Doma Kitchen broadens and blossoms in Manhattan Beach
by Richard Foss
Creative people are by definition unpredictable, and sometimes go through phases in which their work transforms and leaves their fans confused. When Bob Dylan went electric and Picasso discovered surrealism, many among their followers sputtered, “But I liked what you did before!”
This occasionally happens with chefs too, usually when someone known for classic cuisine goes modern. There’s a textbook case of this going on at Doma Kitchen, which served Central Asian food at their modest Redondo Beach café, but has evolved into a stylish contemporary bistro in their new location in Manhattan Beach.
The difference is so great that at times it’s hard to believe the same chef and owners are involved. At the old place, diners ordered at a counter and ate outdoors, feasting on simple crepes, the noodle soup called lagman, sandwiches, and homemade pastries. All of these were strongly influenced by the flavors of Ukraine and Uzbekistan, and featured spice combinations that were at times reminiscent of mild Indian curries.
Where the old restaurant was rustic, the new one is stylish and modern, and the menu has changed drastically. A few of the old favorites are here, such as the borscht, homemade potato dumplings, and Ukrainian rice pilaf called plov. What’s new is that than half of the menu is global and Mediterranean-influenced – you can get charcuterie, a quinoa or Nicoise salad, braised beef short ribs, and other modern items. The restaurant was closed for over six months, and it appears that they spent the entire time brushing up on current trends and figuring out how to fuse them with what they were already doing.
When this works, it’s excellent. The lamb is served on metal skewers rather than being roasted gyro-style as it was at the old place, but the cumin, pepper, and garlic mix is still delicious. It’s a small portion of meat for the price, but as it’s served with onions sprinkled with dill and hot bread it’s a worthwhile starter for two. The housemade pickled vegetables are new and excellent, the cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, and sauerkraut lightly sour with a hint of garlic and herbs.
Those items are all more or less traditional, which can’t be said of the beet pesto spread topped with goat cheese. It’s an unlikely fusion item but startlingly good, the roasted beets a smoky and sweet counterpoint to the basil, garlic, and cheese. My dining companion on the day I ordered this usually doesn’t like beets but wolfed it down, and we mopped every last bit from the sides of the jar.
Another novelty that is worth investigating is their Bavarian-style garlic bread – dark seeded bread with a hefty shot of garlic, served cold with a yogurt and horseradish sauce. This is an interesting but polarizing item – you love it or hate it. I enjoy the way the flavorful, chewy dark bread goes with the pungent dipping sauces, but people who expect a baguette with a wisp of garlic butter are in for a surprise.
Doma has wine and beer at their new location, and the selection is remarkable. Not for the number of offerings – there are nineteen wines and a dozen beers – but for the eclectic choices. The beers include a Belgian sour, Icelandic porter, and local IPA but no mass market American beers. The wines are even more esoteric; alongside a few boutique California bottles are Austrian, Croastian, and Slovenian. They also offer an extremely arcane item, a wine from Georgia (the one bordering Armenia, not the Peach State), that is made according to a tradition as old as the Roman empire. The grapes and stems are left in the fermenter, and it is aged in clay jugs lined with beeswax. The process produces a pale orange wine with a citrusy, musky flavor, and it’s an experience worth trying. We sampled the Croatian wines before deciding on Austrian red as a second glass.
The Central Asian entrees are as strong as ever, and the Siberian chicken dumpling soup with dill and the plov will make you wonder why this region’s food isn’t more popular. The standout among the newer items is the chicken Kiev– the chicken breast rolled with herb butter, coated with breadcrumbs and fried bursts with flavor. It’s a lot of work to make which is why most restaurants don’t serve it, but when done right it’s amazing. At Doma Kitchen it’s served with freshly made potato chips and roasted vegetables, and it’s delicious.
Unfortunately some other plates are not as well balanced. The bowl of buckwheat kasha with bratwurst includes a huge amount of tasty braised buckwheat with onion and garlic but only one sausage – not a balanced plate, and not a good deal for sixteen dollars. Subtracting some buckwheat and adding some vegetables would have balanced the plate both aesthetically and nutritionally, and even a bit of salad would have added color and interest. We mentioned this to our server and he agreed – but didn’t bring any vegetables or salad. I took about half of the kasha home and it was still good the next day, but it’s not something I’d order again unless they rebalance the plate.
There are four desserts offered, the most interesting of which is a plate of Italian zeppole, doughnuts filled with ricotta cheese and dusted with powdered sugar. Those are a must-get; the fluffy ricotta surrounded by crisp pastry is a decadent delight, even more so when paired with the raspberry or bittersweet chocolate dipping sauce. We also had a berry-topped chocolate cake served in a jar, more conventional but still a fine choice. The glass of Austrian eiswein was a worthy companion to both desserts, flavors of stonefruit and caramel pairing particularly well with the cake.
The tab at Doma has understandably risen with the move – though sandwiches and small plates are all seven dollars, most entrees are between twenty and thirty. They’re in the median for Manhattan Beach while offering something well outside the average – a mix of cuisines that is unmatched in greater LA. The crowds that go to downtown looking for exotic upscale dining should consider a trip to the Manhattan Mall and an interesting restaurant that continues to evolve.
Doma Kitchen is at 3562 North Sepulveda in Manhattan Beach. Open daily 11 a.m. – 10 p.m., parking lot, wheelchair access good, patio dining. Wine and beer served, vegetarian/vegan options. Menu at domakitchen.com, phone 310-647-3157.