"This tastes like berries on my tongue and coffee in my throat," said a serious young man with a scruffy beard to his willowy girlfriend as he thoughtfully swirled a glass of red wine. They were parked at the counter by the salad and charcuterie station at Barbrix in Silver Lake.
His girlfriend took his glass and sipped from it, nodding in agreement. "It does!" she exclaimed proudly.
While not wine pros, the pair obviously were having a rousing time tasting varietals from the restaurant's eclectic, international list and sampling small plates of Mediterranean-influenced food; and for owner Claudio Blotta, that is precisely the point.
He opened a neighborhood restaurant and wine bar in a 1,900-square-foot former home that was built in the 1940s. He wanted to create an unpretentious, low-key environment for people who enjoy eating and drinking and want to learn more about the pleasures of the palate.
"Food should be fun," says Blotta, who hails from Buenos Aires and spent 11 years as managing partner at Campanile before pairing with Gino Angelini to open La Terza. "It should be something that makes you say, 'Wow, I remember that, and my mouth felt so good and wonderful after I ate it.' "
Judging from the crowds of fickle rockers, air-popped models, buttoned-up businessmen and touchy-feely date-night couples who have arrived night after night at the 50-seat restaurant since it opened nearly two weeks ago, mouths are indeed feeling just fine.
The low-lighted, somewhat rustic house with its polished wood floors, helter-skelter table arrangements, pulsing wine bar and view of the kitchen, which is really just an L-shaped open space bordered by a counter, is calibrated to capture the feeling of dining at a friend's place.
The menu, created by Don Dickman (formerly of Rocca), offers something for everyone, with dainty little dishes including a tart and pleasing roasted cauliflower salad seasoned with cumin, paprika and cilantro and served cold; a refreshing chopped Turkish salad with Greek yogurt that looks like deconstructed gazpacho; crispy, garlic-fried sweetbreads that might as well be poppers; rich Niman Ranch pork belly with a tingly salsa verde; and plenty of cheese and charcuterie, including the interminably popular prosciutto di Parma.
The service is particularly friendly and attentive. Blotta says he hired his help based on attitude, not knowledge, because you can teach people the latter but never the former. "I hope it's working," he says, laughing. A packed house says it is.
Where: 2442 Hyperion Ave., Los Angeles
When: 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. Sundays to Thursdays, 6 p.m. to midnight Fridays and Saturdays
Price: Cheese and charcuterie, $4 to $7; fish and meat, $7 to $13; salads and starters, $4 to $8; wines by the glass, $6 to $10
Contact: (323) 662-2442, www.barbrix.com