The corner looks like hundreds of others around Los Angeles, a place where a main artery meets a boulevard of shops and restaurants.
This one is more significant than most, because that boulevard is Abbot Kinney, and that half-mile stretch to the north of Venice Boulevard contains some celebrated and adventurous restaurants. As undistinguished as the architecture is, that corner is the gateway to dining and nightlife for a big chunk of the Westside.
But what if you go in the opposite direction, looking south instead of north? A glowing red sign on the southeast corner says “Zinque,” and though details are hard to see through the dark windows, it looks distinctly like a restaurant. It is, and my wife and I went in one evening just to see what the place is like.
The former auto repair shop has been artfully repurposed and opened up with many windows. It’s sunny by day, dimly lit and mysterious by night, but with all that glass comes the drawback that it’s chilly in the evening. The modern space is stark yet intimate, with a long bar (topped with wood rather than zinc) dominating the room.
The menu is brief – tartines (similar to bruschetta), quiches, salads, paninis, and nibble food, which are all French wine bar snacks. We decided to have a tuna tartare tartine, Nicoise salad and roasted Spanish cocktail sausages called cantimpalito.
I asked about a Paso Robles Vermentino wine that was available by the glass, and our server Doniella suggested I try it before ordering. It was not to my taste, and I asked her to suggest something; she brought a delicious Sancerre that went very well with the seafood starters, with a beautifully balanced Bordeaux for my wife.
The salad and tartine arrived simultaneously, and neither was quite what I expected. Nicoise salad usually has green beans and anchovy along with tuna, greens, eggs, olives, and sometimes chunks of cooked potato, but this one was different. The anchovy and green beans were missing, but there were thin slices of good, aged Parmesan for richness, with capers in the salad lending a vinegary tang. It wasn’t really a Nicoise salad, but we liked it on its own merits.
The tartine was made with toasted Parisian sourdough wheat bread topped with ahi tuna, a small amount of pesto, and, according to the menu, “salt/vinegar chip.” I had been concerned that the character of the tuna would be obliterated by the other flavors, but this wasn’t the case; there was a distant salt and vinegar flavor and mild basil/garlic sharpness, but neither took over. It wasn’t what we expected, but we liked it and would order it again.
The roasted sausages were simple – a bowl of little pork links that were densely chewy, the meat accented with garlic and paprika. They were served with spicy Spanish mustard and cornichons, and the small-looking portion was filling enough along with our other savories that we decided to skip to dessert.
Several desserts were offered, and a good but pricey selection of dessert wines. I considered the salt caramel brownie, but at Doniella’s suggestion we got a pear and an apple tart along with a glass of Chateauneuf-du-Pape. That glass of wine was $19, but completely worth it, and it went splendidly with the warm tarts.
The apple tart was topped with chopped almonds and well paired with vanilla ice cream. The pear was simpler but had a wonderful biscuit crust, and it paired well with rich chocolate hazelnut ice cream. Both were heavenly with the red wine. Many people prefer having dessert wines with fruity items, but I’m not one of them – I might have ordered a glass of port with the flourless chocolate cake, but the Chateauneuf was the ideal combination here.
As the evening went on, the place got more crowded – it had been quiet at 8:30 p.m., but was hopping with every seat full two hours later. Zinque has been derided as a hipster hangout, and there’s some justice to that – some of the habitués had obviously spent a lot of money to look that artfully scruffy – but based on our experience the hipsters know something about good eating.
The food bill for two was $49, our wine bill just about the same since we splurged and had some of the best items offered by the glass. It was worth it for a simple but stylish meal with excellent service in a lively café, and Zinque is high on my list of places for a light meal and a quality quaff.
Zinque is at 600 Venice Blvd. in Venice. Open 6:30 a.m. – midnight midweek, 7:30 a.m. – 2 a.m. Sa-Su. Beer and wine served, small parking lot, wheelchair access OK but most tables high. Website at lezinque.com. 310-437-0970.