Gulp pairs a diverse selection of craft brews with Asian-inspired comfort food
By Richard Foss
To gulp something is to consume it with haste, but Al Watson didn’t name his restaurant in the hope that people would eat and run.
Watson was walking in one of the beach cities trying to think of a name and saw the word on a dog’s bowl. He considered the enthusiasm implied in the term, and decided it fit his idea for a restaurant specializing in upscale food and microbrews.
That original restaurant is on Pico Boulevard in Santa Monica, and the second opened in Playa Vista in late March. The former Piknic location has been redecorated with what Watson describes as a “clean industrial” look with a slightly old-school character, thanks to muted dark wood tones.
Manager Bryan Sny explains that they had an important ally in the design process: their customers.
“We took a lot of input from the residents and community about what they were looking for,” says Sny. “We settled on a pub atmosphere, which is different from a bar — more family friendly, a comfortable community gathering place.”
The menu is wide-ranging and has several Asian fusion items crafted by a chef who previously worked at the nearby Japanese restaurant Sweetfish.
One of the most popular starters is a wonton cup topped with a mix of mango chunks and poke, (Hawaiian marinated tuna) along with avocado, green onion, shallots and micro greens. There’s variety in every bite, and the tangy, fruity, salty flavors of the marinade are balanced from beginning to end.
Another item that mixes East and West is the shrimp wrapped in wonton skin, fried and tossed with plum wine and garlic sauce. The menu description doesn’t do this justice, as it doesn’t mention the mixed green salad with sesame dressing that makes a nutty, tangy counterpoint to the fruity, garlicky shrimp. The greens make this a candidate for a fine light meal rather than just a bite before the main course.
You might want a cocktail before dinner. Perhaps try the Playa Water — a mix of lime, mint, Peruvian pisco brandy and India Pale Ale. Slightly bitter flavors are what make a cocktail interesting, and getting them from a hoppy beer adds a dimension to the drink.
If you prefer your hops straight, you have your choice of 37 specialty beers on tap, and they’re not all the usual lagers and IPAs. Here you’ll find Belgian-style sours and strong ales, wheat beers, and classic British-style pub drafts. Local breweries, including Three Weavers and Santa Monica Brew Works, are well-represented.
There are main courses that continue the fusion theme, items like sesame radish halibut or yaki udon seafood noodles, but Gulp also serves American favorites like a buttermilk-fried chicken breast over mashed potatoes with maple-bacon gravy. Maple and bacon are often overdone to where you can’t taste anything else, but here they offer a touch of sweetness and smoke to enhance the natural flavors.
If you prefer a stylish version of bar food, you might go for a Gulp Burger — your choice of beef or turkey topped with bacon, Swiss and blue cheeses, onion jam, arugula, tomato and garlic mayo. It’s the beloved everything-but-the-kitchen-sink burger that you can’t make at home because you don’t have that many fresh ingredients on hand, and with a big pile of freshly made parmesan-garlic fries it’s a deal at thirteen bucks.
If all those toppings sound like too much, there’s a classic burger with any tap beer for sixteen bucks, which leaves you a bit of spare change from a twenty for dessert or another beer. (And set some aside for a tip, because the servers are fast and friendly.)
When it comes to your dining experience, the main theme is choice. As Sny observes, “Summertime is coming up and they’ll be doing concerts and movies in the park, and we expect that a lot of people will order to go. Or they can just sit on our outside patio and enjoy the music and full service and have the best of both worlds.”
Gulp is at 13020 Pacific Promenade. Call (310) 496-3966 or visit gulpbrewco.com.