LAReview

photo credit: Jessie Clapp

The food spread at Si! Mon.
8.6

Si! Mon

Latin AmericanCaribbean

Venice

$$$$Perfect For:Date NightDrinking Good Cocktails

Included In

The first time we ate at Si! Mon, the guy next to us asked for chips and salsa. It’s a harmless question, except for the fact that the restaurant doesn’t serve chips and salsa—a fact the bartender explained to him. The man then quickly scanned the rest of the menu, got up, and scurried out of the restaurant, flip-flops clacking in the night.

We imagine this happens often: People mistake Si! Mon’s tropical landscaping, wicker chairs, and salty margaritas for that of Belle’s Beach House or Fig Tree any other beachy Venice restaurant with an unexplained penchant for synth music. But do any of those spots serve flaky, banana-leaf-wrapped kanpachi or shrimp dumplings in sweet coconut bisque? Or pour corn husk-infused whiskey at the bar? You can probably sense where we’re going here.

This upscale Panamanian spot is actually nothing like its neighbors—or anything else in the city for that matter. Si! Mon’s setting is lush and dreamy, yes, but the restaurant’s charm isn’t limited to string light magic and an ocean breeze. Dishes here are bold, bright, and attractively plated, with flavors that pull from Caribbean and Central American cuisine in unique and delicious ways. Once you start eating at Si! Mon, there’s no chance you’d ever mistake it for another restaurant in Venice again.

The patio at Si! Mon.

photo credit: Jessie Clapp

The interior dining room at Si! Mon.

photo credit: Jessie Clapp

The exterior of Si! Mon.

photo credit: Jessie Clapp

The patio at Si! Mon.

photo credit: Jessie Clapp

The patio at Si! Mon.
The interior dining room at Si! Mon.
The exterior of Si! Mon.
The patio at Si! Mon.

If there used to be a lot of David Guetta on your iTunes playlists, you might recognize Si! Mon as the old James Beach, a clubby restaurant famous for late-night dance floors and the “best fish tacos in the world,” according to Paul Rudd in I Love You, Man. The tacos are gone (they weren’t that great anyway), and now you’ll find a stunning, multi-room space that looks like the grounds of a Spanish ranch in a Malibu canyon. Seashell chandeliers dangling over plush green booths look like Jonathan Adler and Ariel from The Little Mermaid collaborated on a summer collection. A semi-enclosed patio contains so many potted Bird of Paradise plants it could be considered a greenhouse. There’s even a back bungalow, the kind built for privileged adult children who never got their sh*t together, except here it houses a bar and more sitting areas. It’s a tableau that deserves a few moments of exploration—the kind of impressive backdrop that, at many restaurants, might be the highlight of the night. But at Si! Mon, it’s only the start.

The food spread at Si! Mon.

photo credit: Jessie Clapp

The chef at Si! Mon hails from Panama City, where he runs one of the country’s most acclaimed restaurants. So while the seafood-leaning menu here is ostensibly Panamanian, that label alone might undersell the level of creativity going on. Consider the plate of hamachi crudo: five meaty slices of fish with a thick stripe of curry mushroom oil painted across the center and a dab of bright turmeric aioli at the end of each piece. We don’t know how many plates of crudo we’ve eaten in LA (numbers don’t go that high), but this is one to remember: rich, fragrant, and intensely flavored. The gaucho—a thick, burnt-orange crab stew—has serious bite, thanks to the sneaky addition of rum and house-made chombo, a no-joke-spicy habanero pepper sauce. Even the cocktails will consensually smack you across the face, like the self-explanatory Very MF Cold Martini or Little Rituals, a play on a highball with palo santo-infused whiskey and coconut water. 

On paper, Si! Mon does have some trappings of the generic Venice restaurant—tough parking situation, prices that occasionally make you squirm, ferns—but as an overall experience, it stands apart, especially once you factor in the very limited number of restaurants serving Caribbean or Central American food on the Westside (or anywhere in LA). But even if the latter wasn’t the case, this restaurant would still be special. 

For a splashy, you’re-not-gonna-forget-this meal—the kind of night where you start rattling off your favorite dishes and realize you named over half the menu—Si! Mon ranks up there with the best in Venice (a caliber that includes heavyweights like Gjelina, Dudley Market, and Felix). We’d be happy to order here simply by closing our eyes and spinning the menu like a game-show prize wheel, knowing that whatever our finger lands on is going to be great.

Just not chips and salsa.

Food Rundown

The tuna tostada at Si! Mon.

photo credit: Jessie Clapp

Tuna Carpaccio Yuca Tostada

Don’t check our math on this, but there are at least one thousand LA restaurants with tuna carpaccio on the menu. And all of those carpaccio look more or less the same. Except this one. A translucent sheet of fish is draped over a crisp, delicate yuca tostada like a duvet over a mattress, with a spread of spicy cachucha pepper aioli underneath. It’s a little sweet, a little smoky, and very silky—a raw tuna dish you’d be able to pick out of a lineup blindfolded.
The clam ceviche at Si! Mon.

photo credit: Jessie Clapp

Surf Clam Ceviche

While everyone else is taking pictures of this dish’s briny, neon green leche de tigre, just start eating. It’s not a particularly large bowl of ceviche, and when people start realizing it tastes even better than it looks, the soft, tender clams and accompanying plantain chips will go fast.
The shrimp dumplings at Si! Mon.

photo credit: Jessie Clapp

Afro-Caribbean Dumplings

Have we driven to Si! Mon alone solely to eat these sweet, shrimp-filled dumplings? Yes. Will we do it again just to sip the coconut bisque broth? We’re already out front.
The banana leaf-wrapped kanpachi from Si! Mon.

photo credit: Jessie Clapp

Kanpachi En Banana Leaf

Now That’s What I Call A Piece Of Fish. This is the best thing at Si! Mon, a dish that’ll make you realize how much mediocre white fish you’ve willingly eaten this past year. A thick cut of kanpachi is baked then steamed in banana leaves, giving it a subtle, musky sweetness. A pungent, forest-green coating of lime leaf and Thai basil paste caps things off.
The crab stew from Si! Mon.

photo credit: Jessie Clapp

Dungeness Crab Guacho

We have to come clean. We didn’t order this dish on our first few visits. Up against technicolor ceviches, shrimp dumplings, and banana leaf-wrapped fish, a hearty stew thickened with rice, chunks of crab, and chopped peppers slipped our radar. We were so wrong. Please don’t make the same mistake.
The chicken drumsticks at Si! Mon.

photo credit: Jessie Clapp

Twice-Fried Chicken Drumsticks

Arriving at the table looking like a prop from a Bam Bam costume, these drumsticks are more than just a fun visual. The herb-salt-dusted skin is crackly and not too oily, and considering it’s been fried two times, the meat inside is consistently tender and juicy. Don’t be afraid to ask for more the spicy ketchup that comes on the side. We always run out, too.

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FOOD RUNDOWN

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