Bar | Kitchen in the O Hotel downtown announced that they have hired Dave Kaplan and Alex Day, partners in Proprietors LLC, to consult on and partner in operating the hotel's restaurant and bar . Bar | Kitchen has been in business since the 67 room boutique hotel opened in 2007; two months ago the owner brought in Proprietors to revamp the offering. Kaplan is the owner and creator of Death & Company in New York City, which was recognized at Tales of the Cocktail in July as the Best American Cocktail Bar and as having the World's Best Cocktail Menu. Day is a well-respected mixologist who began working with Kaplan at Death & Company before they launched their consulting partnership together, and consults on cocktail programs globally, including several recent projects in Asia. Bar | Kitchen represents their first joint effort in which they have worked with an existing establishment, rather than helping create something from the ground up, like their successful launch of the Franklin Mortgage & Investment Company in Philadelphia last year.
As a full service restaurant and bar in a hotel serving lunch five days a week and dinner Monday – Saturday, Bar | Kitchen is a different kind of venture for Kaplan and Day. The philosophy of the kitchen and the bar program is to be approachable and ingredient driven. If you are expecting a temple of the cocktail, you will be disappointed as that is not what Bar | Kitchen is about. Instead it seeks to bring craft cocktails and delicious approachable food using quality ingredients at reasonable prices. The three course lunch is only $18 and the three course prix pixe dinner is only $28. Cocktails are only $10 and during happy hour “thrifty mixed drinks” will be available for $7.
The current cocktail list is pared down with only four, two of which are available on the happy hour menu, including the Site Hound, a take on the greyhound, but with gin as the base spirit and with aperol, scarlet glow infused tea, fresh lemon and grapefruit juices and seltzer water. This was refreshing and a light introduction to the cocktail program. I also sampled the Smokescreen, with a base of islay scotch, fresh lime juice, a dash of green chartreuse and fresh mint. The smoky flavor of the scotch imbued the drink without drowning out the other components. Although the cocktail list may be short, the bar has been staffed with bartenders that know their way around the classics, including one female bartender who makes one of the best Manhattans available in Los Angeles.
In addition to the cocktail program, there is a new wine list focusing on interesting and well-priced bottles, with a significant portion coming from the Iberian Peninsula. At the bottom of the wine list it states “all of our wines are chosen for quality and value, but also to showcase interesting styles and regions without getting all prissy about it.” The crisp vihno verde from Portugal is typical of the unsung gems on the list of less than a dozen selections that Day described as “structured to take away pretense.”
What to eat at Bar | Kitchen? Seasonal pickled vegetables ($5) is a pleasant vinegary option, although the Perishable Pop-Up has nothing to fear from these. A more interesting choice is the White Anchovy Bruschetta with celery gremolata ($6). This dish exemplifies the “honest” food that Kaplan described as their goal. The bruschetta was simple, letting the anchovies shine and the ratio of topping to toast, which can often get out of whack like an oversized piece of nigiri on a tiny bed of rice, was perfect. Simple and delicious. No fuss.
If you see the Braised Beef Short Ribs with roasted carrot puree and seasonal root vegetables ($19) on the menu, look no further. Short ribs can be an overdone winter dish but this fresh take with the carrot puree and root vegetables is a clean and filling meal. Baby white onions, some carrot puree and some of the tender beef make a satisfying forkful. The short ribs were flavorful without resorting to the cloying sweetness that sometimes plagues versions of this dish.
To end your meal, you can opt for a pot of Intelligentsia coffee and/or one of the three desserts, my favorite of which is the chocolate pot du crème with whipped cream and fleur de sel ($6). The salt brings out the flavors of the chocolate and adds a savory element to the dish.
Day and Kaplan changed everything from the soundtrack to the color of the walls in addition to the food and drink. The décor has been updated on a tight budget with the use of dark and chalkboard paints, to unify the space. In both the use of chalkboard and the menu typeface, there are evident influences of The Tasting Kitchen in Venice, one of the duo’s favorite restaurants. The previous incarnations of Bar | Kitchen had not been real draws and lacked a feeling of a cohesive whole. Kaplan mentioned the over one dozen different colors on various walls in the space and the disconnects between the menu and the beverages in the old version. Now Kaplan and Day have created a “continuity in hospitality” as Kaplan describes it across every aspect of the operation. Bar | Kitchen is still a work in progress, but it is like a butterfly that has emerged from two months in its cocoon, ready to take flight and spread its wings and leave its earthbound caterpillar stage far behind. As Kaplan and Day concluded our interview, “We’re excited to expand upon what this can be.”