It was a somewhat vulgar term for the pre-opening of a restaurant, my pal Steve pointed out.
“You’re right!” I replied. “I hadn’t thought of that.”
If you’ve never been to the “soft opening” of a restaurant before, the experience can largely be encapsulated in a single sweetly sad moment at the recent preview of a new restaurant we attended with our friends, Steve and Ashley:
A young waitress brought one of our cocktails to the table. The drink was too full, she was nervous, and green tequila-infused juice splashed over the rim of the glass all over her hands and the table as she awkwardly set the cocktail down and apologetically scuttled away.
“What sort of food do they serve?” Leslie had asked as we drove toward Glendale.
Ashley’s brother Zachary’s boyfriend Lior is chef/partner. But Ashley couldn’t recall the name or what they served. She scanned her phone until she had a hit, “They serve something called ‘cicchetti.'”
Cicchetti! I could speak to that, having done blog posts on the very thing and recently been in Venice. Cicchetti, I explained, were the Venetian version of “tapas” that they served at the bacari wine shops in Venice.
“Bacari!” Ashley exclaimed, “That’s the name of the restaurant!”
Bacari is located in yet another Caruso faux city, Glendale’s Americana at The Brand (that’s a shopping center, folks), alongside outposts of other hipster eateries planted there including Katsuya and Eggslut. It’s the third of three, with previous locations in Playa del Rey and Downtown. We approached the boarded-up front and tentatively tugged at the plywood door, which yielded easily, revealing a bustling half-finished restaurant inside.
“Welcome!” said a manager as if it was just another Tuesday evening, while we navigated our way around ladders and plastic-covered construction zones.
What is fun and unique about soft openings is that they are often free – or practically so — and you get to try all sorts of different things, some of which will be cut before opening, some of which are spot on, some that still need a tweak here or there. The deal in this opening was $20 per person, which got you two dishes of your choice, and all the wine and cocktails included. (Too bad I was fighting a cold and we were 30-ish miles from home.)
Any thoughts of Venice vanished the moment I looked over the menu — any “bacari” and “cicchetti” connection ended with the fact that they served wine and small plates. The menu was more in the vein of your ubiquitous American gastropub (bone marrow and gourmet burger? check and check!). But I will give them points for finding something other than “gastropub” to call themselves.
Our effusive waiter, Gaylord, was on his third night at the restaurant, and reinforced the unfinished aesthetic. “Your questions are probably my questions! So ask away!”
We asked first for wine, before we realized there were cocktails. At which point we tried to hold the wine. But they’d already opened it, so we asked for wine and cocktails.
Our first couple selections were from the “Vegetable” portion of the menu — a tasty dish of caramelized brussel sprouts with pomegranate molasses and creme fraiche, and cauliflower with chipotle sauce and mixed greens. We also ordered from the “Pasture” section the bone marrow, never a bad choice. The Bacari version comes with a caper panko crust, which looked strange and was utterly unnecessary to my taste — the mark of a great marrow generally being the execution and the quality of the bread.
I was looking forward to trying one or two of the pastas. But no, Gaylord sadly informed us, “No pastas tonight.” Another quirk of soft openings — something you want may be sold out, may have not been delivered, may be on another night’s rotation, etc.
Also from “Pasture,” we tried a duck confit which was nicely executed, presented and flavored, although I found the addition of “housemade fromage blanc” contributed a dissonant dairy note where I’d never before seen one. (“What is the curdled stuff?” Ashley puzzled, thinking it was a mistake.) We also ordered what I thought was the best dish of the evening, a 24 hour-braised short rib with tarragon aioli and zucchini slaw. Not only did the tarragon perfectly offset the richness of the rib, but the zucchini was somehow cut into ribbons that stretched longer than our arms, and had to be one of the funner things I’ve eaten in a long time.
Our one selection from “Sea,” a beautiful dish of banana prawns with pipel chuma, farro and parsley salad, was on point if a bit too sweet.
From the pizza oven we tried a smoked “cremini” mushroom pizza. The smoke flavor overwhelmed the pizza, and cremini mushrooms are simply regular mushrooms that are browner than button mushrooms; I might suggest the pizza would be more successful with unsmoked chanterelles. They pattern their crusts after Mozza, which is a smart thing. And the crust was indeed nearly perfect, making me wish I’d tried some of the other pizzas instead.
Overall, the restaurant was fun and lively, the food creative and tasty, it was a joy being invited to a creative enterprise in process, and I’m certain this will become a destination for the hungry and wine-thirsty on the East Side.
I, personally, wouldn’t mind seeing a sarde in saor or polenta baccala appear on the menu to legitimize the Venice connection.
The Americana at Brand
757 Americana Way
Glendale, CA 91210