Ellen in Lalaland: Escape to Santa Monica

I escaped to Fia on a Sunday evening, where things were bustling, even as Los Angeles was poised to drift away in torrential downpours. Italian via California eats n’ drinks were the draw for my drifting into the bougie-beachy vibe-scape of Santa Monica, which has medium plus notes of casual seaside posh, textured with medium minus hints of grit, even if it’s just the sand in your toes. The voyage to Fia starts at the entrance, an alley lined with driftwood that opens to a patio adorned with trees strung with twinkling lights. If the atmosphere outside doesn’t warm you enough, there is the dining room proper, where Persian rugs and marble tables feel ornate and rustic-lodge cozy all at once. The patrons are varied; they may be dressed up, or in athleisure, of young or old age, enjoying family dinners, or on hopeful dates. Moreover, the women’s restroom is full of sepia thirst trap photos of Languishing Women, and I am here for it. While narrowing down the twenty million things we wanted to order, wine director Chris Yeazel started us with a glass of Bernard Gaucher Rosé Champagne , dry enough to slake our thirst, and ripe enough to pique our palates for more. He asked what we were thinking, wine-wise, for the meal, but I relish a chance to let someone else guide the way, particularly as he had shaped the wine list. Our wine fate was in his hands. It was an easy decision to hand him the reins seeing as there’s a lot to choose from, including lots of the…oh, let’s call them the Important Wines. The Cru Classé Bordeaux , the Burg, the Barolo—even Opus One by the glass if you don’t mind dropping some dough. But sprinkled in amongst the big boys are some exciting and unusual Italian entries, like a white made of Aglianico , a Vermentino/Chardonnay blend, and even (gasp) some orange wines. As for the food… The burrata starter could double as dessert or a still life. It’s a gorgeous arrangement of a poached pear, burrata atop an oat cake, and a curl of speck on the side that my meat eating dining companion graciously took down for me. The pear tasted like Christmas—sweet, spiced with clove, allspice, cinnamon, and red wine. The oatcake, also somewhat sweet and augmented with currents, maintains savory chew enough to keep up with the burrata. The dish would be at home as an opener, a finisher, or both. It hits on all the savory and sweet cylinders. My official meat taster friend (every vegetarian food writer needs one) nobly took down the spicy salmon tartare cones, as well as the spicy chili tuna on crispy arancini. The latter piles the tuna on arancini—essentially fried balls of risotto—creating a Euro riff on the popular spicy tuna on crispy rice bite. As for the cones, they are topped with avocado mousse and salmon caviar, filled with salmon roe, and make for delicate ever so dainty spicy nibbles and also, damn they are photogenic. Let me be clear, whether they mean to be or not (and we are in LA, so I can only imagine it is at least not something they try NOT to do) Fia is a thoroughly Instagram-able joint. We’d requested that these first three dishes (burrata, cones, spicy tuna arancini) be served as a first course, and with them Yeazel poured a Vermentino dominated blend, with a hint of Chardonnay lending richness to floral, saline, and mineral notes. It had acid to cut through the dish’s richness, and a sapid nature that perked my stomach’s interest for the courses to come. The next course was the handmade cavatelli/parmesan/ brown butter/shaved truffle dish, an obvious delight as like, hmmmm the mere sight of a truffle being sheered onto your food at the table is a turn on. I’m a full-blown slut for truffles and I’ll welcome them anywhere. With it, Yeazel poured Burgundy , a 2015 Maison Saint Vivant Nuits-Saint-Georges 1er Cru Aux Bousselots. The pairing was infallible—the pasta has the right chew, and the brown butter:parmesan:truffle ratio in the pasta harmonized with the wine’s fall forest floor weight and bright acidity. Unstoppable. Our last round of food had big main course energy—a vegan lasagna, a cauliflower extravaganza, and the Beef Wellington. They were accompanied by another one of the Surprise, It’s From Italy! Wines, an Italian GSM (Grenache/Syrah/Mourvedre) blend which gave big Rhône feels in the glass, standing up to the variety and oomph of the savories. The char-grilled cauliflower, served atop hummus, sauced to the nth degree, and finished with sweet and sour pistachios, was a conundrum, and beautifully so. Honestly the cauliflower was nearly irrelevant, but I have no complaints. It was spicy and sweet, creamy and crunchy and seriously…they could just send the accoutrements with a bread to dip? I literally cannot convey the array of textures and also the fun of composing many different bites, mixing and matching components—every forkful is a delicious adventure. As for the lasagna, I typically go into this casserole (yes, I consider it a casserole and that is not necessarily an insult) with suspicion, my complaint being that all too often lasagna noodles are slimy and/or the layers a slippery-sliding mess. But Fia’s vegan iteration nails balance. The nut-based bechamel brings laid back nutmeg aromas, and the filling draws out chill fennel, and it all is somehow hearty but also…refreshing? Especially when you snare a bit of the accompanying radicchio to go with your bite. My meat taster/friend reported back on the Beef Wellington. In between bites of the bacon-wrapped asparagus and forks of the dish proper, they explained that the asparagus had the right measure of herbaceous crunch versus bacon-y unctuous fun and…all was well, all was welcome. So, dessert…normally I don’t want to eat it right after my savories, but the tiramisu is an architectural joy. It comes in one of those chimneys where someone lifts the outward lining off, revealing layers of filling bathing in newly released sauces and…omg there was gelato on top. How can one resist? One cannot. We were very happy. As we ordered so much, and the serving sizes are not stingy, we ended up with a fair amount of food to take with us. My main request to my selfless dining companion was that I be the one taking the cavatelli. For quality control—and it prove to be nearly as delightful, in terms of flavor, eaten on my couch—so very worth it. So was the night. Escape from DTLA, mission accomplished. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------ Want to read more from Ellen? Check out her recent articles: Add Sugar to Your Heart Big Barolo Energy What to Drink When You’re Not Drinking RAW and Natural Wine: Chilled, Unfined, Unfiltered You can also listen to Ellen's podcast , The Wine Situation here . Check out her recent transcripts of the Final Five questions: Wine Situation Final Five! Bella Crimson Wine Situation Final Five! Dan Ahdoot

Three Sticks

Cuvée Eva Marie Sonoma Mountain Pinot Noir 2015

Gift from Caroline. Loved it. It was a thinking wine for sure! Had with cavatelli with braised short ribs. — 2 years ago

C. Cole
with C.
Amy, C. and 1 other liked this
C. Cole

C. Cole

Thrilled you enjoyed another favorite wine from a fabulous winery. Hope we’ll be able to visit it together some time when you’re in the Bay Area!

Poggio al Casone

Castellani La Cattura Toscana Teroldego Syrah 2016

Notes of deep cherry, sweet tart nose!! Soft but nicely balanced . Excellent with veggie lasagna. — 3 years ago

Agricola San Felice

Chianti Classico Sangiovese Blend 2017

Although described as a light bodied wine it is surprisingly flourished with flavor. Phenomenal accoutrement to a thick Bolognese or a squid ink and clam. Perfect for your transition from spring to summer or pasta to tiramisu — 5 years ago

Ryan liked this

Eléonore Moreau

Petit Chablis Chardonnay 2020

A truly lovely Chablis with subtle pear and green apple notes, strong minerality and hints of chalk and maybe some flint. We paired it with a cavatelli-mushroom dish. Perfect. — 2 years ago

Aaron, Severn and 6 others liked this


Nice photo!🥂


Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon 2015

Paired with burrata, heirloom tomatoes, baby artichokes, tuna tartare. Ricotta Cavatelli with tomato sauce, trofie, red snapper, skirt steak, steamed spinach, grilled asparagus — 3 years ago

Beth Eddie Dukes
with Beth and Eddie
Rob liked this
Eddie Dukes

Eddie Dukes

What an evening!

Bernard Gaucher

Brut Champagne Blend Rosé

Bernard gaucherie brut rose. nice crisp. Acidic. Lemon peel. Nice aperitif wine. — 9 years ago

Gary liked this

Fattoria di Basciano

Chianti Rùfina Sangiovese Blend 2018

An entry level Rufina, but so QPR in a medium bodied 95 % Sangiovese 5% Colorino blend. Drank over 3 days, & it kept on giving. Dark red fruits like ripe plum with bay leaf in the background; medium acidity with a fantastically chewy mouthfeel, almost grainy. For 11$ & change on sale, high return QPR. Matched perfectly w roasted carrot & Brussel sprouts lasagna — 3 years ago

Severn, Tom and 6 others liked this

La Spinetta

Gallina Barbera d'Alba 1998

Bit of a revelation for someone who’s never loved Barbera. Smokey, plenty of fruit, some forest floor. Excellent acid & length. Drank with burrata ravioli & salsiccia. Lovely. — 3 years ago

Severn liked this

Château de la Mulonniere

L'effet Papillon Savennières Chenin Blanc 2013

Fruity and light perfect pairing with light meals. Had it with a tiramisu and it brought a good balance to the chocolate flavor — 5 years ago

Alex, Peter and 1 other liked this