By MICHAEL AUSHENKER | Pali Life Editor
A year ago, this writer received an invitation to The Venice Whaler, freshly re-opened by Red O’s Mike Dobson.
The nature of the invite? To come try the new menu created by new hires Executive Chef Nick Liberato and Bar Director Anthony Settecase (Cole’s, New York’s Balthazar).
Not only was the food delicious, it was memorable, particularly the Kobe beef sliders and hangover lettuce wraps.
Cut to a year later, and Chef Liberato is a star…literally. Westside locals are not the only ones discovering his mad skills.Last week, he appeared on Food Network’s “Beach Eats USA,” and he’s also been on Bravo’s “Top Chef Masters.” On Sept. 5, his episode of Spike TV’s “Bar Rescue San Diego” airs.
By now, you’d think you’d have to charter an actual whaler to spear this moving target. Yet Liberato, a young, humble family man, is very approachable and hands-on, as is Settecase.
Established in 1944, the Venice Whaler has a long history as a beach bar. Located on the Marina del Rey (south) side of Washington Boulevard, the new and improved Whaler offers a culinary experience that transcends what’s on your plate. A sprawling patio throws you right into the heart of the beachside hustle and bustle while the Venice Pier and boardwalk’s close proximity ushers after-dinner promenades.
“I can truly say that this place was my real-life bar rescue,” Liberato explains. “When we first took over the Venice Whaler, it was not a food destination. Actually, it was only known as a place to drink.”
The first thing Liberato did was overhaul the venerable Venice favorite’s kitchen, converting freezers into refrigerators and ditching canned, processed and prepared foods for house-made fare, which took “an extreme effort in both equipment and the people working there.”
Liberato also created the beachside Whaler Takeaway window, open from 7 to 2 a.m.
Truth be told, the Whaler has retained its dive-y charms while upping its class factor. With Kelly Patry’s interior re-design, this is not your grandpa’s Venice Whaler.
Speaking of grandpa, the Grandpa’s Chair, in which Settecase smokes a pipe and exhales tobacco smoke into the glass before loading it with scotch and black walnut bitters. Part performance art and pure winner, this purebred cocktail makes one hell of an old-school drink.
Libations here are potent and as colorful as their chalkboard listings. The endearingly misspelled “Chamomile Mai Thai, a multi-rum Tiki favorite, packs a wallop. You’ll also find the bourbon, Angostura and ginger beer conspiracy called the Moscow Whale, plus a dozen craft beers.
Black Angus Mini-Cheeseburgers ($13.95), on a bed of Hawaiian sweet bread topped with cheddar, disappears quickly from your plate. Another highlight: the homemade, grilled bread-accompanied Clam & Corn Chowder (cup: $6.95; bowl: $11.95).
Naturally, there’s seafood aplenty here (it is called “The Whaler,” after all…), most notably parmesan-filled Char-Grilled Oysters ($15.95) and a brioche-framed, lemon aioli-kissed Maine Lobster Roll ($12.95).
For dessert, shining-star Baked in Venice ($8.95), evoking a Baked Alaska, provides a sponge cake with burnt meringue, vanilla ice cream and raspberry coulis.
Liberato expresses his New Orleans love with the recently added Shrimp Po’Boy. There’s the Taco Bar, various Artisan Pizzas, Short Rib Banh Mi, Açai Bowl, Israeli-style Shakshouka and Huevos Rancheros for breakfast (should you wake up after enjoying too many drinks the night before).
Really, there’s no shortage of things to try here: the Venice Whaler is one boat that is built to be experienced again and again in exciting new ways.
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