I’m not sure how I came across it, but I recently “discovered” Barlo Kitchen + Cocktails at the Hotel Irwin in Venice, just a block from the beach. Like Fork in the Road in Santa Monica, Barlo is one of those places that’s pretty much flown under the radar of most food publications–a few “now open” posts on Eater LA, some “reviews” that are little more than restaurant listings on various sites, but no write-ups on Chowhound or from independent food bloggers–while ranking decently on Yelp with a 4-star rating on 208 reviews.
Barlo’s initial claim to fame, at least what early notices all seemed to mention, was their “bacon caramel”, which I had imagined as some kind of sweet, caramelized bacon confit, but it’s just bacon infused caramel, which is not a bad thing. The concoction is available on top of popcorn as an appetizer, or topping their eponymous Barlo Burger. With the lifting of the foie gras ban, the burger has been upgraded to Barlo Burger 2.0 on the menu to include a slab of the fatty duck liver on top.
The rest of the menu is eclectic, not what I’d expect a hotel restaurant in a very touristy area to serve, but if you’ve made the rounds to some of the hottest restaurants in town, you may experience some déjà vu. Of course, trendy items such as poutine and bone marrow appear on many restaurants’ menus, including Barlo’s, but seeing fried pig tails served like Buffalo wings and a meat pie with a bone “chimney” jutting out of the center can’t help but remind me of Animal and chi SPACCA, respectively. The most important thing, though, is how the food tastes.
Dining solo the night I tried Barlo, I could not order too much, but I did sample a trio of dishes.
Crispy Pig Ears, fleur de sel, grilled lime [$8]: The problem with this dish, not just at Barlo, is that breaded fried pig ears seem to soak up a lot of fry oil. The nice thing about Barlo’s take is that the ears are not cut too thin, so it’s not more breading than meat, and it doesn’t end up being too greasy. I did wish they were just a little crisper.
K-Town Pig Wings: crispy pig tail, kimchi buffalo sauce, pickles [$12]: While Animal did not invent the dish, their Buffalo pig tails are one of their signature dishes and incredibly popular. Fork in the Road does a Buffalo wing-inspired pig tail dish, but, at least in the rendition that I tried, the tail meat was made into more of a croqueta. Barlo sticks with the bone-in preparation, but tries to distinguish its take on the dish by introducing Korean flavors into it. The problem is that I really didn’t get much kimchi flavor in the sauce, and the pickles were rather sweet. In combination, these factors made the tail taste more like it was covered in barbeque sauce. While tasty, the dish just wasn’t quite what I was expecting.
Scotch Egg: duck egg, sage sausage, fig jam [$7]: Another tasty-but-not-quite-as-expected dish, the Scotch egg was probably the largest I’ve seen, due to the use of the duck egg. I’ve generally found duck egg whites to be a little more astringent, and the yolk to have a distinctive flavor, but that was not the case here. It tasted like chicken … egg! The issue I had with this dish was that the sausage layer encasing the egg was very thin. The breading was nice, but it was mostly what I tasted, along with the sage, but I didn’t really taste any sausage.
I found my meal at Barlo to be quite decent. It didn’t wow me, but not every meal has to do that. Despite being a hotel restaurant, it has a very neighborhood-y vibe. Hey, I’m just glad to find a place near where I live that has pig ears and tails, even if the menu seem a little derivative.
If I come back, and I plan to, I’d probably try the “Eggs and Bacon”, which is a salad that has crispy pig ears. That may cut the grease factor a bit, and be healthier too. Plus it’s got a 63° egg. I’d probably also try the Rabbit & Marrow Pie with the bone chimney sticking out the middle. If I could gather up some folks, I wouldn’t mind trying a “Whole Beast” family style dinner, like the Hog’s Head or the Leg of Goat–hey, those aren’t whole beasts! :-)
Barlo Kitchen + Cocktails (At Hotel Erwin)
1697 Pacific Ave
Venice, CA 90291