La Sandia

Hoping for a Mexican restaurant with foodie flare, tonight we and our guest tried La Sandia in Santa Monica Place. Though the meal began auspiciously with fresh guacamole, showily mashed at the table in a volcanic-rock bowl and quickly devoured along with the crisp, corny nachos, the next two appetizers were disappointing: the roasted corn soup weighed down by too much cream; the mushroom huaraches by too many toppings. Our drinks were also a mixed bag. Though the freshness of the lime juice greatly benefited our margaritas, the vibrant fruit flavors in our strawberry and mango lemonades were not enough to temper the over-the-top sweetness. For our entrée, the iron skillet fajita with grilled market vegetables, the setup was DIY, the vegetables served in a small, hot iron pan, along with a covered dish of warm flour tortillas and, in separate compartments, Mexican rice, lightly fried with peas and carrots; slightly salty, slightly bitter refried beans; smoky, spicy salsa; fresh guacamole, again; and sour cream. The vegetables themselves, including cactus, onion, green and red peppers, and mushrooms, were all juicy and flavorful without undue charring (though the beans, sprinkled with cheese, were just too heavy). Judiciously assembled, this mostly tasty array made a fine combination. Still, the appetizers had so burdened us that by the time our fajita arrived, all we could do was sample it. We could not bring ourselves even to think of dessert. What’s more, we were put off by our youthful waitress’s losing struggle with her own rudeness. Our conclusion: La Sandia is a stylish restaurant, and there is much to like about the food, but there is an unfortunate tendency toward excess that makes the whole somehow less than the sum of the parts.

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