My only previous experience at a Malibu Farm restaurant—the chain has eight locations, as far afield as New York and Tokyo—was at the Four Seasons Lanai. Malibu Farm is that resort’s poolside restaurant, open for lunch and drinks. The food there is what you’d expect: salads, sandwiches, and other dishes you might eat while wearing a sarong.
When friends recently came into town, I reserved a table for dinner at the Malibu Farm at the Rosewood Miramar Beach. I assumed the restaurant would be along the lines of the one in Hawaii—serving accessible fare with a healthy-ish bent—and I knew it would be able to cope with my friends’ myriad dietary restrictions and preferences. Plus, a drink at the hotel’s Beach Bar is de rigueur for out-of-town guests.
Uncharacteristically, I didn’t spend much time with the menu in advance. So it came as a rude shock that the Miramar’s Malibu Farm outpost is a different beast from its Hawaiian sibling. Entrées are served à la carte, like at a steakhouse—if you’d like something to accompany that lonely piece of salmon, you have to order it. There may very well be people who prefer the flexibility of organizing their own meal over the creativity and liveliness of a composed plate, but I’m not one of them. That goes double when entrées run $36 to $47 and sides are $9: why am I paying so much for a piece of grilled fish? Our waiter claimed that the sides feed two, not at all the case with the mundane green salad. (On the other hand, he eased the pain with a country club pour of wine.)
I left wondering what the point of this Malibu Farm is. If you’re going to spend upward of $70 on food alone, wouldn’t you rather be at Caruso’s? The food is more interesting there, and unless you fall for the extra pasta course, the prices are similar. And I’d certainly take the atmosphere at Caruso’s over Malibu Farm. As pretty as the latter’s interior is, it’s also soulless, like a stage set. The exterior is pleasant, of course, but dining outside isn’t hard to achieve around here, and other restaurants don’t make you listen to Aladdin, which was being screened at the nearby pool. All in all, Malibu Farm felt like a front for the room-service kitchen, a plan B for hotel guests who couldn’t get into Caruso’s.
If I was going to write about the restaurant, I decided it was only fair to give it a second chance. At lunch, the restaurant made much more sense. The terrace was warm and welcoming (if a bit too sunny—the ChapStick in my pocket melted), the people-watching was excellent, and Aladdin was nowhere to be seen or heard. “It’s a perfect hotel lunch,” said my husband, hitting the nail where it wants to be hit. Are the prices high? Sure, compared to non-hotel restaurants. The salmon is the same $37 as at dinner, but at least it comes with two sides. And the fried chicken sandwich wasn’t worth $24 on its own, but the $10 I overpaid more than covered the extras—not just the cup of good fries, but also the civilized setting, the elegant tableware and linens, and the free refills of lemonade and Arnold Palmers. At lunch, the prices and the stakes are lower, while the benefits of the setting are greater. That said, you’d still be wise to keep an eye on prices: a single shot of espresso, we learned too late, is $8.