If for no other reason than the fact that it completely transports guests to a sunny fantasyland, Summer House Santa Monica should be at the top of your dining list this winter. The whitewashed, beachy-chic California import beats diners over the head with SoCal verve, from the decor to the food, and what a welcome beating it is. Because it's such a thrill to sit in lifeguard chairs and pretend you're a cast member on Baywatch while tucking into Summer House's vibrant American fare and pretending snow only exists in our nightmares. The best time to embrace these sentiments is at weekend brunch, a new addition to the Summer House portfolio. True to form, the Lettuce Entertain You spot puts a sunny stamp on dishes that are sure to transport you to the toasty shores of Santa Monica.
Nothing personifies SoCal cuisine quite like a breakfast burrito. At least that's what I tell myself, imagining bikini-clad beach-goers chowing down on egg-stuffed tortillas. Summer House offers a couple breakfast burrito options, and unsurprisingly the better of the two is the one that doesn't include tofu chorizo. The sunrise burrito ($10.95) is a straightforward mix of scrambled eggs, spinach, cheddar, avocado, lettuce, and pico de gallo, but in this wintry black hole we call Chicago, even the most standard of breakfast burritos is an oral vacation. In this case, the wheaty flavor of the tortilla provides a pleasant nutty contrast to the rich medley of egg, cheese, and avocado, all of which comes to life when splashed with some of the adjoining smoky salsa.
The thing about the pancakes at Summer House is they are so light you'd think they were diet-friendly. As airy as they may be, these things are decadent, especially when I wind up eating an entire tin of lemon curd to accompany it. The lemon-cottage cheese pancakes ($8.95) are a refreshing departure from the flapjack norm, enlivened with citrus and tenderized with cottage cheese. You can't really taste much of the cheese, which is a bummer for cottage cheese-lovers such as myself, but it certainly makes a difference texture-wise, with just a spritz of tanginess. It's a whole new ball game when you smear on lemon curd, though. I have a real weakness for lemon curd. I distinctly remember my lemon curd lesson in culinary school, making a whopping batch of it, and taking it home to eat by the spoonful. My obsession has not dissipated.
Brunch at Summer House is not complete without one of their exemplary housemade English muffins ($2.95). Larger and fluffier than most English muffins, these doughy discs are what breakfast breads should aspire to. They're buttery without being too heavy, and when spread with preserves (apricot for mine) and soft butter, they become the sleeper hit of the brunch menu.
Now that that damn Punxsutawney Phil has condemned us all to several more weeks of frigid hell, it's more important than ever to find an escape. The warming confines of Summer House Santa Monica are just the trick, especially when enriched with breakfast burritos and lemony pancakes.