Surf's Up, Dude

Summer House Santa Monica brings Cali to the Midwest

December in Chicago gives everyone the blues.

We've got an easy cure: Eat at Summer House Santa Monica. Doesn't the name alone sound like a sun-drenched beach party?

The restaurant specializes in "California cuisine," although the all-over-the-place menu reads like it came from the Golden State by way of a focus group.

But who cares when the food is good, the Pinot Noir is plentiful and they sell beach balls on the appetizer list ($8). We mean actual beach balls. Seriously; we thought it was some kind of croquette.

Fresh, delicious vegetables, like the radishes and multicolored carrots slick with lemony dressing in the vibrant shaved vegetable salad ($10) brighten up gray days. Pretend you're sitting in the sand as you eat "surfer-style" mahi-mahi tacos ($20) that you assemble yourself from smoky, firm fish, crisp fennel slaw and sharp salsa verde. The slow burn from roasted cauliflower with jalapeƱo pesto ($9) was so good, we immediately tried to replicate it at home.

And if you must go back outside, first warm up with a "hot mess of fries" topped with savory shredded braised pork, blue cheese, a fried egg and just enough salt ($12).

Luckily, you've got a few months before revealing your beach body.