1213 Wilshire Blvd.
Santa Monica, CA 90403
By MICHAEL AUSHENKER | Contributing Writer
Call it a collision of cool: From the moment you spot the 1930s art deco flourishes of the restaurant’s façade and Johnny Cash near the door, you can feel that Ingo’s is going to be something special.
Ingo’s is a creation of LGO Hospitality, the Phoenix-based restaurant group that owns a bunch of sites, including locally The Misfit Bar in downtown Santa Monica and La Grande Orange Café in Pasadena. And despite its high-concept (Kerouacian name, slick Streamline Moderne with odes to locality, including a painting of Aero Theatre signage), there is something very earnest about the vibe, details and staff at Ingo’s.
Even the restaurant’s name has an interesting back story: “Ingo” was the name of a Holocaust survivor who was one of the LGO Group partner’s piano teacher … and evidently quite an influential character.
Called “Solid Arguments,” the starters/appetizers will start your meal off strong. Definitely partake in Famous Crispy Brussel Sprouts, a super-adventurous version of this LA favorite, expertly accented with Marcona almonds and accompanied with a small cauldron of chevre sauce. Smoky and addictive, our plate evaporated quickly.
The menu’s “Necessities” section demarks the salads. There’s the scrumptious Local Halibut Ceviche. Equally formidable and visually presentable, Desert Gold Yellow Peaches comes enhanced with sorrel pesto, house ricotta and Fresno chili.
Now for “Supper Club.” One customer swore by the Thai Curry Mussels, which come in a spicy green curry broth, coconut, lemon grass and Thai basil. The gluten-free dish appears on the menu as an organic surprise.
Chef Jordan Lynn, a masterful culinary contrarian, has otherwise exercised much restraint in resisting current LA restaurant trends of fusing American and Californian cuisine with Asian flourishes.
Instead, he veers North American and European, and a great example of Lynn’s skill arrives with the flavorful English Cut Prime Rib, au jus with baked potato yank (loaded with olive oil, sour cream, sea salt and chives, and also available separately as a Solid Argument) and arugula salad. This is an old-school steak—not a fufu, overly seasoned or sauced manicured steak—the kind with fatty portions to sift through.
Paris Texas Burger is built on the sturdy foundation of LGO Reserve beef. They apply a housemade steak sauce to the patty—cooked medium—and load applewood smoked bacon and cheddar in between seasoned buns, with a nice side of steak frites and slices of fresh pickles. While the ingredients may sound typical of a gourmet burger, the outcome is not: This hamburger sings.
In a different direction, try the Handmade Pasta with Dungeness Crab, an entree generous with feathery, succulent-tasting crab meat.
Labeled “Superfluity,” there are three ways to go with dessert (all housemade), but indulge in Grateful Spoon Gelato because it shares its Phoenix lineage with Chef Lynn. Lynn—who not only leads Ingo’s kitchen, but serves as executive chef for all LGO restaurants—joined the company as a result of his work in Phoenix aiding the original owner of Grateful Spoon as LGO acquired it. We enjoyed a delicious trio of flavors: pistachio, vanilla and (my favorite) vegan raspberry.
As sweet and delicious as dessert here are the adult beverages. Chief Mixologist and Spirits Director Kevin Dunn gets the credit for Ingo’s strong suit: a battery of quirkily named craft cocktails.
We really enjoyed The Greyhound (Ford’s gin with Giffard Pamplemousse, lemon, fresh grapefruit) and Smoke on the Watermelon, a different direction that employs Rayu mezcal, Aperol, Thai chile and citrus with a nice bite. But don’t miss out on some Bobby Love (St. George green chile vodka, green juice and lime), replete with tiny plastic mermaid hanging out on the rim by the drink’s foam.
In a further fostering of social tendencies here, a nightly Happy Hour (7 p.m.) offers spirits, signature cocktails and select glasses of wine half-off, and every Saturday night, Ingo’s hosts Live Lounge, a jazz concert blowout. Cool cats such as percussionists Ray Mehlbaum (The Doors’ guitarist Robby Krieger’s band), Alfredo Ortiz (Beastie Boys) and saxophonist Alex Mathias (Amy Winehouse) sit in. James Bushart, Ingo’s agreeable general manager, is himself a seasoned New York scene musician who will jump off on trumpet. (A Sunday Jazz Brunch runs 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.)
Ingo’s is a place you definitely aim to stay awhile. Stylish to the hilt, the slick and colorful interior, its cozy booths and handsome counter—as a track from the 1972 Grant Green album “The Final Comedown” blares in the background—makes for a welcoming, visually arresting environment.
The informed staff, from the energetic young bartenders to our winning maître d’ and, of course, Bushart, radiate Jarmusch movie-cool.
Chill and classy with solid service, hip music and hipster bites, Ingo’s may be the Westside’s most well-rounded and truly experiential restaurants. It wants to be your neighborhood hang, and it’s earning it.