At Josh Loeb and Zoe Nathan's two hit Santa Monica eateries, the husband-and-wife team specializes in comfort food whipped up from regional bounty: At their wine bar, Rustic Canyon, diners feast on roast Jidori chicken (the very freshest free-range chicken) with lacinato kale and sweet pea ravioli. Across the street at restaurant Huckleberry, the eating is more whimsical, with dishes such as green eggs and ham (eggs with prosciutto, pesto, and arugula on an English muffin).
When they're not working 12-hour days, the Nathan-Loebs (pictured at left) bring the warmth and simplicity of their restaurants home, entertaining guests and grilling whatever looked tasty at the farmers' market that morning. The couple, ever the good hosts, share their trade secrets, healthy grilling techniques, and recipes on the following slides.
Summer is when most fruits and vegetables are at their peak, so there's no need to blanket them in sauces and marinades. "I keep everything as raw and simple as possible," Zoe says. "Corn, when it's good, should be raw. When it's not as good, grill it. Or cut it all off and saute with olive oil and jalapeno."
At the farmers' market, asking for "seconds" -- slightly damaged or overripe fruits and vegetables -- can halve the bill. And if you're making something that's cooked down, such as a jam or a soup or a cobbler (or an eggplant spread, pictured here with sauteed mushrooms and crostini), the flavor may be even more vivid than that of pristine produce.
"If you get seconds of peaches and tomatoes," Zoe says, "you'll make the best peach pie and tomato soup of your life."
If you're grilling a fresh, high-quality cut of meat, you don't need more than salt and pepper to amplify the flavor. Feeling more ambitious? You can build from there by adding chopped fresh herbs and acids. "Maybe a little balsamic vinegar if it's meat," Zoe suggests, "a little lemon juice if it's fish."
Pictured here: A plateful of summer food is the tastiest way to eat the rainbow.
To avoid overcharring, place chunky vegetables that take longer to cook, such as peppers and corn, on the coolest part of the grill -- the upper rack, if you have one, or in a far corner, where the flame is less direct. Even if you do burn something, there's still hope. "When things get a little blackened, you can perk them up with red-wine vinegar, balsamic, or lemon juice," Zoe says.
Pictured here, whole grains and vegetables are healthy choices for side dishes, and they're easy to prepare alongside grilled entrees.
Charcoal grills are inexpensive and impart a smokier flavor, but coals take a while to heat up and give off environmentally harmful hydrocarbon-rich smoke. If you opt for charcoal, look for sustainable briquettes without additives, like Green Hearts. For convenience and a lower carbon footprint, choose the instant, adjustable flame of a natural gas or propane grill.
Reduce PHAs and HCAs, two carcinogens associated with grilling, by cooking meats at lower heats (to reduce char) over perforated tinfoil (to prevent meat drippings from becoming toxic smoke). Or forgo meat altogether: Veggies don't form HCAs.
Pictured here: Zoe's dad Stephen heads the table; to his right is Arthur Sherman, who does PR for the restaurants.
Whatever the Nathan-Loebs are cooking up, it's always delicious, unassuming, and served with a helping of joy. "When I was in Berkeley," Josh says, "a place where everything was about farmers' market produce and small restaurants, that whole idea of artisanal things -- handmade bread, making everything from scratch -- resonated so deeply with me."
"Summer is the best," Zoe adds. "You can just get a bunch of veggies and a protein, make a salad, and for dessert serve a big bowl of strawberries."
Pictured here: At long last, everyone digs in.
Zoe, a master baker, met Josh when she applied to be a pastry chef at his first restaurant, Rustic Canyon. Of her desserts, Josh says they were "everything I didn't even know I desired -- blueberry cornmeal cake with homemade vanilla ice cream; an awesome cookie plate with salted caramel squares, gingerbread, and mini eclairs."
Pictured here: That's not stained glass; it's Zoe's stunning mixed-berry trifle.
Josh and Zoe's partnership in business -- and in life -- was meant to be: Their mothers, who were in the same book club, had decided that Zoe would be a good match for Josh, who had already opened Rustic Canyon. Zoe and Josh resisted at first, but when the restaurant needed a pastry chef, they knew theirs was a match made in culinary heaven.
"At its best, food makes people want to gather and eat and celebrate together. That's what this made me want." And there would be much gathering, eating, and celebrating: 18 months later the two married, and soon after, Huckleberry was born.
Now Josh and Zoe's endeavors are a family-and-friends affair: Josh's brother works at Rustic; Zoe's mom, Jesse (pictured here with Stephen and Josh), handles the flowers at Huckleberry; and pal Shiho Yoshikawa masterminds the flavors at Sweet Rose Creamery, the pair's new organic, from-scratch ice cream shop in the Brentwood Country Mart.
"In the restaurant business, a kitchen is your family," Zoe says. "And the way we have it set up, our actual families are involved. It's a space where friends can come and see us."