break new ground, even at a comfort-food spot.

Fox offers a something-for-everyone menu (Mongolian tri-tip! Stuffed poblano peppers! Crab cakes!), an approach most chefs with his clout avoid. And while mileage varies — the lamb with saffron yogurt is a paradigm-changer, the glazed duck is stringy — that's not the point. A nostalgic sense of only-in-America bounty is.

The Jewish cooking is where things get most interesting, ambitious, even ingenious. Birdie G's has one of the best matzo ball soups in the region, a no-nonsense rendition with a silken broth. Fox's new-school kugel (a noodle baked pudding) features black pepper fusilli, ricotta, tomato jam and pistachios. His caviar service is a shrewd, inexpensive composition of steelhead roe, everything bagel seasoning and waffled potatoes, and the sweet-and-sour beets are melded by a clever "charoset" (a traditional Passover dish) of goat cheese, horseradish, stone fruit and pecan.

The centerpiece of the nouvelle Jewish cuisine is a riff on a Hangtown Fry, a Gold Rush-originated omelet of bacon, oysters and eggs popularized by San Francisco's Tadich Grill. Fox also draws inspiration from Musso & Frank and Howard Johnson's. For his "Hangtown brei," he swaps the bacon for wood-grilled pork belly and then makes it his superlative own with a delicate-soft scramble anointed in schmaltz (chicken fat) and matzo.

Not everything works. The toffee matzo brittle is tooth-endangering. The chilled chocolate cake is … an overly refrigerated chocolate cake. But Birdie G's is coming into focus. Its gleaming postindustrial dining room is as packed and electric as its close-in-design cousin, Bestia. (Being on the Westside means the guest list features fewer piercings, more Pierce Brosnan.) As Fox hones in, he's got a chance of making Birdie G's what he clearly knows it can be: that rare thing, a classic.

This review is based on multiple visits. Reservations are made under another name. Meals are covered by The Hollywood Reporter.

This story appears in the Sept. 25 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.