Barbianca is a hotel restaurant that locals can love
By Richard Foss (Richard@RichardFoss.com)
If you live in L.A., this has probably happened to you. You are driving somewhere new and get within sight of your destination, but can’t figure out what combination of streets will actually get you there. At such moments the whole world seems to consist of one-way streets, dead ends and driveways that become visible only after you pass them.
It was such a driveway that caught me up when heading for Barbianca Local Kitchen, an eatery located inside the Hotel MdR. My wife asked, “Hey, is that it?” as we passed the entry on Maxella Avenue, having already rounded our destination on two sides. She was right, and I ended up traversing a few parking lots before finding my way back.
She graciously refrained from smirking as we found our way to the restaurant, a large but stylish space with a broad patio overlooking landscaped gardens and a pool. A cheerful server named Ky handed out menus, which offered “Northern Italian fare with Napa Valley sensibilities” and boasted that most produce is local. Some of the customers are local too — one of the first things that happened while we were there was the staff coming out to sing “Happy Birthday” to a pair of diners who greeted them by name. It was a charming moment demonstrating that, despite being inside a hotel, Barbianca has loyal local fans.
One reason for that showed up when our starters did: the plate of three substantial bruschettas was prettily arranged, and the crisp mushroom polenta that came with it ranks with the best I’ve ever had. It had a luscious bright corn flavor with the foraged mushrooms in gravy sprinkled with parmesan shavings and chives. Polenta was once the food of the very poor in Southern Italy and scorned by gourmets, but this dish shows how wonderful it can be.
As for bruschetta, Barbianca offers three for $10 or five for $15. We selected roasted cauliflower with olives, capers and Calabrese peppers; poached tuna salad with olive oil; and a third with lemon-braised artichokes, parmesan and oil. The peppers in the cauliflower mix were on the assertive side, and along with the capers and olives were the largest component of the flavor. It wasn’t bad, but I’d tone them down a bit so there’s more of a union of flavors. The other two were spot on, the tuna topped with crisped onions like an open tuna salad sandwich for adults rather than the picnic standard.
Ky suggested a La Pistola from the cocktail menu and an item the bartender has been tinkering with called a Paper Plane: bourbon, lemon, Aperol and an Italian herbal liqueur called Nonino that is based on gentian root. The Paper Plane was so good that I went to ask the bartender about the ingredients, and he offered me a taste of that amaro — a friendly gesture from someone who evidently appreciated a curious customer.
For entrees we selected a shrimp, fresh tomato and zucchini pasta with herb cream sauce and fava pesto and a Kurobuta pork chop over Tuscan white beans with tomato and sage oil. The flavor of the chop was excellent, but I could tell from the first bite that it was overcooked. When a manager passed by and saw that I wasn’t eating it, he immediately offered to start another one after I explained the problem.
While we waited, my wife and I nibbled the pasta — tubes called garganelli, with plenty of seafood and cubes of vegetable in a cream sauce. The dab of pesto on top was a flourish rather than an integral part of the dish, but I would have happily had more, as it was a lovely flavor. Even without that accent it was a fine main course, and a good intermission before the more assertive flavor of the pork.
The second pork chop arrived after less than ten minutes and was perfect, moist and flavorful with a thin hint of pink in the middle. Americans tend to overcook pork and want it to be white end to end, but it is both safe and far tastier when cooked this way. This one had a tasty herb glaze that accented the flavor of the meat and a cap of crisped prosciutto, and was delightful with the bean mix and pieces of cauliflower that accompanied it. If you appreciate good pork, this is it.
We had asked Ky to suggest wines to accompany the meal, and he brought glasses of Summerland chardonnay and Talbott pinot noir. The wines were good, the prices fair and the pours generous. We were content.
Dessert was offered, and though we had eyed a toasted almond cake served at the next table, we were nicely stuffed — portions here are generous. It had been a lovely, serene meal, and worth the $120 we spent.
Barbianca offers locals a 10% discount card, but the real reason to return here is because they have a motivated, friendly staff serving very good food and drinks. Mice run mazes for cheese, but our path was less convoluted with much finer food at the end.