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FIRST LOOK

At Bar Pintxo, Joe Miller does tapas his way, and what a way it is

January 03, 2008|S. Irene Virbila

Pop into Bar Pintxo, Joe Miller's new Barcelona-inspired tapas bar, and most likely you'll see Miller (of Joe's Restaurant in Venice) behind the stove in the open kitchen. He could be flipping a tortilla espanola -- the tall Spanish omelet laced with slow-cooked onions and potatoes -- or putting the finishing touches on the night's special, a paella. Tapas and platos (larger plates) are listed on a blackboard above the kitchen, and a handful of folks have grabbed the stools just in front of the action.

It's only when you're up close that you notice how small the place is -- just 30 seats including those at the bar, a ledge along the wall and half a dozen small high tables with stools. I run into two friends just back from Spain gobbling down luscious dates wrapped in bacon and stuffed with the pungent blue cheese Cabrales.

Bar Pintxo takes no reservations so we're lucky to get a table after only a short wait and our group squeezes in around it, ordering a beautiful Albarino from the all-Spanish list and a first round of tapas. A flatbread is topped with sliced roasted lamb. Gambas al ajillo -- shrimp with garlic -- are wonderful, drenched with lemon and served two to an order. That tortilla is delicious, too, as is a plate of jamon (Spanish ham) aged for 18 months and cut by hand -- the better to appreciate its marvelous texture. This I could eat and eat. The Catalan spinach, too; sauteed with golden raisins and handfuls of pine nuts.

With more than two dozen items to choose from at this soulful new tapas joint, we barely make a dent in the menu .

Wine is served in tumblers unless you request stemware. Just look around if you don't want to poke through the wine list: The bottles are lined up on shelves along the walls. But do check in on the specials: the paella that night is a real treat, loaded with seafood and suffused with the taste of an intense stock, and we find ourselves scraping the bottom of the pan.

Two more friends wander in after a movie. It's not that I'm telling everybody about Bar Pintxo. When Joe Miller opens a new place, everybody wants to check it out. Right now, he's hands-on and excited about doing tapas his way.

And though it may be tough to get a seat at prime time on the weekends, Bar Pintxo is open from lunch straight through to midnight, so you can pop in for a few bites any time.

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virbila@latimes.com

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BAR PINTXO

WHERE: Bar Pintxo, 109 Santa Monica Blvd., Santa Monica.

WHEN: Noon to midnight daily. Wine and beer. Lot parking next door.

PRICE: Tapas, $3 to $8; platos (bigger plates), $2 to $9; desserts, $5 to $6

INFO: (310) 458-2012; www.barpintxo.com

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