A small bowl of roasted blackberry “thermidor” arrives early into the meal at Dialogue, Dave Beran’s 18-seat Santa Monica restaurant. It sets a cheeky tone. You’re almost at the last bite—amazed how, when broiled, the short rib stock and bone marrow intensify the berry’s fruitiness—when sommelier Jordon Sipperley slips by to pour a little blackberry vinegar into what remains of your sparkling wine. It’s a nice touch, the tartness that gives depth to the meaty sauce now reflected in the honeyed bubbles of a Santa Lucia Highlands brut.
The precision of the twist is enough to make you forget that barely 15 minutes earlier you’d walked upstairs from an ice cream store on the 3rd Street Promenade and punched a code into an unmarked door to enter the space. Beran, who’s 36, planned to open something larger downtown after moving from Chicago in 2016, but the challenges of L.A. real estate resulted instead in a 760-square-foot dining room with three tables and a dark wood counter.
Besides providing a glimpse of how pristine plum sake parries a bite of rose-scented fennel, a stool here allows you to meditate on bigger themes, such as the meticulous choreography that modern tasting menus rely on for success.
Increasingly prevalent, these expensive multi-course meals are a bit like a bridge: the longer they are, the greater the chances they’ll collapse into a rudderless procession of miniature doo-dahs. Wise to that pitfall, Beran, the former chef de cuisine at Alinea and Next, peppers the experience with whimsy while revealing his classical bona fides. Onion soup is a spheroidal mouthful draped in melted Gruyere; a miniature brick of bitter chocolate arrives mid-meal. Crock-fermented tomatoes are transformed into a savory jellied consommé. Beran and his crew are happy to discuss techniques, but the greater thrill is watching how ingredients can be woven throughout courses to thematically stitch them together. The humble peanut that’s a blip when nestled in a tangle of charred scallions and Osetra caviar becomes a refrain when it’s later infused into a roasted banana tea crowned with brown butter foam.
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