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Feb 2, 2009 02:01 PM

Bistro 31 in Santa Monica - A Real Treat!

If you have not tried Bistro 31 at the Art Institute in Santa Monica I advise going as soon as you have a free Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday evening.
The culinary students cook and serve the food and it is a pleasant experience. Most of the dishes are very good. Try to sit near the glass enclosed kitchen for a fun show. The prices are very low for the Westside. They are only open Mon, Tues and Wed for lunch and dinner. The address is 2900 31st Street (off of Ocean Park) and the phone # is 310 314-6057. I have enjoyed several lunches and dinners there. The ingredients are very fresh and it is wonderful to watch how hard these students try. You never know where they may end up cooking! They take reservations and the hours and days change each season.

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  1. I went not too long ago and I gotta agree with your assessment. Great fun and a great value. Have you compared it to Bistro 561?

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    1. Based on this and the kevin eats posts, a friend and I tried Bistro 31 for lunch yesterday. I can definitely say that it was interesting, and everyone I met was very hardworking and friendly. But my experience was much more mixed.

      Both me and my friend ordered the burger, and our server was careful to ask how we'd like them cooked. Only a few minutes later a manager emerged to inform us that it was the end of the school quarter, and they were out of the burger. They were also out of the pasta, leaving only a couple of other items on the lunch menu. My friend chose the salmon burger, I selected the shortribs and they accommodated me choosing alternate sides. And the sides were excellent -- some really crunchy breadcrumb onion rings and some amazingly thinsliced potato chips, fried to a very delicate crisp golden brown. He liked his salmon, which was almost more a filet than a ground burger. Unfortunately my shortribs were inedible -- tough, overcooked, burned, never should have come close to making their way out of a restaurant kitchen onto a customer's plate.

      I understand that this is a learning environment. It is a nice space, sunny windows, glass-walled kitchen, once you can find the correct building in the industrial park south of Ocean Park and west of 31st, with individually-addressed buildings without signs or other guides. Beware of the prices on the website vs. the menu -- the cheeseburger on the lunch website menu went for $3.95, but the sold out Bistro Burger on yesterday's lunch menu was $6.99. They very nicely provided complimentary "amuses" of shotglasses of the potato-leek soup when we explained how difficult it was to find the correct restaurant and how they needed a map or diagram, and how my phone call had gone to an answer machine rather than a person -- and then someone realized I had ordered the same soup as a starter, so they very correctly asked so that I could cancel it. They nicely offered desserts, so we tried their pineapple "chop" in caramel sauce with ice cream, but the roasted pineapple was served in slices still on the rind, without a knife, making the roasted hardened pineapple almost impossible to eat -- an interesting idea in need of better execution -- especially when the warm caramel hardened into candy when cooled by the ice cream. Well, they now have a few weeks to work things out before reopening with a new academic term into April.

      Positives: Nice space, hardworking people, sunny day, good walk, some tasty sides, comps galore, ambitious menu. Negatives: Higher prices than posted, execution, missing items.

        On the basis of the above reviews, SO and I decided to try Bistro 31 today. We had several disappointments: The restaurant is closed for finals until April 7 AND when they reopen, they will no longer be serving lunch, only dinners on Tuesday, Wednesday and THURSDAY. So, new schedule, new menu. We only found all this out after driving down there and plugging $2 into a meter!

        2 Replies
        1. re: mnosyne

          sorry you learned the hard time:

          "let your fingers do the walking"

          1. re: mnosyne

            I work across the street. The place is great and I enjoy supporting the institute, but if coming from somewhere out of the neighborhood you should definitely call first to see what the hours are. 310-314-6057. Also try to go later in the semester when the kitchen seems to be producing higher quality eats. It's spotty at times, but I have had some amazing stuff there.

          2. talk about "your mileage may vary." i've had a couple of good (not great meals) there, and a couple of HORRIBLE ones... it all depends on how experienced the students are at the time, and also how much attention they're paying to detail.

            highlights: price is great, and it's a lot of fun to have a 5 course meal for about 30 bucks. some of the students and instructors have great attitudes.

            lowlights: completely raw leg of venison (they seared it but didn't finish it in the oven), menu items that don't come out at all like their description (particularly desserts), and the time that 2 of us ordered steak au poivre medium rare prepared tableside (they brought out 2 steaks, one of which was double the thickness of the other, and cooked them simultaneously. needless to say, one got rare, and the other got well done). also, incompetent service (hey, it's cooking school, not waitressing school).

            2 Replies
            1. re: Bert

              Does one send the food back in these lowlight cases? Or is it just luck of the draw given the low price and known novice factor?

              1. re: TracyS

                My feeling is that you have to send it back. I have done so when they brought out a salad that was drowning in dressing. They are there to learn and by confronting them on their errors it would do them a great service.