Barefoot Cafe, a sister establishment to two San Fernando Valley restaurants, Piacere and Prezzo, has opened near the Beverly Center in the space of the former Mabe. The word BAREFOOT , in illuminated block letters, has been planted in the creeping ficus above the door, and certain other design changes have been made to make this a more casual restaurant.
Whatever else you might have thought of Mabe, you'd probably concede that it was pretty: primped-up, lavishly appointed, obviously expensive, but in a designer showroom way.
Some of Mabe's prettiness lingers. The bar is still polished and inviting; some of the commodious wooden chairs remain. Ladies still turn up at lunch. But the lovely wood-sashed windows in the dining room are now dressed with contorted wrought-iron rods holding sheers the color of oxblood. The window coverings are so ugly, it's almost worth a trip to Barefoot just to marvel at them.
These days, the airy room feels close, the ceiling low, the noise level loud. Barefoot's new aesthetic leans toward a witch's lair.
Even so, with a predictable, mostly Italian menu, reasonable prices and a friendly service staff, Barefoot is clearly a popular date spot. On several visits, I saw glimmers of a bar scene.
One Saturday night, as we dined on the front patio overlooking Third Street, first two, then four, then 10 Harleys pulled up into the valet zone and parked their gargantuan chrome-loaded hogs. The valet looked defeated. Our waitress raised an eyebrow.
"Ah, the sweet smell of Harley exhaust," she sighed.
Ten men and one female rider filed up the steps to sit at the large table behind us. These were older bikers, in their 40s and 50s. They were, I suspected, not Hell's Angels, but Hell's Entrepreneurs. One bearded man in a tight Harley T-shirt grumbled, "I thought there'd be more ladies here."
The lack of Harley ladies notwithstanding, Barefoot is an all-purpose restaurant serving breakfast, lunch and dinner, with a shortened "intermezzo" menu to fill in the gaps between meals.
The breakfast menu is small, limited to baked goods, cereal and a handful of simple egg dishes.
Lunch and dinner menus, however, are extensive. But agonizing over what to order does not necessarily yield beneficial results; the food is hit and miss.
Portions are quite generous. Barefoot's crab cakes, for example, while not the most succulent or interesting I've tasted, are certainly the largest, fattest crab cakes I've ever come across.
The so-called bruschetta, "on focaccia bread," as the menu put it, looked exactly like a pizza; the version with arugula, tomatoes and \o7 bufala \f7 mozzarella had a good chewy crust and fresh toppings.
Grilled chicken salad with vegetables was a bit of a cooked-vegetable mush; a Caesar salad had an oddly white dressing and was not very tasty. The small butter-bean salad, with tomatoes, cucumber, red onion and romaine, was the most simple and clearly conceived.
Most of the appetizers were respectable, if not remarkable. The \o7 calamari \f7 was crisp; the layered, basil-scented cool vegetable terrine brought to mind Mabe's wonderful goat cheese flan.
Three large, sweet mesquite-grilled shrimp came wrapped in basil and pancetta and were served on mushy mixed vegetables. Better were three sweet sauteed Mexican shrimp served on a bed of spicy mixed beans.
Pasta is a big seller here. We tried perfectly good \o7 trenette\f7 , a linguine-like pasta with pesto, smoked chicken and well-restrained use of cream. \o7 Orecchiette\f7 , little ear-shaped pasta, had a lively red-chile flavor and small clouds of fluffy, fresh ricotta, but the broccoli in the dish was mostly undercooked stalks.
Quickly seared chicken \o7 scaloppini\f7 with capers and lemon was muddled by a dark reduction sauce and a heap of overcooked julienned vegetables. Rack of lamb came in a reduction sauce haunted by tarragon; the three small chops were tasty enough, but the only accompaniment was the slimy vegetable heap.
Barefoot's desserts are the same old standbys--\o7 creme brulee\f7 , \o7 tarte tartin\f7 , \o7 tiramisu\f7 , cheesecakes--edible, if unexciting. Leaving, we had to admire the row of Harleys--the flamed gas tanks, the flawless chrome. Now \o7 that\f7 was exciting.
\o7 *Barefoot Cafe, 8722 W. Third St., Los Angeles. (310) 276-6223. Breakfast, lunch and dinner daily. Full bar. Valet parking. Major credit cards accepted. Dinner for two, food only, $28-$60.