Santa Monica’s Ambassador: Michael McCarty

“Every dish leaving my kitchen has to have something green, crunchy, and an herb,” explained restaurant legend, Michael McCarty, to a group of people  touring his kitchen. 

I remember the restaurant, Michael’s, in the 80s while I was at UCLA.  It was the ultimate date restaurant offering a romantically fun indoor/outdoor setting and delicious California/French cuisine. Happily, it still maintains the same reputation 21 years later.


McCarty has earned the respect that a wonderful king or ambassador receives from his people. In the early 80s, he helped develop the Santa Monica Farmer’s Market, one of the most famous and popular produce markets in Southern California. Chefs from all over Los Angeles drive to the coastal community on Wednesday mornings to buy and bring the freshest ingredients back to their dining establishments.


Once a month, McCarty leads a group of friends and fans on a “Michael’s Market Meet-Up” to experience a shopping spree of the market, his way. The one-of-a-kind event begins inside the restaurant at 8:30am for warm cappuccinos and flaky house made pastries.  Next, McCarty and Executive chef, Mikey Stern lead the group on a short walk to meet their favorite farmers and explain what they look for in choosing the best produce.  Throughout the walk, Michael is approached with a smile or handshake by fellow chefs, patrons, and farmers. He is royalty in Santa Monica.  After purchasing bags of vibrant colored produce, we strolled back to the restaurant for a light lunch paired with wines.


McCarty is also a survivor. Not too many restaurants in Los Angeles have successfully stayed open for 21 years.  After opening Michael’s in Santa Monica, he became inspired to open other restaurants in Colorado, Detroit, Washington D.C. and New York City.

In 1993, his home and vineyard, along with 300 other homes, burned down in Malibu. One year later, a 1994 earthquake hit Santa Monica hard and then the economy collapsed. McCarty just put his boxing gloves back on and got back into the ring. “My wife, Kim and two children kept me focused when times were rough,” shared McCarty over lunch. He proudly pointed out to his guests all of Kim’s beautiful artwork and paintings that are displayed throughout the restaurant.


While sitting on the lovely patio and chatting, servers delivered plates of two delicate ravioli filled with Kabocha squash. This delicious Japanese winter squash was served in a Meyer lemon brown butter sage sauce and topped with toasted pine nuts, fresh pomegranate seeds and micro cresses. We asked McCarty if this plate offered his three requirements? “The micro cresses are the green, sage is the herb, and the pomegranate seeds give a delightful crunch,” boast McCarty. We raised our glasses to toast the meal and commented on how the brown butter sauce brought out the sweetness in the pomegranates. Next, we were presented with a grilled Manchester Farms Quail with a Kabocha squash puree, thyme and wild mushrooms. Both items are now on Michael’s Fall menu. The flavors of the meal were enhanced as we sipped a glass of Pinot Noir from Michael’s own Malibu Vineyard.


I asked McCarty how did he find this location? “In 1978, I discovered an old and beat up restaurant, The Brigadoon. I liked the outdoor patio and thought the space was ideal for indoor/outdoor entertaining.”  He gutted the spot and in 1979 opened Michael’s. Throughout the years, some of the best chefs in Los Angeles learned their craft while working with McCarty in his kitchen.  Mark Peel (Campanile and Tar Pit), Nancy Silverton (Spago, Campanile, La Brea Bakery), and Roy Yamaguchi (Roy’s) to name a few.


On November 10th you’ll have the opportunity to walk with Michael through the Santa Monica Farmer’s market and later come back to the restaurant for a lively chat, cooking demonstration, light lunch, and wine pairing.  Cost is $60 per person and includes a copy of McCarty’s latest book, Welcome to Michael’s: Great Food, Great People, Great Party! For information and a reservation call (310)451-0843. 1147 Third Street, Santa Monica.


via Santa Monica’s Ambassador: Michael McCarty.

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