Sunday, February 16, 2014

Barbershop Ristorante Italiano - 02/15/2014

1555 Vine Street
Los Angeles, CA 90028
(424) 272-5849

I first encountered Chef Walter el Negar at a surprisingly successful dinner at Il Grano where the young chef brought a sense of modernism to the venerable Italian standby. I then had the good fortune to check out the first incarnation of his Barbershop Ristorante Italiano popup which I hoped would lead to an eventual permanent home. Turns out Walter wanted a few more trial runs under his belt and I was eager to see how much things had changed in the year since we last crossed paths.

2005 Champagne Millésimé Brut, Louise Brison, Champagne, France
Our first drink was a 2005 vintage champagne from Louise Brison. Nicely balanced with a nose of tart apples and lemon, a crisp minerality and light touch of toast follow on the palate.

From the very start of the meal, it was evident that this was going to be a more sophisticated experience than my previous Barbershop experience. The first dish was a beach in a spoon, pairing a Shigoku Oyster encapsulated in seawater with foie gras sand and sea beans. Shigokus are my absolute favorite type of oyster but the characteristic sweetness a bit muted by the seawater. The beans add a light crunchy contrast while the foie sand takes on a tacky viscous richness as it interacts with the seawater.

Sadly this dish came sans uni, which according to Walter was sold out at the farmer's market. An interesting study in contrasts the tartare of wild yellowtail came resting on a bed of fresh ricotta and topped with dashi pearls. The cheese is dense but lightly flavored with a slight grit to its otherwise creamy mouth feel. By comparison the fish is slick and oily though restrained by the cheese. The garnish of kinome and edible flowers packs a surprisingly aggressive peppery zest that compliments the fish beautifully.

While rice and berries might not sound like much, the course also featured a sashimi of fresh of Hokkaido Scallop. The thick slabs of creamy scallop contrasts beautifully with the toasty crunch of the puffed rice. I was expecting the berries to add a jammy element to the dish, but the both the disc of jellied raspberry and the strawberry jam were surprisingly restrained, letting the scallop take its rightful place as the star of the dish.

2005 Grande Cuvée TBA #7 Nouvelle Trockenbeerenauslese, Alois Kracher, Burgenland, Austria
I originally brought this for our dessert course but it was also a natural pairing for the foie course. A blend of chardonnay and Riesling, the TbA was predictably sweet with hints of warm brown sugar, spiced apple, quince jam, and dried apricot, along with a pleasing streak of acid that brings an appreciable lift to the honeyed elixir.

I never realize how much I missed foie gras, but this course was a welcome reminder of the decadent joy of fatty duck liver. The thick pate of liver comes coated with a thin layer of syrupy grape must. The Saba provides a predictable yet welcome element of sweetness. What really set the dish off for me was the aromatic bitterness of the herbs and flowers, the touch of astringency countering both the heft of the liver and the saccharine character of the Saba.

Timmermans Lambicus Blanche, Brouwerij Timmermans-John Martin N.V., Itterbeek, Belgium
Given Barbershop's liberal BYO policy, we opted for beer pairings for the rest of our savories. First up was a combination sour/witbeer. I can't say I've ever had anything like this. The first impression is the lactic tang of a classic sour, but there is a yeasty sweet finish reminiscent of a witbeer.

This course centered around a beautiful prawn, the sweet translucent flesh and rich briny head are sublime when taken on their own. I was afraid the olive would be overwhelming here but the flavor is nicely balanced by the cardoon and artichoke making for a multifaceted earthy affair.

Saison Sauvin, 8 Wired Brewing Co., Aotearoa, New Zealand
Our second beer was a Saison from New Zealand. Aside from the rarity, there wasn't much about this beer that stood out. There was a touch of funk but more hop and pepper than anything else.

While the idea of squid ink pasta might seem daunting, it usually turns out pretty good. Walter decided to eschew the typical seafood-heavy preparation and go for a lighter set of flavors with lemon rind and garlic. A single cooked oyster adds a bolt of salinity but the overall flavor of earth and garlic was oddly reminiscent of escargot.

Next up was a perfectly cooked lobster, translucent and crisp, the tail meat exudes a sense of sweet saline. The apple ravioli was a playful counterpart to the lobster, bright and tangy the fruit brings a contrasting levity to the butter soaked crustacean.

Sur Megge, HaandBryggeriet, Drammen, Norway
Literally translated "Sour Bitch" this Norwegian beer is a relatively approachable sour. The hazy amber brew has keen notes of sour cherry and green apple with a bone dry finish, a logical pairing for a course featuring balsamic.

Despite rose and balsamic being the headlining ingredients, the risotto possesses an overarching hammy savor which I suspect comes from the shaved cheese. The plump Acquerello is tender and supple, easily one of the most precise risotto preparations that I've ever tasted.

Beachwood 7, Beachwood BBQ & Brewing, California, United States
I haven't been very impressed by Beachwood's tap selection but this was quite a pleasant surprise. The nose is full of tropical fruit, particularly lychee. The fruit is still noticeable on the palate but the dominant flavor was a sharp herbaceous pine sap.

Pluma Ibérico de Bellota
An extra gift from the kitchen, the Pluma is a cut from the shoulder right next to the prized Secreto. I don't think I've ever had a piece of pork so rare, the red meat looks more like a rare beef or seared bonito than pork. The sexy supple texture of the meat is unlike any pork that I've ever tasted. I was expecting a bit more porcine richness, but it was the fresh springtime zest of the ramps that dominates on the palate.

Ovila Belgian-Style Abbey Quad: Ale Brewed With Plums, Sierra Nevada Brewing Co., California, United States
Our final beer was a special quadrupel from Qvila brewed with plums. There is certainly lots of sweet dried plums and spice with a touch of alcoholic heat. The wine probably would have been a more fitting companion for desserts than a savory but what do you pair with fish and chocolate?

Yes this isn't a typo, the dish really is cod and chocolate. The cod had one of the most amazing textures that I can remember. I could see the fish quivering like silken tofu as our server set the plate in front of me. The fish is fairly mild but still conveys an even oily richness. The chocolate-laced sauce conveys an almost imperceptible sweetness though the flavor is augmented the thin layer of coconut foam.

Ginger and carrots are among my least favorite things to eat so I didn't have high hopes for this course, but Walter far exceeded my expectations. The spice of the ginger and sweetness of the carrot are apparent but restrained thanks to the base of panna cotta.

Our final dessert certainly lived up to its name, pairing a bracing sweet lime sorbet with a spicy cayenne semifreddo. The spice isn't overwhelming but the heat is apparent as a scratching tickle at the back of the throat, an interesting idea though I would have liked something a touch heavier.

Without a doubt Walter has grown since we last met. The early courses in particular demonstrate a level of composition and complexity that far exceeds the typical crudo. Certainly he's upped his game when it comes to technique with a sophisticated multifaceted minimalism at work. While I missed some of the more explosive approachable flavors that highlighted my last visit, I do think the current Barbershop incarnation was a better overall experience.


asdfqwerty said...

You should come to one of my beer tastings one day!

Epicuryan said...

Sounds interesting where do you normally do your beer tastings?