By MICHAEL AUSHENKER | Contributing Writer
Step into Barrique during the magic hour or in the evening and you are truly transported to another corner of the world.
With both downstairs and upstairs patios, extensive wine racks, and charming table surfaces made out of the cork of wine barrels, this Main Street Italian mainstay captures the color, the spirit and the intimacy of a ristorante in Southern Italy.
Breathtakingly classy and rustic on the inside, you feel as if you’re eating on a Sunday in some rural town, somewhere in the Sicilian campagnia.
In its previous incarnation, this cozy Abbot Kinney-adjacent spot had been a fixture as well: the long-running Ado, also well received—thanks to Executive Chef Antonio Murè’s Michelin star-blessed creations.
Then Ado inspired a couple of spin-off versions around Los Angeles, which were then sold to other owners. In an attempt to distance itself from competing Ados, Murè brought on partner Tony Black a couple of years back and relaunched the restaurant as Barrique by December 2015.
Since Black has come into the fold, Barrique has exceeded the heights of the original Ado—booked solid in 2016 and continuing on that upward trajectory into this new year with Chef de Cuisine Victorino Balbino at Murè’s side.
The people who run Barrique are top tier. Born in Porto-palo di Capo Passero, Sicily, and raised in Parma, Emilia Romagna, Murè spent his formative years in Italy. That experience informs his cooking.
Well-dressed and clean-shaven, Black, who has past experience as an actor and screenwriter, looks like a movie star himself as he circulates around the upstairs dining room and patio, greeting his guests. Just as equipped to kibitz with diners is the jovial Chef Murè, who seemingly enjoys spending almost as much time socializing as he does downstairs in the kitchen.
Such hands-on hospitality from the top—along with the atmospheric confines within the “little yellow house” and the rich, expertly prepared cuisine—really creates an amazing dining experience.
So what’s for dinner? Well, for starters, order the house Crudo, which appears as amazing visually as it does to the gusto. Based with a sea bream and Peruvian ahi (a tribute from the chef to business partner Black, whose family originates from Peru), it comes with a dressing style made with lemon, lime, avocado, raw, red onions, a chive-infused olive oil and black lava Hawaiian sea salt.
Presented in a kaleidoscopic construct on the plate, this tiradito really comes alive with every mouthful. Once you get past its glorious architecture and pop a forkful into your mouth, the ingredients hit your tongue with a citrus-y freshness.
Grilled Octopus—served here with smoked potatoes, green beans and a housemade aioli—may as well be a canvas of contemporary art with its palette of greens and purples and its zigzags of off-white sauce.
In recent years, grilled Spanish octopus appears to be a go-to staple at many Westside restaurants specializing in high-end Italian and Mediterranean fare. What makes this order different is its sheer succulence and the softness of its meat. There’s nothing tough or rubbery about the smoked tentacles served here, and, as seems to be a running narrative at Barrique, the food appeals to the eye long before it ever reaches your stomach.
Another epicurean delight that lives up to its visual promise is the Homemade Red Beet Tagliolini. The ingredients in this pasta dish may seem disarming at first: flat fuchsia-colored noodles, served with a marsala quail ragu on a bed of Taleggio fondue. However, the combination is sublime, and two plates worth of this dish disappeared quite fast under our watch. Easily the superstar order of our evening.
That said, the entire evening seemingly built up to a savory, smoky climax that was our
steak. Don’t bother asking for the A-1 or the Heinz when you order the 12-Ounce Grilled Dry Aged Rib-Eye.
This beef is so flavorful, you’re not going to need it. Unfurled in all of its fatty glory and topped with big shards of shaved Parmesan shrapnel with arugula and an aged balsamic dressing, this dish is not only delicious, but this hefty portioned, satisfying entrée makes for an amazing deal at $38.
There was nothing automatic-pilot about the dessert either, as proven by the Layered Chocolate Mousse, a dark-on-white chocolate experienced backed by a wafer-y chocolate crust that almost has the airy crunch of a Kit Kat bar (which is not a belittlement, just a description of the texture). The mousse itself has depth, is adequately sweet and pairs very well with a hot, frothy cup of cappuccino.
As far as “expensive” restaurants go, Barrique’s prices are not beyond the pale, especially given the quality, presentation and portions served here, in an environment that really does feel worlds away from the crazy eccentricities of its surrounding environs; a welcome oasis from the hustle and bustle of Silicon Beach.