Chef Walter el Nagar, a Venice local from the Piccolo family, with partners Guido Zwicker and Mario Vollera (Piccolo and South End), reopened their new-wave Italian pop up, Barbershop Ristorante, much closer to home. After runs at the former A.O.C. space in West Hollywood and Le Petite Creperie in Mar Vista, Barbershop debuted at Local 1205 on Abbot Kinney, a rustic coffee lounge and marketplace by day transformed into an intimate gathering for culinary experimentation on Monday and Tuesday nights, now through November.
Guest chefs will join el Nagar throughout their stint at Local 1205. Chef Ori Menashe from Bestia is confirmed on Tuesday, October 29.
An eight-course prix fixe menu reflects the history and imagination of the Milan-born art curator turned chef. He begins the fun with his interpretation of a caprese salad, tomato water encased in a cherry-sized ball with mozzarella and basil that literally bursts with the familiar flavors and catches everyone by surprise.
He personally delivers the gamerone alla griglia, grilled Santa Barbara prawns, explaining that they were alive only four minutes ago, and for the best, most concentrated flavor, you have to suck out the brains. "Americans can be squeamish about this," he says, "but trust me."
Couples at the 11-seat, marble-top counter watch each other's reaction as courses are served and begin to compare notes on the chilled duck tartar with oyster sorbet, sea urchin ravioli brushed with squid ink oil, and the presentation of halibut in jicama sauce that resembles a perfect egg yolk. A hearty risotto made with Japanese crab and huitlacoche, a Mexican truffle, is one of the unanimous favorites, as is the sliver of Campari gel served alongside pork and bitter greens.
For dessert, el Nagar prepares candied baby eggplant with hot chocolate sauce, another novelty of the evening, but a popular Italian treat, he says, especially on the Amalfi coast. Although his style is considered avant garde and the dishes bring together ingredients from all over the world, these recipes were forged in his grandmother's kitchen.
Eventually el Nagar plans to expand Barbershop's menu to include familiar dishes at more affordable prices because as he very humbly acknowledges, "This is a special occasion."
No details have been set for where Barbershop will settle permanently, but they're feeling very much at home.
Barbershop Ristorante (Pop Up at Local 1205)
1205 Abbot Kinney Blvd.
Venice, CA 90291