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Friday, May 30, 2008

Finally a Decent Tapas Joint. Well, Almost...




After a summer in Madrid many moons ago and being spoiled in New York with top-of-the-line tapas joints, I must say I've been utterly unimpressed with a few in California that purport to serve tapas, including La Paella, The Courtyard and even Zarzuela in San Francisco. I admit I haven't tried Cobras y Matadores or Bar Celona in Pasadena, but suffice it to say that I was so desperate I cooked my own Spanish feast at home. I am officially addicted to PBS show, Made in Spain hosted by chef Jose Andres, although I am miffed that he doesn't post his recipes on the Web site (I type the recipes as I watch TV).



So when I heard that Bar Pintxo evoked tapas bars in Barcelona and was actually inspired by a popular bar there, I hopped right over. That Joe Miller of Joe's fame in Abbot Kinney was the owner helped, although I lament that Joe's has been on the decline lately, a quick fall from being one of my favorite New American places.

Bar Pintxo was decent but not great. The sangria was passable. The foie gras on bread was the best and the jamon iberico was ok albeit too thickly cut. There were more duds than successes, but I would recommend it for the ambiance and some of the good dishes. We started off with a very refreshing cava, a sparkling wine that looks like a rose. We had Avinyo Rosat Alt-Penedes, which was pricey but good. Because the portions are so small and prices relatively low ($2-12), we sampled almost everything on the menu.



The chorizo with the sunny-side up quail egg looked inviting and was a good mix of salty and runny texture. Then again, it's hard to go wrong with chorizo, or fried egg, for that matter. The croquettes were also good. Then again, anything fried is usually good. The spinach salad with hazelnuts and golden raisins had a good mix of flavors and texture -- crunchy and salty with some sweet undertones.

The bread that many of the tapas came with could be improved. The sofrito, that versatile and usually tantalizing mix of tomatoes, onions and some spices, fell flat on its face. It had absolutely no flavor and even the texture felt wrong. The radish, jicama, cilantro, avocado and lime dish sounded great but was a tad bland. Dates wrapped in bacon with cabrales cheese was ok. What was most upsetting was the tortilla espanola that was far too eggy and flavorless.



Other mediocre dishes included gambas al ajillo, or garlic shrimp whose flavors didn't pop. The flatbread with mushrooms, piquillo peppers, caramelized onions and basil was decent but didn't wow. The second most disappointing dish was the black squid ink rice with clams and shrimp. It held so much promise but the rice was dry and crumbled like sand in your mouth. Oh, and let's not forget the lack of flavor, again.

Maybe it's the tiny kitchen space but if all those amazing tapas joints do it in Barcelona and other Spanish cities, this one should too. Another pet peeve: charging for basic tapas like manzanilla olives that come out for free in the home country. Equivalent to charging for kimchiand other banchan, or side dishes, at Korean restaurants. Actually, only the least authentic ones do charge. Should this be a gauge of whether to patronize this place?



Hope they work on raising the quality of the food but for now, it's a place to go for a quick bite and drink because those bar stools were not made for sittin'. Stick to the ham and foie gras and cava and you'll be transported -- at least until they bring out the tortilla espanola.

Bar Pintxo
109 Santa Monica Blvd.
Santa Monica, CA 90401
(310) 458-2012

4 comments:

phasmatidae said...

I guess you never made it to Cesar in Berkeley? We haven't been there in years of course, but back in the day it was really good -- if you don't mind the noise and the wait...

ironchef442 said...

yeah, I have, but didn't think it was *that* great. it's true that I didn't have as many dishes b/c I was on a budget but compared to my expectations, it wasn't as good...

persimmongirl said...

tapas - one of my favorite ways to eat. looks delicious! perhaps it was modeled after bar pinotxo at la boqueria? here's a shot - we went there every morning for breakfast: http://tinyurl.com/3j23oh and the proprietor, juan: http://tinyurl.com/4t5z48. buen provecho!

ironchef442 said...

brilliant! yes, i'm pretty sure that's the one. makes me a tad jealous of your relative proximity...