There are outdoor dining streets opening all over Southern California — Colorado Boulevard in Old Pasadena, The Commons at Calabasas in the San Fernando Valley and, most notably, here in the South Bay, on Catalina Avenue in Redondo Beach and Sartori Avenue in Old Torrance.
There’s also El Segundo, where the restaurant streets are many — beginning with Main Street, which offers convenient parking (thank you for that!) and a wide assortment of outdoor options.
Most notable of which may be Sausal (219 Main St., El Segundo; 310-322-2721, www.sausal.com), which takes up a fair amount of Main Street real estate, stretching a distance down the block for those thirsty for the restaurant’s many colorful cocktails, and Nuevo Rancho Cuisine, defined as “wood fire, smoke and slow-roasting…celebrates the bold flavors of Mexican cuisine in combination with the elemental flavors of Spain…and just as importantly, it revels in contemporary bounty…” In other words, Old Californian/Modern Californian.
The name Sausal comes from the Rancho Sausal Redondo, a farm that once occupied most of the South Bay. Those early Californians might have recognized dishes like the long-cooked beef brisket barbacoa, the red mole braised lamb, the chicken pozole, the beef and goat birria. But otherwise, the menu would be a mystery to them. And the mixed drinks would almost surely leave them wondering if they had spent too much time without sombreros in the hot summer sun.
The drinks go well with the Angry Mussels (chorizo, garlic and chili broth), the ceviche mixto (wild Mexican white shrimp, calamari and ling cod), and the several very tasty tacos — beef brisket, pork carnitas, chicken tinga, potato rajas and crispy cod. There’s a duck leg and chanterelle tamale, bringing back memories of St. Estephe, and a Sausalito Burger — beef or turkey with pepper jack, crushed avocado, thousand island dressing, cilantro onion relish, sweet potato fries.
If you want to live large, there’s a prime New York steak with chimichurri sauce, and a grilled striped bass. And yes, there’s a kale, quinoa and blackberry salad because, well, there has to be.
In a mini-mall adjacent to Sausal, you’ll find the totally minimalist Jame Enoteca (241 Main St., El Segundo; 310-648-8554, www.eatjame.com), where there are, by comparison, just a handful of tables. And just a handful of dishes as well. But the pasta here is so sublime, it’s worth the possible competition for a seat.
There are seven pastas for lunch, eight for dinner, with plenty of overlap. Should you develop an obsession with the lasagna with a “Hollywood” ragu (which seems to mean extra meaty), it’s served at dinner only. As well lasagna should be — a proper lasagna will leave you in no shape at all to return to work for the afternoon. But mostly, the pastas overlap, though they may be a bit simpler at lunch than at dinner.
The bavette — a ribbon pasta that’s like tagliatelle, only narrower — appears on the lunch menu with a rock shrimp ragu, and on the dinner menu with the same rock shrimp ragu, but also with a stretchy straciatella cheese, which costs $4 extra at lunchtime.
But the ricotta gnocchi, with its house-cured pastrami “lardons,” is at both meals. As is the scarpinocc, which looks a bit like candy bonbons, rolled in plastic, with a twist on either end. It’s stuffed with braised beef cheeks, and flavored with 12-year-old balsamic, brown butter and sage. It’s pure heaven.
Many of the dishes are a revelation, a joy to behold. I had actually ordered the pappardelle with braised pork by mistake, intending to get the tagliatelle ragu. When it arrived, I opted to keep it — bird in the hand and all that. And glad I was too, for my daughter declared it her favorite new food, and wanted to know when we could have it again. And bless her for that.
And then, just across Main Street from Sausal and Jame, there’s Brewport Taphouse & Kitchen (204 Main St., El Segundo, 310-648-8972, www.brewporttaphouse.com), where the sudsy selections are many, and apparently change with some regularity — though goodness knows, with 48 beers to choose from, you should be well occupied for several sudsy visits.
There are larger glasses, and smaller glasses in tasting racks for those who want to go for flights — or at least small tastes. During a recent visit, I had had 3.2 ounces of California Dream, 2.2 ounces of Little Bo Pils, 3.5 ounces of Tart ‘n’ Juicy, and 3.4 ounces of Orange Wheat. And that left dozens more to sample.
But Brewport isn’t just a Taphouse — as the name tells us, it’s a Kitchen too, of well-chosen, very tasty stuff. With the exception of the large plate of a Kurobuta pork chops, served with purple cabbage and apple compote, and onion rings; and the seafood brodo (a soup with halibut, scallops and prawns served in fish bone sauce and a toasted baguette), the dishes are small, grazing food, good for sharing with whomever you’re bending an elbow with.
There also are gastropub culinary touchstones that must be included — like wings and fries — even those are served with a twist or three. The wings, for instance, are made with the much loved Mary’s Chicken, flavored with a dark black barbecue sauce that causes much mischief if it gets on your clothing, and with a hot and sour mustard for dipping — no blue cheese dressing with celery sticks here.
The fries aren’t so much fries, as they are smashed fingerling spuds, cooked till crisp, topped with parmesan, with a gorgonzola and tarragon sauce. Ketchup? Who needs it? What you do need are any of the unexpected selection of veggie dishes — the wonderful roasted heirloom carrots and fennel; the broccoli in a chili garlic sauce served with a soft boiled egg atop; the baby beets with blood orange marmalade; the roasted cauliflower with lebneh yogurt; the baby Brussels sprouts with manchego cheese.
Do they go with beer? I guess. Beer goes with everything, say I.
Merrill Shindler is a Los Angeles-based freelance dining critic. Email email@example.com.