Serenata di Garibaldi

We were heartbroken last April when our favorite Mexican restaurant (and one of our favorites overall), Serenata di Garibaldi in Santa Monica, closed its doors. The food was consistently excellent and often sublime, from the creamy soups to the delectable desserts. And though Serenata lives on in two locations, the original, legendary restaurant in Boyle Heights (still on our summer to-do list) and a spin-off in West L.A. (10924 Pico, near Westwood Blvd.), all with similar menus and the same recipes, there is, sad to say, a difference. In West L.A., the food is still very good but not quite up to the level of the Santa Monica restaurant, which, admittedly, set the bar pretty high. Tonight the soup, a simple lentil, was dark and hearty if slightly salty. The vegetarian quesadilla, a crisp fried dome of masa filled with melted cheese and poblano peppers, resembled the Santa Monica version, though it was not quite as crisp and light on the outside or molten on the inside. Similarly, the chile relleno (served with warm corn tortillas) was pleasant without being anything special. We also tried a burrito, which we’d never had at the Santa Monica restaurant. Stuffed with pinto beans, guacamole, pico de gallo, and a flavorful mixture of carrots, potatoes, zucchini, and onions, it was big enough to be a meal in itself, tasty and filling but otherwise unremarkable. When it was time for dessert, at least, we came very close to our original experience (the West L.A. branch is where pastry production for all the Serenatas is based). The banana bread pudding, a chewy, fruity concoction topped with a dense scoop of vanilla ice cream, was thus a sweet ending to a bittersweet meal. For devotees of the Santa Monica Serenata, its West L.A. sibling provides a measure of comfort, to be sure, though not without reminding us of what we lost.

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