1460 Third Street Promenade
Santa Monica, CA 90401
By SARAH SHMERLING | Editor-in-Chief
Cult—a new restaurant, cocktail bar and coffee destination from the team involved in The Craftsman Bar and Kitchen and Lanea—opened its doors at the start of March with a mission for the location to “become a cult classic.”
“A cult classic is a film with a cult following that might be obscure and often revolutionary or ironically enjoyed,” according to a statement shared by the restaurant team. “Cult films are defined as much by audience reaction as they are by content.”
Along the same lines, cult foods and beverages have a similar devoted following, with Angelenos waiting in line for hours for certain items: “The Los Angeles dining scene is defined by waves of these food and beverage trends that have cult-like followings.”
The Santa Monica eatery is designed to “pay homage to the city of Los Angeles, its chefs, dishes, drinks and trends by mining its history for cult favorites and preparing nods to those dishes and drinks,” the statement continues.
Proprietor Peter Trinh hails from an immigrant Vietnamese family who arrived in California in the early ’80s. At the age of 6, his parents attempted to open up a restaurant, but found that it was not sustainable.
After attending UCLA followed by the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania, Trinh is now an agent at International Creative Management Partners—billed as one of the “world’s largest talent and literary agencies.”
Trinh rediscovered an additional love for hospitality, dating back to when his parents first tried to open a restaurant. His passion led him to consult on various Westside spots in the early 2000s, including the W Los Angeles – Westwood. In 2013, Trinh launched The Craftsman Bar and Kitchen alongside three partners. Five years later, the team expanded down the street, launching Lanea in downtown Santa Monica with a “team of hospitality veterans” and Barba Kush.
Chef Kim Vu—founder, owner and executive chef of Vucacious Catering LLC—heads up the kitchen, with a menu “inspired by the seasonal offerings of our local farmers market” that “reimagines fast casual cuisine for current day Californians.” Vu also serves as the chef in residence for the city of Santa Monica, as well as its farmers market, where she gives bimonthly cooking demonstrations.
The meal began with My Big Fat Greek Avocado Toast, cucumber, cherry tomato, Kalamata olive, red onion, feta, herbs and balsamic reduction. As a millennial, I don’t say this lightly: This is one of the best, if not the best, avocado toast I have encountered. Stacked high with a variety of ingredients, this is like a standard avocado toast, but leveled up, but what really makes it is the quality of the bread, which is thick, crunchy and chewy all at the same time. The olives made for a nice touch as well, adding a pop of flavor into several bites. A vegan option is available.
Next up was the Fancy Burger, a seasoned quarter pounder with chipotle aioli, caramelized onion, crumbled bleu, wild arugula, served on brioche. The meat of the burger was a standout here, which was seasoned well. For those who order this burger, make sure you are a fan of bleu cheese or consider asking for it on the side, as Cult does not skimp on the portion, making it a dominating flavor of the dish.
The Nashville Hot Chicken Tenders here are pieces of buttermilk marinated chicken breast, coated with crispy breading and served with ketchup. I typically tread with caution when ordering anything “hot,” but though the chicken does come with a kick, it was not overly spicy. The coating was crunchy and flavorful, with the meat remaining moist inside.
As a side came Garlic Fries, topped with parsley and served with ketchup and chipotle aioli. Too often when this dish is ordered, the garlic falls off and the fries have a hint of garlic but miss the mark. This was not the case at Cult, where truly, each and every fry was garlicky. The fries also had a crisp to them, creating a nice texture.
The meal concluded with the Weekly Special Bread Pudding for dessert. Most notable was its beautiful presentation, carefully adorned with a sliced strawberry, which did not budge the entire drive home. The dessert itself was dense and delicious, with hints of chocolate throughout.
Cult also boasts an interesting cocktail program, led by John Neumueller and Connor McRaith.
“At Cult, our cocktails will have all the delights of a small-town bar with high-end cocktail quality,” according to information from the restaurant. “Almost all of the cocktails on the menu are designed to be dispensed using a new QuickServe technology that takes advantage of the spritz and highball formats.”
The less labor-intensive service is designed to allow staff more time to take care of guests. The garnishes are largely byproducts from all the produce being used to make the drinks, including dehydrating, thin slicing, candying and baking.
For a to-go order, Cult offers canned, small-batch cocktails. The Rose Quartz features vodka, hibiscus, rose, honey and citrus—and is “charged under the full moon,” the menu jokes. The beverage paired nicely with the meal, with subtle hints of each of the ingredients shining through, but the more interesting of the two cocktails sampled was the Socaliente Margarita, Thai chili and serrano infused Cazadores resposado, habanero honey and pineapple—“the ‘Terminator 2’ of spicy margaritas, even hotter than the original,” according to the menu. I drank this out of the can, but I swear each sip was somehow spicy and salty. Margaritas are often my drink of choice, and this one did not disappoint.
For foodies who want to knock several popular dishes off a list at once, Cult offers just the right variety—with all of the flavor.
This page is available to subscribers. Click here to sign in or get access.