Executive chef John-Carlos Kuramoto and Michael McCarty, owner of Michael’s Restaurant. Photo by Westside People
Michael McCarty, owner of Michael’s Restaurant in Santa Monica, simply loves to entertain. You can tell as he greets customers that come in for lunch. “Hey buddy, don’t get into trouble,” he says to one. “Hello my dear, I knew that was you on the books,” to another.
He says he got it from his parents, who enjoyed having friends over to their home in a New York City suburb. Michael’s father he describes as a Mad Men-type who worked for General Electric. Later on trips to Italy and France he got a taste of a new culture, which led to a love of food and cooking.
Now more than three decades later in the restaurant business and Michael’s story is in many ways the story of the new American food movement, that of fresh local ingredients and a style of its own.
“In 1979, if you asked for the best restaurant it would be a classical French restaurant,” Michael says. “Then they had continental cuisine. Not many Americans were in the business. We were called California cuisine because the regional food movement hadn’t begun in those days.”
So what exactly is it?
“It’s our version of good food,” Michael says. “We wanted to create something new and modern and fundamentally based on French cooking.”
In 1975, McCarty ran a farm that produced foie gras and organic vegetables. He says it was at that time he hatched the idea for a restaurant.
“We had to go get the farmers. We didn’t have the luxury of a farmers market. We had to bring the seeds in,” he says.
In 1979, he opened Michael’s Restaurant in Santa Monica. It wasn’t until 1989 that he found the perfect spot in New York City and opened his second location, and both spots are thriving today.
Vanilla beignets with mascarpone ice cream.
On a recent afternoon, Michael showed off the restaurant’s new floor plan and expanded menu that’s helped to lower prices and make the atmosphere more lively. Six months after the changes, Michael says the restaurant tripled its customers.
“Everything in the old menu is on the new menu, but where there used to be eight appetizers and eight main courses, there are now 48 items and you can mix and match,” Michael says.
Executive Chef John-Carlos Kuramoto, age 25, showed off his version of the In ’N Out burger. But Michael’s double-double is made from ground brisket, short rib and chuck topped with homemade American cheese, oven-roasted tomatoes, butter lettuce and onions caramelized in duck fat. Needless to say it’s unbelievable.
“It’s so rich and that’s balanced out, but you also get this richness that comes with the duck fat,” John-Carlos says. “I’m hoping for a lot of complexity in the burger.”
Rounding out the meal are truffle fries with Parmesan aoli and the green eggs and ham asparagus. This unique take on a nursery rhyme classic combines Zuckerman Farms giant asparagus with Serrano ham and a fried egg with a spinach emulsion to give it coloring. And for dessert, vanilla beignets.
On the menu:
“Green Eggs and Ham” $16
White and Green Aparagus, Serrano Ham, Beurre Blanc, Green Egg