Until the late 90’s, Venice Beach remained an eclectic crossroad of hippies, gang-members, surfers and artists. It was the poor man’s Santa Monica. And, back in the day it was one of the only LA neighborhoods I could afford because my beachfront studio was only $600 a month. Anyone who has stepped foot near Venice lately knows that those days are long gone.
The struggling actors and beach bums have been replaced with trusta-farians and corporate types who feel “cool” by dwelling amongst the foggy whispers of the free-living days of yore when musicians, poets and flower-power ruled the beach. Sadly, most Venice dive bars have been replaced with darkly-lit cocktail lounges (Circle Bar, Red Garter and The Brig, to name a few). And, places like Gjelina exalts snotty attitudes to a whole new level of douche-baggery. Luckily, Hotel Erwin’s homey restaurant Barlo is heading down a different path to meet Venice’s monied residents’ insatiable appetite for foodie gratification.
Chef Adam Steudle, a native So-Cal boy himself, has answered their call with his approachable, rustic bar-friendly fare set amid wood-lined walls, candles and a casual, unpretentious atmosphere. I mean, the hotel signage is awesome rattle-can art. Hello, Venice.The menu features gussied-up nibble-worthy favorites such as pickled deviled eggs, smoked fish tacos and a poutine slathered in a luscious lamb gravy and pork belly (worth the calories, and then some). Insider tip: order the truffle fries and ask for a side of the lamb gravy to dip them in. Its insane.
In addition to sourcing seasonal produce from local farmers, he also presents Whole Beast dinners whereby parties of 4 or more can order a whole pig’s head, whole roasted trout or leg of goat, with a choice of 2 sides, ranging $32 – $38 per person.
One of the nice things about Barlo is that the food is delectable and thoughtful yet reasonable. A rare find in most cool spots nowadays, especially in trendy neighborhoods. For example, I dived right into a shared plate of K-Town Pig Wings which presented omg-tender chunks of meat, peppered with crispy pig tail, kimchi buffalo sauce and sweet pickles for only $9. Do it. The Oxnard raw Kale salad may sound redundant, these days, but the huntsman cheese, cucumber, tomato and the most fabulous herb vinaigrette I’ve had in a while. At $8, it’s a steal.
I have to admit that I was less than overjoyed with the Oyster Mushroom dish. The carrot cumin foam reeled me in but unfortunately, there was no foam to be seen, only a soupy sauce that fell flat with hard peas which didn’t do justice to the otherwise perfectly edible mushrooms.
Obviously, Chef Steudle has a soft spot for the molecular so another turn was in order with the liquid nitrogen ice cream. Now, that, my friends, is well worth ordering. I’m a bit of a sucker for tableside prepared dishes. Call it “high maintenance” but when dinner-and-a-show means that my food is prepared next to me – on the dining room floor, no less – I get kinda giddy.
In order to make it workable (and safe), the nitrogen ice cream stewardess uses a hand-cranked Kitchen Aid sourced from an Amish supplier (no joke – they can’t use electricity) with cream, yummy stuff, and a water pitcher filled with liquid nitrogen that she slowly pours in while cranking the handle. The result is a dense, gelato-style ice cream that finishes off a night with smiles all around. Skip the maraschino cherries and plastic-bottle chocolate sauce. The ice cream is enough. And amazing.
So, basically, what I’m saying is work out before you go to Barlo. You will – and should – indulge in any and everything. Except the mushroom thing. But the rest is amazing. And, the staff is super nice. Go to there.