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The Dining Deck at Santa Monica Place Aims to Take Mall Food to New Heights

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The entire top floor of the newly-remodeled Santa Monica Place is devoted to food, and is functioning as the mall's "third anchor," signaling the property's awareness that dining is a crucial component in a consumer destination. Three concepts are reflected on the Deck: an indoor fast-casual food court, six chef-driven full-service restaurants, and the artisanal-focused Market.

Two of the three dining areas will open to the public when the mall does on Friday August 6th, however an event held last night introduced the six restaurants to friends, family, and the media. Up on the open-air top level as the sun set on a brisk summer's day overlooking the Pacific and the always-bustling 3rd Street Promenade, we toured each of the six restaurants, making brief visits in each one to meet the folks in charge, and sip and sample their drink and food.

The six full-service restaurants are:
- XINO Restaurant+Lounge, a sophisticated, modern take on classic Chinese cuisine created by noted chef Chris Yeo
- Ozumo, a highly acclaimed San Francisco concept offering contemporary Japanese fare in a casually elegant setting
- Zengo, an eclectic concept featuring Latin-Asian cuisine from nationally recognized restaurateur Richard Sandoval
- La Sandia, an upscale, modern Mexican concept also from Richard Sandoval
- Pizza Antica, a sophisticated concept from Northern California specializing in hand-made pizzas and other Italian fare
- Sonoma Wine Garden, a new hybrid wine bar and beer garden with a small plates menu and beautiful urban garden setting.

Each restaurant has a distinct cuisine and decor, beverage program, and seating options--some of which come with some pretty remarkable views.

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Though it was tough during the course of the tasting tour to really get a sense of what each one will be like during a regular meal, it is clear to see that a great deal of thought went into not only selecting which dining concepts would be suitable for the space, but also into how to provide guests with a multiple options and a variety of settings, despite all being located on the same dining deck.

The seats on the patios that overlook the Promenade will surely be much coveted for Santa Monica's many tourists, but the Dining Deck is poised to challenge the conventional take on "mall dining" that often keeps local customers away from such enterprises. If you can't shed your cynic's outlook, consider at least it may be more enjoyable for you on those days when you usher your out-of-town guests through the "traps" you typically avoid. The pizza of Pizza Antica, the fire-side seats and the cocktails at Zengo, and the sake lounge at Ozumo are about to give the other bars and restaurants in the vicinity a solid run for their money--and your appetite.

Then hold on to your hats for early 2011, when The Market debuts; it "will feature independently owned purveyors of gourmet chocolates, small batch olive oils, artisanal cheeses, fresh bread and much more." Meant to be similar to San Francisco's beloved Ferry Building, the little(r) guys of the local food scene will be repped in full force.