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The art of good food and hip surroundings ... Is it a hard thing to do?

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New restaurants in small neighborhoods are always anticipated with much excitement and an equal amount of trepidation. This is very much the case in neighborhoods like Santa Monica, and Montana Avenue to be specific. After the recession, so many store fronts disappeared to leasing signs that new 'anything' sporting a fresh coat of paint and the lights on is good news for the community.

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Unfortunately new doesn't always mean good or even tasty. Take for instance the newest Montana addition, ART'S TABLE (www.artstablesm.com), formerly known as Babalu Restaurant & Bakery, a comfort food local of 27 years that offered up the most obscene mud and banana cream pies. In March, a Santa Monica based entrepreneur group reopened the restaurant as ART'S TABLE with the goal of making a local eatery that appeals to the neighborhood as well as the hipster crowd.

ART'S TABLE is of the moment. The decor is of the moment, gray polished concrete walls with the 'of the moment' obligatory quote racing across the expanse of the restaurant, offering diners some sage sound-bite advice. The wine bar du jour, with a small selection of world wines, and a healthy list of draft and bottled beers gives guests the opportunity to stop for a quick drink on route to more activities. But anyone who thinks they are going to a restaurant for a satisfying meal at this moment or any other, will need to find another restaurant. This is a drink, appetizer or 'soak up' the alcohol establishment.

The food. The first and last reason to go to a restaurant. The menu here has the slider, mini sandwich and beet salad concoctions that are popular, dare I say 'of the moment,' but nothing has a distinct taste or even much comfort to it. The Art salad lists shaved fennel, oven-dried tomato, cerignola olives, ricotta and lemon dust, whatever that is, but the whole thing just falls flat. The ingredients do nothing for the dish but just bump up against each other. The onion crisps, basically over-battered onion rings, come with a smoked cheddar sauce that is a cheese sauce broken down and not mixed properly - smoked it is not. The menu has kale, has short ribs, has Kambocha squash puree and pork belly. At this moment, the menu has the ingredients to bring in the diners, but the chef will need to get more flavor out of these mixtures before the newest addition to the block can hope to stand the test of time.

And so the answer to the question is yes! Good food and hip surroundings are hard to do.

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