R+D Kitchen

Rice patty: A barely-there veggie burger

Rice patty: A barely-there veggie burger

Frites street: R+D's cup of fries

Frites street: R+D’s cup of fries

If you are beautiful, rich, and famous or at least want a side of glamour with your seared ahi tuna salad, you might consider R+D Kitchen, a chic eatery on Santa Monica’s boutique-y Montana Avenue (1323 Montana Ave., near Euclid). Though from the sidewalk the atmosphere appears to be one of overflowing bustle (no reservations are taken), those who manage to snag a table may well feel a sense of comfort and serenity. The winsome waitstaff, crisply attired in white uniforms, are as friendly as they are attractive, like the idealistic young doctors of a TV drama. Some actual celebrities may be glimpsed here as well, since the restaurant, just across the street from the Aero Cinematheque, provides convenient grub for the nonprofit’s special guests. Vegetarians will not find many choices, however. Putting aside the spinach and cheese omelet and a few ordinary side dishes, one is left with the unprepossessing house-made veggie burger. Formed from brown rice, mushrooms, carrots, and almonds, the patty is slightly sweet, not dry but not crisp either, with sporadic crunchiness from the nuts. Like the patty itself, the condiments lean toward the mild: melted jack cheese, avocado, mayo, and tomato slices, with a heap of fresh arugula and a bit of red onion, all on a buttery, soft roll that felt heavier than it needed to be. (The fries, prepared in the style of pommes frites, are tasty enough.) Though vegetarians may justifiably visit R+D Kitchen for the scene, they’re unlikely to return for the food. But, as the ever-present crowds attest, that’s probably beside the point.


M Street Kitchen

Top brassica: Brussels sprout salad (half portion)

Top brassica: Brussels sprout salad (half portion)

fixings for vegetarian tacos, with tortillas in foreground

Pain in the tacos: Tortillas, with fixings

Sweet and fudgy: The Magic Brownie

Fudgy and sweet: The Magic Brownie

Who has the best veggie burger? Back in June, the Los Angeles Times food section featured a reader’s letter describing the one at Upper West as “the best…on the planet.” Though we liked the burger a lot, we were hardly prepared to crown it with the world title (see June 16 review). The Shangri La Veggie-Nut Burger at M Street Kitchen (2000 Main Street, at Bicknell, in Santa Monica), however, seems at least to be a plausible contestant. Made from mushrooms, white beans, and onions, according to our waitress (we also tasted carrots and celery), the patty pulls off the textural coup of a crisp, brown outside paired with a moist, flavorful, non-mushy inside. Served on a toasted, buttery bun reminiscent of Upper West’s brioche, along with shredded lettuce, a slice of tomato, red onion, sweet pickle slices, and a sweet dressing, it made for an utterly scrumptious sandwich. (The accompanying coleslaw, a lightly dressed, slightly bland rendition, at least held on to a nice cabbagey crunch.) We were impressed, as well, by the brussels sprout salad, which elegantly combined the autumnal brassica, steamed, tamed of its bitterness, and broken down into individual leaves, with judicious slivers of mild, buttery Manchego cheese; almonds, for a nutty crunch; chewy dried cranberries and blueberries, for little, sweet bursts of fruit flavor; and a light, subtle honey-mustard vinaigrette. The vegetarian tacos were less remarkable: Though we liked the simplicity and wholesomeness of the white rice and black beans (albeit with a gratuitous spoonful of sour cream on top), as well as the bright, fresh guacamole and pico de gallo and the tangy, dark hot sauce, we were underwhelmed by the grilled veggies—red pepper, hot peppers, squash, and asparagus, which were apparently unseasoned as well as partially charred (for a burned flavor that we never really like). Moreover, the five small corn tortillas were not nearly enough to encompass the contents of the plate, which quickly devolved into a mess. For dessert, we chose the Magic Brownie, a generously sized chocolate square topped with chocolate sauce, with a dollop of whipped cream on the side. Though neither the brownie nor the cream was overpoweringly sweet, we would have preferred at least a hint of bitterness as a counterpoint to the sugar. We ended up cutting the rich, fudgy chewiness of the brownie with glasses of milk, which our waitress was kind enough to provide at our request (just as she had thoughtfully divided our brussels sprout salad into two plates). Though we would be inclined to avoid the tacos in the future, we would gladly return to M Street Kitchen for that memorable salad and the excellent veggie burger, both of which exhibit the extra portion of care that makes this stylish but friendly eatery extend its M to an mmmm.

Upper West

Upper class: The celebrated veggie burger

Upper class: The celebrated veggie burger

Sweet and smoky: Roasted corn soup with black-bean falafel and sumac oil

Sweet and smoky: Roasted corn soup with black bean falafel and sumac oil

Berry good: Burrata with blackberries, tomato, and chopped green apple

Silky and buttery: Burrata with blackberries, tomato, and chopped green apple

The best donuts ever

Best on the planet? Chocolate cake doughnuts

Spurred by an L.A. Times reader’s description of the veggie burger as “the best…on the planet,” we hastened tonight to Upper West in Santa Monica (3321 Pico, near the 10). Although the claim turned out to be ludicrously hyperbolic, the burger was still pretty darned good, at least as a package. The patty by itself was rather bland and mushy, with a subtle smokiness as the only real flavor marker. However, every bite that included sliced avocado and pineapple relish was quite tasty, and the soft brioche bun enhanced the overall experience, as did the crisp, thin fries and the small, piquant pile of pickled carrots, onions, and peppers served on the side. We were more impressed by our appetizers, a slightly sweet, slightly smoky roasted corn soup with black bean falafel, and vegetable carpaccio, which brilliantly juxtaposed sweet beet slices with smoky “beluga” lentils, sweet cherry tomatoes, and capers (we could have done without the goat cheese). Surprisingly, the highlight of the meal was the set of five chocolate cake doughnuts, our judicious choice for dessert. These fried dough balls, reminiscent of Dunkin Donut Munchkins but taken to a whole other level, are filled with a luscious chocolate ganache and served in a paper bag full of cinnamon and sugar, together with a mind-blowing bittersweet chocolate-rum dipping sauce and, charmingly, a small glass of cold, sweet milk. If someone had claimed that these were the best on the planet, we might actually have believed it.

Update: On a second visit (August 2), we thought the veggie burger had gotten better; the patty itself now seemed to have a subtle curry taste, and it was topped with roasted red peppers as well as avocado, pineapple relish, and tomato aioli. Sadly, the vegetable carpaccio was unavailable tonight, but we were just as impressed by our replacement appetizer, a silky, buttery chunk of burrata atop a bed of panzanella, a bread crumb salad, made in this case with blackberries, chopped green apple, blistered tomatoes, fresh basil, and a light, tangy mustard-dill vinaigrette. We loved the roasted corn soup as much as before, and the doughnuts continue to thrill and astonish.