Barbershop Ristorante Farewell Pop Up On Lincoln Blvd.
The things you find in old auto and service shops on Lincoln Blvd. are becoming more and more interesting these days.
B&S Auto Repair transformed into one of the trendiest brunch spots in Venice. At Deuce Gym, body builders flip tires in the outdoor lot of what was once Pacific Service & Repair, and where Marina Vacuum & Appliance used to buy junk TVs, Christy Dawn now sells breezy made-in-LA dresses.
From Rose Avenue to Washington Boulevard, this gritty strip of Highway 1 has become a hot streak of reinvention, appealing to artists and designers looking for a blank slate to try something new. Though it has a certain unlovable charm, its lack of refinement makes it an unlikely candidate for a fine dining destination. Yet, it could not be more fitting for Walter el Nagar, a Venice local and one of the most ambitiously creative chefs in LA, to host his final series of pop-up dinners.
Now through the end of April, el Nagar's Barbershop Ristorante, the roving culinary experience known for progressive Italian cuisine and unusual but surprisingly delicious flavor pairings like the uni and white chocolate Sea Bonbon he served at a previous pop-up, will be serving two nights per week at Clutch Annex. It's a makeshift event space at Sunset Avenue, and next to an actual barbershop called Service & Supply. (No relation.)
The annex is owned by Oscar Hermosillo, the king of local Cali-Mex eateries, including Clutch Venice across the street, and Oscar's Cerveteca and Venice Beach Wines on Rose Avenue. It's spare and industrial, Hermosillo's signature aesthetic, and spacious. It's large enough to park a few of his vintage trucks and hot rods inside, which he does when the space is not in use, and the decor is not only minimal by design, there's not much of it. There are a few banquet tables and about a dozen impressively durable Frank Gehry cardboard chairs salvaged from R23, the longtime sushi restaurant in the Arts District that Hermosillo took over to open a second location for his Cerveteca.
For the past three years, Barbershop Ristorante has made the rounds in kitchens throughout LA, from A.O.C in West Hollywood, to Japanese Knife Imports in Beverly Hills, to several stints here in Venice including the former Local 1205 on Abbot Kinney (now The Butcher's Daughter), Flake on Rose, and The Anchor on Main St. el Nagar's pop-up experience nearly became brick-and-mortar as Barberia in Downtown LA, but plans never came to fruition and el Nagar continued on in his nomadic adventure.
After this final dinner series in Venice, the journey will carry on in Europe for at least a year, says el Nagar, with stops from Ibiza to his native Milan, where his passion for cooking began and where his years as a traveling art curator undoubtedly influenced his technique and presentation.
As with each of his pop-ups, el Nagar personally guides an intimate gathering of dinner guests through an impeccably planned tasting menu and accompanying pours from his partner Mario Vollera (South End Pizza & Wine Bar). The physical menu itself is even a point of interest with intriguing names for each course such as the Body Glue, a tender artichoke with pecorino, cured lemon and olives.
The space is completely transformed at night, softened with a string of globe lights and a smoldering fire pit near the entry. As you walk in, el Nagar is fashioning his first plates, the Snacks, many of which he will serve to you himself. The highlight here was a seasonal dish of raw prawns and fresh spring peas over burrata, and a spicy Kifto toast with beef tartar.
Then, coconut ceviche topped with a spring bouquet. It was served in the shell so you could scoop out fresh bites of coconut meat with angel shark and pickled onions cured by coconut vinegar.
There's always a first-time experience with el Nagar -- the food, the ambiance, the orchestration of it all. The technicality and precision in his cooking permeates every detail of the night. When he serves the main dish, Exploded Xiaolongbao, pork jowls, sea urchin and zhenjiang bubbles, you have no idea what to expect in that first bite, but you trust this adventurer to push the boundaries and take you someplace new and exciting.
Barbershop Ristorante @ Clutch Annex // 436 Lincoln Blvd. Venice 90291 // Tuesday and Wednesdays at 7pm or 8:30pm; $75 per person with option wine pairing for $25.