My last evening in the L.A. area was blessed with a surprise visit by O.C. friend, Joan. She showed up as I was tearing down my booth at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium and after a very long day of peddling my wares, I was anxious to get some fresh air and just stretch my legs. We walked the Santa Monica Promenade which I had not been down in almost a decade. Not really surprised but slightly saddened to realize that all the independent shops had all been replaced with large, corporate chains. Even chain restaurants. There was a brief debate about dining at a Houston's just because the wafting smell of grilled animal flesh was so enticing -- but the wait was not and so we kept wandering. I was thrilled to see my favorite local British pub, Ye Olde King's Head, was still alive and surviving and as we wandered close to consider it for dinner, we spied a small restaurant directly across the street, Bar Pintxo at 109 Santa Monica Boulevard.
We were incredibly lucky to snag a spot on the bar as minutes later, waiting diners were lining up behind us, waiting for a coveted seat at the very small, intimate establishment. I asked the waiter to bring me a glass of his favorite red wine. "Light or meaty?" he asked. Oh, definitely big... I was served a lovely '06 San Roman-Prima Toro. Perusing the menu, I wanted to make sure I ordered enough veggie items to share and probably ordered one too many as Joan had to leave right as the food started arriving, leaving me to battle the onslaught of food to arrive. We were automatically given a bowl of really exceptional olives which certainly whetted the appetite. Spinach was a given as I adore sautéed spinach with garlic and this version also included pinenuts, apples, and raisins. This was on the more vinegary side, but still very fresh and bright.
I liked that a number of small plates were available, including the simple bites of tronchon with membrillo at $2, "parfait" of foie with caramelized onions and apples for $9, and dates wrapped in bacon with cabrales cheese for $5. The dates were amazing; just caramelized to that point of enticing sweetness juxtaposed with the saltiness of bacon. A neighbor on the bar had something I had to ask about and then order; a pumpkin salad with pomegranate seeds. Served with wilted greens and thinly sliced cheese, this was a delightful concoction indicative of fall flavors. The pumpkin must have been steamed for it was obviously not raw but still had a lively crunch to it. The last special I couldn't resist was a selection of baby octopus served with fingerling potatoes and fresh garbazo beans. So often the heads of the baby octopus are removed and here they were still part of the presentation. So tender and rich, it killed me that I wasn't at the restaurant with four people as I certainly wanted to taste more of the impressive menu, but was far too full to continue by myself.
The restaurant *is* small and rather loud. The service can lag a bit but I didn't mind; it is obvious they are busy and they certainly are not slacking in their attempt to serve quickly. There were only two servers and while an extra pair of hands might have made things a bit faster, it also would have made the small space that much more crowded. I say go early and be patient. I would also suggest a party of three or four to get that many more tastes. They were slicing jambon I would have loved to have tasted and I watched them grilling some stunning large shrimp which smelled amazing. Very fresh ingredients and extremely well-prepared -- moreso than any tapas restaurant I have been to in recent memory.
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