Manhattan Beach Favorite the Strand House Celebrates 10 Years Serving the South Bay
When I first met my husband, he was living with roommates—a lot of roommates—in a rundown house in north Manhattan Beach. The roommates were mostly USC grad school classmates, with the occasional significant other thrown in for good measure, and the décor featured Trojan everything and dishware stolen from Sharkeez. As a restaurant professional from the other Manhattan, I was more than a little underwhelmed by the beach version. After our second date, I keenly remember him dropping off my Styrofoam-encased leftovers at his house before driving me home to West Hollywood. There nearly wasn’t a third date.
It took me a while to realize that the third date, when it did happen, involved dancing at a club in the same building that now houses The Strand House. I thought of that during a recent sunset dinner—exactly 19 years to the day (and two kids) later.
As the restaurant celebrates both a new chef and its 10-year anniversary, Manhattan Beach is as changed as I am. I don’t think anyone would have predicted the culinary scene that grew in the Beach Cities over the past decade. And with telecommuting firmly enshrined by the pandemic, beach dwellers are content to stay close to home. While some of the classic dive bars and taco joints are still here, many have been replaced by fine-dining outlets helmed by chefs who appreciate the lifestyle that draws families, surfers and students alike to the South Bay.
Executive chef Craig Hopson is that kind of guy. His starry Michelin résumé might have kept him in New York or Beverly Hills or San Francisco, but instead he’s cooking for Mike Zislis on the beach. The Strand House remains as packed as ever, and the menu now gently reminds guests of a two-hour time limit per reservation.
The vibe is all glass windows and ocean views and casual elegance that may mask just how attentive this chef and his team are to detail. A droll little box of Parker House rolls with softened, salted butter … a menu carefully formatted with the birthday girl’s name (mine) … tuna tartare geometrically plated with perfect precision and color. I felt like the premature ghost of the undeceased Thomas Keller was roaming about, quiet but terrifying as he scolds a line cook for a single stray herb garnish sent out askew. The food is that precise and the plates are perfect, but the atmosphere is hardly rarefied nor hushed. (The dining room is quite loud due to all those pretty, glinting surfaces.)
It’s a winning combination, although part of me felt like some of the finer points of the food were lost on nearby tables that were obviously more about the cocktails—and a lot of them. Bar manager Makala Meyer has an exceptional list of spirits, and the mixed drinks are plentiful. Wine selections are solid, but there are still a lot of corporate, name-brand wines available for folks who prefer to drink what they already know. A glass of Laurent-Perrier Champagne and some very good pinot noir from my friend Greg La Follette fit the bill for me.
Dinner highlights included a beautiful, summery burrata with rhubarb, purslane, mint and chiles—the colors again carefully integrated with taste and texture. I was mightily tempted to break my “absolutely no pictures during dinner” rule just to capture this pretty plate.
Ōra King salmon finished with miso vinaigrette and tempura zucchini blossoms was a lovely, light choice for August temps as well. Weightier but no less delicious was the absolutely perfect duck breast with confit leg, pickled ramps and hazelnut vinaigrette. That duck and the La Follette pinot were a match made in heaven.
Chef Hopson’s savory skills are complemented by executive pastry chef Steven Puga’s desserts. His key lime tart with caramelized pineapple and mango coconut gelée was incredible, as was the white chocolate banana crémeux. Verve coffee and a great collection of nightcaps make that two-hour time limit a challenge to enforce.
The Strand House is not just “still good.” It’s actually better than it’s ever been, so don’t be daunted by long wait times or the casual beach location. Take off your Havaianas and dress up a bit. The Strand House is executing extraordinarily great food, all with a welcoming front-of-the-house vibe that feels a lot like Manhattan Beach itself—laid-back and fun, if expensive. I can’t wait to see what Hopson creates as TSH moves into its second decade.