Summer House Santa Monica is located in North Bethesda, but it wouldn’t be hard instead to imagine yourself inside a Southern California beach house.
It certainly has that vibe. The design incorporates whitewashed wood walls, wicker chairs, white-painted ceiling beams and light wooden tables to give the big open dining room and attached bar an airy feel. The 100-seat outdoor patio will open when the weather gets nicer.
“The whole idea is to transform your mindset,” said Jeff Mahin, one of the restaurant’s chef/ partners. “Even if it’s cold outside, you can take off your coat and feel like you’re somewhere else.”
The restaurant, which opens Thursday and seats 200 inside, is attached to Stella Barra Pizzeria, an artisanal pizza concept scheduled to open in February.
This is the second Summer House and fourth Stella Barra concepts opened by chefs Mahin, 31, and Francis Brennan, 41. The two met while cooking together at L20 in Chicago—a seafood restaurant that earned two Michelin stars before it closed at the end of 2014.
Summer House features an American menu with California accents. Many of the dishes will be similar to what’s offered at the Chicago location and focus on locally-sourced fresh vegetables and fish. Mahin said new items they plan to introduce include a seared rockfish served in a light ginger broth and a salad that features hydroponically grown lettuce grown in Maryland that’s not cut from its roots until it’s put into the bowl. Signature items include slow-roasted chicken, wood-grilled Atlantic salmon, ahi tuna tostadas and fish tacos.
The front of the restaurant has a bakery counter that offers breakfast items, breads and sweets ranging from ginger snaps to mint Oreo krispie treats.
The price point at the restaurant is expected to range from $35 to $45 per person with a drink.
Mahin and Brennan are from the same Northern California town, but due to their age difference didn’t know each other until meeting in Chicago.
“Jeff and I hit it off right off the bat,” Brennan said. Together they first opened Do-Rite Donuts, a small- batch donut shop that has two Chicago locations. Brennan said they thought of the Summer House concept while searching for a restaurant that catered to their California palette in Chicago. After not finding one that met their expectations, they decided to open their own.
The two are partners in the Summer House and Stella Barra restaurants with Christopher Meers, a Bethesda native. All three are also partners in the Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises restaurant group, which operates dozens of concepts across the country, including Bethesda’s Mon Ami Gabi.
Meers grew up in the Edgemoor neighborhood and graduated from Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School. He has partnered with Pike & Rose’s developer Federal Realty on other restaurant projects and said it was exciting to be opening another restaurant with the real estate developer and one so close to his extended family.
Martin Ticar, who previously worked as the chef at Mon Ami Gabi locations in Reston and Bethesda, will take over the kitchen on a day-to-day basis at Summer House.
“Marty is the man who makes everyone look good,” Mahin said.
Mahin, who lives in Los Angeles, and Brennan, a Chicago resident, say they plan to stick around to guide the restaurant through its opening. When Stella Barra opens next month the two will be responsible for managing nine restaurants, a task they’ve taken on with the help of LEYE.
“As the restaurants evolve, so do we,” Mahin said. “In our search for excellence we have to fail a few times, but we collaborate really well together.”
The dining room.
First picture: Chef/ partner Francis Brennan, left, partner Chris Meers, center, and chef/ partner Jeff Mahin, right. Second Picture: Summer House chef Martin Ticar, left and Stella Barra chef Darren Underway.
The counter bakery includes an entrance to Stella Barra Pizzeria, which is scheduled to open in February.
The front of the restaurant features garage doors that can lift up when the weather permits.
There's outdoor patio space both in front of the restaurant and to the side.