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Critic's Notebook

Tapas and Wine Mix at Primitivo

The Abbot Kinney bistro is a hit with the chic bohemians in the neighborhood.

April 04, 2002|S. IRENE VIRBILA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

At least one block of Abbot Kinney Boulevard is full of life after nightfall. That's Venice's restaurant row, so to speak, where the newly expanded Joe's Restaurant, Lilly's Cafe and the new Primitivo Wine Bistro all share the same valet station, and it's rare to see an empty seat in any of them.

I'd been hearing about Primitivo from wine buffs and finally had the chance to check it out recently. It made the perfect late-night dinner stop on the way to the airport to take the red-eye to New York.

What a change from Fabio, the mediocre Italian restaurant that previously inhabited this space. Named for the Italian grape that DNA fingerprinting has established as identical to Zinfandel, Primitivo has hit on a concept that appeals to the chic bohemians in the neighborhood. The place is thronged, both the long, welcoming bar and the tables.

Primitivo offers good wines at fair prices, plus an entire page of tapas, along with a handful of main courses for those who want to eat something more substantial. Tapas are the way to go. Order them a few at a time so there's somewhere to put them on the table.

First of all, a bowl of oil-slicked green and black olives from Greece, maybe a little baked goat cheese to spread on crouton rafts, not forgetting an order of tortilla Espanola, Spain's frittata made with eggs, potatoes and onions in the classic version. But you can also order it larded with chorizo.

Though the new chef comes from a tapas bar in Spain, the "little dishes" hail from all around the Mediterranean. There's a nice platter of cold cuts from Italy, a tangy hummus from the Middle East paired with Italian flatbread, a Provencal baked tomato stuffed with breadcrumbs and herbs, and quite decent calamari fritti, fried calamari with a hot pepper-spiked arrabbiata or "angry" sauce.

To finish off that bottle of Rioja or Chianti, save some room for the well-chosen cheese platter. Or, if you're still feeling peckish, dig into a plate of linguine alla vongole made with Manila clams and a nice balance of olive oil, white wine and garlic, or a simple grilled lamb chop with a minty yogurt sauce.

Oh, and don't forget the potatoes roasted with rosemary.

*

Primitivo Wine Bistro, 1025 Abbot Kinney Blvd., Venice; (310) 396-5353. Open for dinner only Monday through Saturday, 5 p.m. to midnight; until 1 a.m. (but no ordering after midnight) Friday and Saturday. Tapas $3 to $12; main courses $9 to $17. Valet parking.

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