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In Marina del Rey, Cast & Plow dishes fresh halibut sourced from local waters.

Getting Hooked

by Lesley Balla | Photography by Andrea Bricco | Angeleno magazine | April 29, 2014

When you live anywhere east of, say, La Brea, it’s easy to forget about some of the coastal cities: the charming South Bay spots like Manhattan Beach, or the seaside communities that exist beyond Santa Monica and Venice. That’s why Marina del Rey is always a gem to me. Whenever I drive into the loop around the small harbor, I’m immediately swept elsewhere—Newport, R.I., or even Annapolis, Md. Once you see the boats bobbing at the docks, the skiffs and sailboats coming and going, or even the party cruises circling around, it’s a different world. The vibe is more relaxed; the locals ride their bikes and walk their dogs along the pathways. You completely forget that mess of traffic you left on the 405 just a few minutes before.

The Ritz-Carlton, Marina del Rey has anchored one side of the marina since 1990, a jewel among the smaller hotels, high-rise apartments and restaurants around the water. Its restaurant, Jer-Ne, was long considered one of those special-occasion places reserved for birthdays and holidays, especially for brunch—Mother’s Day, Easter, Thanksgiving. Despite the stunning location, it felt like a typical hotel dining establishment. But now, all that’s changed. The restaurant recently underwent a complete renovation, with a top-to-bottom new look and focus on the menu. Now dubbed Cast & Plow, there’s a lightness to the room—thanks especially to new windows that slide open to let in sun and the ocean breeze—and a less fussy seasonal menu.

The space was always extremely large and spread out, but the main dining room is more partitioned now, with a glass wall separating it from the long bar and another wall sectioning it off from the expansive lounge. There’s a glass ball-and-driftwood sculpture hanging overhead: a symbolic nod to the new concept, Earth and water.

The real draw is the patio. What a treat to sit there for breakfast, when pastries, fruit, assorted breads and cheeses are on offer, in addition to the traditional menu. During the week, the hotel and marina are less bustling, offering patrons a quiet atmosphere to soak up the sun while eating dishes like fresh fruit covered in chia seeds, egg white-stuffed wraps, and fluffy Belgian waffles with homemade ricotta and sweet cherry compote. On balmy nights, it’s just as nice for dinner. Many of the tables have fire pits built in. At first, the significant flame shooting up from a pool of glistening glass beads seemed a bit much, but it’s easy to adjust to such a nice warm glow.

Chef Umit Kaygusuz, who was also chef for Jer-Ne, definitely contemporized the menu for Cast & Plow. It reads very new—seasonal ingredients; small and large plates; California slant with Mediterranean, Middle Eastern and European influences—and it even shows a map to illustrate where some of the local seafood, beef, chicken and vegetables are sourced. It’s not groundbreaking cuisine, but it’s high-quality fare with an especially spectacular view.

It’s fun to get a few things for the table to share, like the pillowy brioche rolls baked with garlic-herb butter or the crispy kale chips seasoned with Monterey Bay sea salt and sumac. No restaurant would dare leave Brussels sprouts off the menu now, and they’re quite good here, all smothered with romesco sauce and Marcona almonds.

When it comes to entrees, the hand-cut tagliatelle is a standout. Known as Duley’s Thyme Tagliatelle­—for kitchen supervisor Brandon Duley, the dish’s mastermind—the thick strands of hand-cut pasta are fragrant with fresh herbs and draped in rich Parmesan cream sauce. A 32-day dry-aged rib-eye was cooked to my exact specifications (medium rare, always), but it was heavy with smoke flavor. Still, the creamy whipped potatoes were a perfect complement. In-season halibut from local waters could have used a bit more acid—a drop of lemon would’ve really made it sing—but the fish was fresh and had a delicious hazelnut sauce.

When relaxing in the Club Level lounge before dinner, I asked the concierge for his menu favorites at the restaurant. Without skipping a beat, the first thing out of his mouth was the brown sugar date cake. It was definitely a favorite at the table. Rich, buttery and sweet, it was more like a pound cake with dates, with a nice dollop of caramel ice cream alongside it. The way it disappeared, it’s apparently exactly what we all wanted on that day.

A lot of waterfront restaurants skimp on quality, but this one doesn’t. Then again, this is The Ritz-Carlton. I’d go back anytime, really, especially for a quiet breakfast along the water, or to prove to my out-of-town friends that there is in fact serenity amid the urban sprawl of L.A.

Cast & Plow
The Ritz-Carlton, Marina del Rey
4375 Admiralty Way, Marina del Rey, 310.823.1700

Breakfast: 6:30-10:45am
Sunday Brunch:11:30am-3:00pm
Lunch: 11:30am-3:30pm
Dinner: 6-10pm

Where to Sit
If the weather’s nice, get a table outside. During the day it’s all sun and boats and breezes; at night, the fire pits cast a nice glow. You can also grab drinks at lounge tables.

What to Drink
The cocktails are fun, like the Gardentini, with American Harvest vodka, Hendrick’s, cucumber and arugula; or the Red Emerald, with Redbreast 12-year Irish whiskey with Peychaud’s Bitters, lemongrass syrup and ginger beer.

What to Wear
This being so close to the docks, anything goes, from boat-chic to all-dolled up. Just bring layers—the ocean air can get cool at night, even in the summer.