Cheese and Olive Plate
Though I didn't really love Spanish food while I was in Spain, I'm pretty nostalgic, so I decided to try Santino's, a tapas restaurant on Lincoln near Navy. No one on Chowhound had anything to say about it in 24 hours, which is unusual. I'm of the opinion that there are no undiscovered gems in this city of 19 million, but at least there weren't any bad reviews. So I went.
My first surprise was that Santino's is a place your order at the counter kinda place. The inside was bright and sunny at 6pm, and not a soul was in sight save the counter boy, who was not terribly friendly. The interior is wooden and worn with lots of red and green paint. Coolers along one wall hold sodas and other beverages; another small cooler holds bottles of beer. I didn't see anything Spanish, but then, Spanish beer is nothing to rave about. I wonder if any of the Spanish places in LA serve sidra? (Bonus points if you can shoot it out of the wall!) A flat panel TV plays music videos in Spanish. My second surprise was that my camera battery died right after I took the above picture.
My third surprised was that there were very few Spanish items, or even Spanish-influeced items, on the menu. Half of the menu lists panini and salads. Apparently, tapas are not just a Spanish thing--they're also Argentinian, and the cuisine of Argentina has a lot of influence from Spain and Italy. This explains the menu, and my confusion. Santino's is apparently an Argentinian restaurant, not a Spanish restaurant!
After I ordered, I saw it: the dreaded refrigerated display case. Was that where my tortilla espanola was coming from? I didn't actually see anything I ordered sitting in this case, but...
My eggplant was damn cold. Granted, it was supposed to be a cold dish, but I just hate when restaurants serve me something that's refrigerator cold. The eggplant, heavily marinated in a garlicky, red peppery, olive oily sauce, was cut into about one-inch squares and had a pickly zing to it. It was pretty good, but too strong to eat a full plate of, even though it was a very small (but somewhat heaping) plate. Of course, tapas are meant to be shared.
Next to hit my palette was the tortilla espanola, shamelessly listed on the menu as a Spanish tortilla. I like to think that even the American who knows no Spanish at all can figure out what "tortilla espanola" means. A tortilla espanola is essentially a thick omelette consisting primarily of eggs and potatoes. It's round like a tortilla, but the similarities end there. This tortilla was about 2 inches thick, with huge chunks of potato--more potato than egg--and a few slices of sauteed onion. The potatoes tasted distinctively old, like the dish had been cooked at least a week ago, hidden in the corner of a thrift shop for a while, and then microwaved. Also, I'm not sure how they cooked this, since it's pretty damn hard to flip an omelette that thick and potato-heavy.
The dish I had the most hope for was the olive and cheese plate, since I love both. The menu promised Spanish olives and imported cheeses, including manchego. I've eaten a lot of manchego (I think it's the only cheese anyone eats in Spain, besides roquefort) and I can assure you that none of the cheese at Santino's was manchego. And the Spanish olives had those damn red things in the middle! Call them pimentos if you want, but those don't count as food. No Spanish olive I ever ate in Spain had a red filling. Santino's olives were the mushy mass -packaged jar variety, and the cheese was no better.
The total for these three dishes was only $11.50, and I have leftovers. Two plates will probably fill most people.
The best dish--and this says it all, I suppose-was my friend's ham and cheese sandwich, a very thin, lightly grilled sandwich made on very thin Bimbo bread (don't you think Bimbo is a better term than Wonder for smushable white bread?). It came cut into triangles and was especially good with the olive oil and herb dipping sauce it came with. She also ordered an empanada, but I'm not feeling very carnivorous right now, so I didn't try it (the ham wasn't noticeable in the sandwich, I think because it was so thin--I normally dislike ham).
While we were there, two cops came in to get some grub to go, and one other civilian pair sat down at a table for a quick bite. That was it. There was no service to speak of--once the food was on our tables, that was it. One female employee stopped by to ask if we needed anything, and we asked for to-go boxes, but thirty minutes later we had to go ask again at the counter. The to-go boxes are styrofoam, which I realize is standard, but that doesn't mean I like it! I've gotta start remembering to bring my tupperware for leftovers. As my friend said, "I can't believe styrofoam is legal!" Let's ban styrofoam and legalize...something else.
Overall, I'd say that Santino's is more of a snack place than a meal place. I don't really recommend it, but I wasn't too upset about the experience since it was cheap as hell and pretty quiet.
3021 Lincoln Blvd
Santa Monica, CA 90405