Another snowy day has hit the DC area, and we’re all feeling a bit weary of the cold and the annoying interruptions to our regularly-scheduled activities. I’m channeling the sunshine by writing about dinner at Summer House Santa Monica, a new restaurant at Pike and Rose center in North Bethesda. This is a place that feels like it belongs at the beach, and this is a good thing, particularly when the winter doldrums are at their height.
One of the most surprising things about Summer House Santa Monica is that there isn’t a location in California. What it does bring is a “California-style concept….a laid-back friendly vibe.” Summer House channels California with monochromatic beige tones, wicker chairs, industrial/modern lighting, and high ceilings giving it an appropriately airy feel. The restaurant comes to the area via Lettuce Entertain You, a Chicago-based company that has also brought us Joe’s Seafood, Prime Steak & Stone Crab, and Wildfire. It’s sister restaurant, Stella Barra Pizzeria, recently opened adjacent to Summer House.
It’s a new restaurant, and so there are a few kinks to work out. We waited 30 minutes for our reserved table. I overhear the waiter offer the couple next to us free appetizers as an apology for their wait. The reception area has a frantic feel, and the crowds mean that the noise level is on the very high end of the scale.
The menu at Summer House skews to the casual with sushi, salads, and sandwiches ranging from $10 – $20. It’s also possible to go more upscale with seafood and steaks, ranging from $22 to $36.
While the summer decor is welcome, we’re more in the mood for food that is warm and comforting. Summer House delivers right off the bat with an order of warm, crispy biscuits served with roasted poblana honey. Two ample biscuits easily serve four, although a friend tells me that she finds the biscuits rather skimpy considering their cost ($7.95 for two).
Fresh creamy burrata with slow cooked tomato jam is cool and satisfying. We don’t finish it immediately, and have to repeatedly swat away restaurant employees who are determined to remove it from our table. We understand their attempt at efficiency, but no means no.
Tender ancho-marinated Amish chicken is a perfect protein for tacos accompanied by black beans, rice, guacamole, two flavors of salsa, and corn tortillas. I’m more than satisfied with the portion size, but a friend who dines here on a separate occasion remarks that her pasta dish is on the skimpy side.
The delicate pan seared rainbow trout is nicely complimented by a bed of cheesy nutty mash potatoes. This is a favorite of another friend who reports back after her first visit to Summer House.
Vegetable dishes are largely the usual suspects: kale, cauliflower, beets, and brussels sprouts. Roasted cauliflower with jalapeno pesto, parmesan, candied lemon, and breadcrumbs is a real winner, with a bold taste that will beckon me back for more. I’m also intrigued by butternut squash steak. Next time.
I almost wish that I hadn’t discovered the appeal of the housemade cookies and English muffins. The baked goods fill a case at the front of the restaurant, nestled squarely between Summer House and Stella Barra. Cookie flavors include salted caramel, chocolate chip topped with marshmallows, and gingersnaps. I think I spy a cookie topped with bacon, but I try to ignore that one. My advice- don’t ignore the cookies. We are gifted with a package containing two English muffins, in celebration of the launching of brunch at Summer House. I have to agree with Becky Krystal of The Washington Post. I love the sourdough flavor. (See her article below. )
It may be cold outside, but as a Montgomery County dweller and diner, I give a warm welcome to Summer House Santa Monica. I predict this will become a local favorite in the burgeoning Pike and Rose center. It’s the perfect remedy for those wintertime blues.
Summer House Santa Monica, 11825 Grand Park Avenue, N. Bethesda (Rockville), MD
Washington Post article by Becky Krystal, Seriously, these are some of the best English muffins we’ve ever tried.”