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The Malibu Report: Dinner and Dessert

It’s been a long time since I dined in the same restaurant two consecutive nights just because the first night was so good. But Savory—a restaurant just up the beach from the Malibu Colony in Southern California—called for an encore when I visited earlier this month.

I had to wait for the Pacific Coast Highway to re-open after the rains subsided in Southern California to find what friends described as the best new restaurant in Los Angeles. Well, not exactly in Los Angeles, but in the same county, not far from the pricy beachfront homes of the Malibu Colony.

Savory is about a 25-minute drive from Santa Monica. But it’s a drive well worth taking to sample the American cooking of Chef Paul Shoemaker. In a warmly lit, small dining room, Shoemaker—who used to cook at LA’s best downtown fish place, the Water Grill—uses local ingredients to turn out smashing plates that will spoil you.

It’s a pleasure to see a menu that only has about 18 selections, including starters and main courses. (Oh, there are three or four desserts, too.) But what selections! It was the sea urchin pasta that brought me back for a second night. Fresh uni harvested along the coast combined with a perfect swirl of pasta for one of the richest, most pleasurable dishes I’ve ever tasted. It’s a starter that could suffice as a meal thanks to its opulent flavor.

You can’t go wrong with the Jidori chicken with mushroom risotto. “Jidori” is Japanese for “chicken of the earth,” but for Americans, it’s the latest way to identify free-range chicken. This entrée looked deceptively simple, but to my mouth, the chicken might as well have been raised on a diet of 100 percent butter, and the accompanying risotto was perfectly done.

If I’d had a third night, I would have sampled the short rib with celery root and Swiss chard. But I’m happy to report I tried all four of that night’s desserts and found none lacking. I’d rank them in this order of preference: a blueberry tart with a side of homemade blueberry ice cream, chocolate bread pudding, crème fraiche cheesecake and a banana split. Don’t avoid that latter because I placed it at No. 4; it’s a world-beating banana split!

Savory is primarily a restaurant for locals. Residents have few nearby, fine-dining establishments—despite the affluence of many people with a Malibu mailing address. When we arrived, the hostess was impressed that we’d driven “all the way from LA.”

“Everyone dining here tonight has a [Screen Actors Guild] card,” remarked my dining companion, wine and food writer, and Los Angeles resident Anthony Dias Blue. That was probably an overstatement. However, on the second night, we sat next to a corner booth occupied by Brad Garrett—from Everybody Loves Raymond—who canoodled with a tall, lithe, blonde date. And the Southern California good looks of other diners suggested they could be ready for their close-ups at a moment’s notice.

If you don’t opt for dessert at Savory, stop for ice cream at a Malibu gelateria that just opened. It’s on the drive back to LA, about 10 minutes back down the Pacific Coast Highway on the left, in the Malibu Country Mart. I can’t say much for the name, Grom, but it’s probably the most expensive ice cream I’ve ever bought over the counter. It’s $5.25 for a modest scoop. But a little scoop will suffice. It’s that rich.

Founded in Italy, where the company boasts more than 40 outlets, Grom just landed on the West Coast from New York, where ice cream aficionados swear by it. I had the dark chocolate with a second scoop of cappuccino, and I think every sweet taste bud did a little dance. The ice cream is shipped from Italy, and pretty photographs of strawberry fields and other farmland on Grom’s walls tout that the chain uses only fresh, organic ingredients.

Malibu can be quiet on winter nights, but now there are two places that make venturing out worthwhile.

Photos courtesy of savorymalibu.com and Grom

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About Rudy Maxa

Rudy Maxa

Rudy Maxa is host and executive producer of the public television travel series, Rudy Maxa's World. The 78 episodes he has hosted have won numerous awards, including a 2008 regional Emmy for his episode "Rajasthan." He's a contributing editor with National Geographic Traveler magazine and has written for a host of national travel magazines and newspapers. For nearly 15 years he offered consumer travel commentary on public radio's business show Marketplace as "The Savvy Traveler," which was also the name of a one-hour, coast-to-coast weekend show on public radio that he co-created and hosted for four years. Prior to his career as a travel writer and broadcaster, Maxa was an award-winning Washington Post investigative reporter, magazine writer, and columnist for 13 years, during which time his reporting was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. He was a senior writer at The Washingtonian magazine and Washington, D.C., bureau chief of Spy magazine. The author of two non-fiction books, Maxa lives in downtown St. Paul, Minnesota.