Rice cake ‘gnocchi’



Chef Nick Erven delivers a highly creative, plant-based vision to Santa Monica

By Joshua Lurie

An in-your-face painting of Mick Jagger making out with Ghandi greets visitors to this modern restaurant in Santa Monica, where chef Nick Erven has joined forces with Eric Greenspan, Jim Hustead, and James Moon to create a new experience in the space formerly occupied by vegan stalwart Real Food Daily. Though dishes at LA restaurants that focus on plant-based cuisine often look like the results of some kind of hardship experiment, Erven’s inspired creations instead project an air of vibrant abundance.

A market up front touts grab-and-go sandwiches, salads, and pastries, while at the dining room’s rust-colored banquettes, each meal starts with a dish of spiced peanuts, corn nuts, and wasabi peas with sesame seeds and lime zest. From there, you choose your own chlorophyll adventure.

At lunch, the beet salad is particularly satisfying, featuring roasted red and golden beets mixed with shaved raw beets, plus crispy black lentils, arugula, pickled red onions, and spicy ginger-curry dressing all grounded in creamy avocado puree. Knobby roasted sunchokes with Catalan style ketchup and lashings of garlic puree are also stellar.

Dinner brings more composition and variety. Soft rectangles of black garlic–chickpea fritters come dressed with zesty yuzu and togarashi, and the bitter greens falafel involve torn fritters with crisp crusts and supple green cores. Apricot-ginger mostarda, savory dried olive, and smoked paprika help to balance the plate.
The most impactful large plate involves pleasantly chewy, house-made green onion spaghetti served in a tangy, savory broth of vegemite, white soy, yuzu, dashi, and brewer’s yeast. An array of brassicas complete the hearty bowl, including greens, Brussels sprouts, Romanesco, and cauliflower.

Without butter at her disposal, pastry chef Andrea Shirey—who has worked with chef Erven for the past six years—utilizes interesting alternatives, substituting a nut and coconut oil emulsion into biscuits, or folding tofu into the star dessert, a carrot cake topped with burnt orange icing and pecans.

A global list of organic and biodynamic wines is divided into three distinct categories by characteristic—floral, fruit, and wood—the better to pair with Erven’s dishes. Since the chef considers himself ADD, everything in this review may soon vanish from the menu, but that surprise and delight is part of what makes Erven so exciting.

Beet salad (photo credit: Joshua Lurie)

BBE exclusive prix fixe menus

$15 per person for your choice of:
One sandwich
One soup
One cookie

$35 per person for your choice of:
One small plate
One medium plate
One large plate
One dessert


Dinner: Sun–Thu 5PM – 10PM; Fri–Sat 5 PM–11 PM
Lunch: 11 AM–3 PM daily

price range

$16 (beer-battered tofu sandwich) to $19 (green onion cavatelli pasta)