We checked out two new tapas and wine bars last week, Bar Pintxo in Santa Monica and Vinoteque in Culver City. Both were festive, yummy and fun, albeit with completely different menus and vibes. Bar Pinxto is a Spanish-style tapas bar from one of my favorite neighborhood chefs, Joe Miller, of Joe’s in Venice. We stopped in after work one night to have a drink and a bite with Kelly Liken, chef-owner of her eponymous Vail, Colo., restaurant, who was in town for a Bon Appetit photo shoot. (Look for her to be singled out as a young female chef of the moment in an upcoming issue.)
We ordered a whole slew of tapas and platos to share, including thejamon iberico, which was only recently allowed into the country and which we believe should be renamed jamon fantastico! Our other favorites were the paella with blood sausage and chicken, which managed to taste rich and yet feel light; the juicy gambas al ajillo (shrimp in garlic), and croquetas de pollo y jamon (chicken and ham).
In the solid but not spectacular category, we put the chorizo and fried quail eggs. Full disclosure, we may have let get too cold before trying it. Hey, we ordered a lot, and they delivered it all at once. The esparragos blancos con romesco (white asparagus with red pepper aoli) was cool and refreshing but lacked the zest I was expecting. I’m shocked to report that none of us cared for the dates wrapped in bacon with cabrales cheese. Grubtrotters readers know how much we love bacon, but as Liken pointed out, it tasted a bit too smoky. We also had a bland flatbread special that we didn’t order, even though the waitress insisted we did. As for the wines, we could have done without the 2004 Ostatu-Crianza Rioja Alavesa that our server suggested. It was too light for our taste, but we very much enjoyed the bolder 2005 Canopy Malpaso Mentrida. Bar Pintxo was pretty crowded, and the benches are hard and backless, but this is a great spot for a fast bite and a nice glass of wine after a day at the office.
Vinoteque was our Saturday night pick. The location was a bit surprising. We figured it would be in the heart of what’s happening downtown in Culver City. The owner helped found the Bottlerock wine bar there. Instead, Vinoteque was way off the beaten path, on Sepulveda near an ice rink and a Taco Bell. With live jazz music and low lighting, it feel like a small nightclub for the vino crowd. A very uniform vino crowd. In fact, five women at one table wore nearly identical black and white patterned dresses. Just about all the ethnic diversity in the joint was provided by the band.
Our friend Rob joined us, and initially we sat at a wobbly little table in the bar area. They fixed the wobble, but the tiny table just didn’t have room for the dishes we ordered and drinks for three. Luckily, a couch space in the lounge area opened up after somebody failed to show. (Be sure to make a reservation if you want to eat in comfort.) We enjoyed the charcuterie plate and the Mideast Burger enough to order seconds of each. The Mideast Burger is actually a juicy, sausage-shaped lamb kefta on top of homemade pita with a honey-harissa yogurt sauce. The Grilled Truffle Cheese on Breadbar bread was a bit dry, but the Grilled Spring Onions and Peas in a romesco sauce with Spanish Garroxta cheese was flavorful, with onions that were nicely charred. There’s also an extensive cheese menu, but we skipped it. Not in a cheese mood. Our first wine selection was a light Italian red, a 2003 Borgo di Colloredo Molise Rosso that just didn’t do it for us. But they give a small discount for pairing certain wines with dishes so why not try a glass? We asked for a taste and then switched to a bottle of 2005 Huntington Petit Syrah, which was affordable and solid.
Bottom line, if you’re hungry and looking for good food, Bar Pintxo has a much wider selection. If you want more of late-night bar experience, with wine specials projected onto screens and just enough grub to cure the munchies, bypass the Taco Bell and head over the Vinoteque. — Jenny