Skewered pork belly is among the many delights at Bacari P.D.R. Photo by Jorge M. Vargas Jr.

Skewered pork belly is among the many delights at Bacari P.D.R.
Photo by Jorge M. Vargas Jr.

The new Bacari P.D.R. offers an Italian take on Spanish tapas that hits all its marks

By Richard Foss (Richard@RichardFoss.com)

The steep, triangular lot at Culver Boulevard and Vista del Mar Lane is an improbable place for a restaurant — or anything else, for that matter — but it recently became a star attraction in a neighborhood that’s picking up speed as a dining destination.

The building clinging precariously to the hillside corner was for many years a French place called Bistro du Soliel, and before that the more aptly named Cliff House.

The new restaurant, Bacari P.D.R., specializes in Italian delicacies called cicchetti, a word that means “very small” in Venetian slang. It’s an Italian take on Spanish tapas or Greek meze — a procession of snacks that can be an appetizer before having a meal or going out elsewhere, depending on your mood. As most of these plates are priced at $8 each, or three for $21, you can get a lot of variety without spending a bundle.

First, though, you have to find a spot to sit in this strange building. The small interior is loud even when the place isn’t entirely full, as sound bounces around a lot in that hard-surfaced, narrow space. It’s rather quieter and surprisingly pleasant on the narrow patio facing the side street, and that’s where we were lucky to find a table. A server named Alex arrived quickly, briefed us on the dining style, and suggested we order a few items, see if we were full, and then order more if needed. That’s the way Italians usually dine, a languid evening of snacking without overeating, and we were happy to comply.

We decided to order lamb-stuffed eggplant, fried cauliflower with “smoked chipotle sauce,” a type of bruschetta called Tal’s Tower, and a thin-crust pizza with smoked mushrooms and white cheddar. Not having dined here before, we asked Alex that it be brought out in whatever order he thought was appropriate.

First to arrive was the cauliflower, which I had been curious about because of the redundancy in the sauce description. The definition of a chipotle is a smoked pepper, so specifying a smoked chipotle sauce seemed to imply some super-smoky tasting variant. In an era where you can get bacon-flavored anything, this was quite possible, but thankfully not the case. The cauliflower had been quick-fried and tossed in a mild sauce with more than just chili flavors, and I might have mistaken it for a mild curry with a dash of smokiness.

The Tal’s Tower arrived next. It was a spike on which mushrooms and small shrimp were impaled, stuck into a bruschetta and topped with a liberal amount of garlic and herb-infused olive oil. There was no way to attack it with a fork. This is finger food, messy but delicious. So delicious, in fact, that we couldn’t leave all that good sauce and ordered some extra bread — a good hot baguette— to sop up the oil.

Bacari has a cocktail program that includes some Italian aperitifs, but the classics are the focus. We had a very good black Manhattan as well as a Brazilian cobbler, a drink from the 1870s made with cachaça rather than traditional rum. The flavors in both were artistically combined and I could have happily had another, but decided to switch to a more food-friendly wine. Going back inside to look at a chalkboard Iist of beverage selections, I was bemused to notice a $25 all-you-can-drink-in-90-minutes wine, beer and sangria special.

The next item to arrive was the high point of a very good meal — large discs of sautéed eggplant with finely chopped spiced lamb between them, topped with lemon-garlic emulsion and scallions. If you wanted to encapsulate the flavors of the eastern Mediterranean on one plate, this would be it. I could have easily ordered another but decided to refrain, as we had a pizza coming.

The pizza turned out to be a very modern American pizza rather than one more of the Italian tradition, and the dough had been stretched very thin so that it had a cracker crispness. The toppings of white cheddar, parsley, béchamel sauce and garlic made for a particularly wonderful grilled cheese sandwich that happened to be on a crispy flatbread — an effect that was delightful. It went very well with our glass of Reckless Love red blend, a food-friendly wine that I highly recommend.

Almost full, we decided to split a dessert of malabi, an Israeli variant of Turkish rosewater custard. The original is creamy and lightly sweet and topped with chopped pistachios, which was the case here as well, but Bacari’s kitchen also added grated coconut and a bit of hibiscus flower syrup. A Turk would have had this with strong coffee; an Israeli possibly with a glass of brandy. It would be great with either.

Our bill was surprisingly reasonable: $73 for a fine dinner that included two well-made cocktails and a glass of wine. Understandably, Bacari has been building a buzz. Though the menu is as unlikely as the location, both make perfect sense once you experience them.

Bacari opens at 5 p.m. daily and closes at 10 p.m. on Sundays, 11 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays, and midnight on Fridays and Saturdays. Park in the small lot or on the street.

Bacari P.D.R. 6805 S. Vista del Mar Lane, Playa del Rey (310) 439-2100 bacaripdr.com

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