At any given day, at any given time, there’s an Adam Sandler movie playing on basic cable. And if you happen to stumble on it, you’ll probably end up watching it, because at least you know exactly what you’re going to get. Adam will play some sort of man-child, he’ll eventually figure things out and grow up a little, and at some point, Steve Buscemi will show up. Except if you’ve happened to turn on Punch Drunk Love, the great Adam Sandler movie no one expected, where Buscemi never shows up.
Like Adam Sandler movies, you typically know what you’re going to get with upscale Santa Monica restaurants. And on the surface, Native looks like every other farm-to-table place that’s low-key fancy in that Santa Monica kind of way. But as it turns out, this isn’t another Billy Madison - Native’s food is more surprising than it is predictable. Unfortunately, it also doesn’t quite have the weird greatness of Punch Drunk Love. Mostly, it’s a restaurant that doesn’t feel sure of what it wants to be.
On the one hand, this could be a neighborhood hangout, ideal for meeting your friends for a low-key dinner after work, but other than the casual bar area, the whole restaurant ends up being slightly too upscale for that. The space feels a little Hyatt Regency lobby, and service can be a bit stiff - every time we asked for suggestions we got extremely detailed descriptions, when all we really wanted to know was if the duck was good. More importantly, once you’ve ordered drinks, starters, and maybe an entree to share, things end up being too pricey for this to be a place you might decide to walk into for dinner on a Wednesday.
Having said that, there is some interesting food to be had here. Rather than just putting an egg on top of whatever they found at the market and leaving it there, Native plays around with texture and flavor combinations. Sometimes that works - a few of the starters, like the crispy octopus, are fantastic - but other times, it doesn’t. The mushroom spaghetti with burrata and smoked soy sauce is a cool idea, but the burrata melts into your pasta too fast and it’s hard to taste much besides the soy.
While Native certainly isn’t what you might expect when you first walk in, it also isn’t a game-changer. It’s a restaurant that is trying to do a lot, and succeeding at not quite enough of it. What we would recommend you use it for is a drink and a snack at the bar, where at least you’ll end up eating something unexpected. Which is more than we can say for one of those new Adam Sandler movies on Netflix.
We typically prefer non-jumbo asparagus to jumbo asparagus, but this dish is an exception. The sauce is what makes this good, and we wish there was more of it.
The starters are much better than the mains at Native, and these lamb meatballs with plantain chips make for a pretty good snack.
This is a must-order. The octopus is super crispy and the combination of the smoked yogurt and green sauce that comes with it is fantastic.
A spin on regular old tartare, with Korean mustard and a spicy sauce. The tartare is great, but the giant croutons that come with it don’t really work for as a vehicle for getting the tartare to your mouth.
This seems to be a fancy take on a pastrami sandwich - it comes with pastrami jus and a little rye bread cracker - but there’s a little too much going on and the whole dish ends up extremely rich.
Another dish that doesn’t really come together. While burrata, mushrooms, pasta, and soy sauce are all things we like, turns out they are things that should stay apart.
These are more like dumplings and we wish they had come with more of a sauce - they are a little dry on their own.
Creamy custard, crunchy crumble on top, and strawberries. This is absolutely as good as it sounds.