At his eight-seat, seaside Tel Aviv restaurant, Savida, Israeli chef Dan Smulovitz was known as the fish guy. He grilled fresh, local fish caught daily and prepared it with raw ingredients procured from markets in Old City. During its 10-year run, it remained one of Israel’s most acclaimed restaurants.
Since June this year, Santa Monica has been able to taste Smulovitz’s seafood wizardry. The chef moved to Los Angeles in 2021—so his daughter could attend school in the U.S.—and was eager to share fresh seafood with diners once again (Smulovitz closed his Tel Aviv restaurant in early 2019).
The Santa Monica restaurant, also called Savida, follows the same ethos as the Tel Aviv original. This time, though, the focus is on raw preparations with the use of just three to four ingredients per dish. “The thing that guides me is simplicity,” Smulovitz says. “I want to give each of [the ingredients] the respect they deserve.”
Nearly 85% of the menu is raw seafood, with Japanese, Mediterranean, Italian, and Latin American influences. Octopus is tossed with harissa, preserved lemon, kalamata olives, and tzatziki and served on a crunchy corn tortilla (octopus tostada). Cured bonito gets a tangy creme fraiche topping with dill and tomato. “I want to have bold flavors,” Smulovitz says. “I want the full acid and flavor to come out in every dish.”
Other items on the menu include Smulovitz’s take on a lobster roll. His version features lobster flavored with lemongrass, coconut milk, vanilla, and celery, all stuffed into a Hawaiian roll. It’s a lighter, less bready version of the butter-drenched New England-style preparation, Smulovitz says.
One of his favorites on the menu is the “figment of my imagination” dessert. Fresh figs star in a creation featuring mascarpone, candied walnuts, honey, and fresh oregano. It’s finished off with a drizzle of olive oil. “What connects everything is the olive oil,” Smulovitz says. “That’s where the lightness of my food comes from and I wanted to continue that in the dessert.”
Smulovitz awaits a beer and liquor license, but the non-alcoholic drinks selection includes blueberry and celery sodas, and Topo Chico.
The casual restaurant seats 34 in a space that’s done up with wood tones and muted grays. High-top seats at the bar provide a peek into the goings on in the kitchen—grab a seat here to watch Smulovitz work his magic. “I wanted to make Savida casual because you don’t have to put on an act to have a great dining experience,” Smulovitz says.
Savida is open Tuesday through Sunday from 12 pm to 3 pm and 6 pm to 9 pm. Reservations can be made on OpenTable.
Kristin Braswell is a journalist and founder of CrushGlobal Travel, a company that customizes travel guides and authentic experiences around the world.