The backstory on the three ambitious, talented men that created Barolo Joe, a catering company and dinner club, is that they all work in the “business,” meaning food. Such a breath of fresh Southern California air – they’re not peddling scripts. The driving force behind it, Joseph Baker, originally from Vancouver, made friends with Abraham Lukaczer, born and raised in Seattle, about ten years ago. Then, through Tar and Roses, they met and pitched their idea to a third partner, Eric Grant, born and raised in Maine, who had been touring with a band for years, but had also done stints in food in San Francisco and Nantucket. These three food and wine enthusiasts teamed up. Barolo Joe was born.
Serendipity is my middle name.
All right, not legally. I don’t have a middle name. My parents were too lazy to give me one. But I do have many serendipitous moments. I had a big one a few weeks ago. Huge. I’m sitting at my favorite restaurant -- at least it’s my favorite when they keep balsamic glazed ribs on the menu.
Digression. This happens to me a lot, so I’m pretty certain it’s a plot: when I love something on a menu, the restaurant invariably removes it. Tar & Roses in Santa Monica will usually have the ribs, but then they won’t. Once, when they took it off the menu, I freaked out. They put it back -- briefly -– then scratched it one more time -- and now it’s back. Finally, I can safely order my favorite dish whenever I want. I probably just jinxed it.
So... I sit down at the bar one night -– not a table -- because I was being spontaneous and forgot to book a proper reservation.
I ordered another favorite there, grilled bread with BUTTER. Most people enjoy this without butter because it’s already been saturated in oil before being grilled. But I’m a butter freak. I tell my cute waiter, slash charcuterie preparer, slash bartender that I can’t wait to eat the bread and butter. Then we start to chat with Abe, the oh-so-cute young man who is serving me. More talking, bantering. And I discover one of the new best kept secrets in Los Angeles. A monthly supper club! Sign me up, I thought. Later that same night, I did.
I had fantasies that I would be the old broad at the dinner I signed up for, and that all the other guests would be strictly young hipsters. I love young and hip, but prefer an eclectic crowd so that I’m not the dinosaur. Good segue. Dinosaurs was the title of the dinner I booked. The online invitation read, “Four Courses Excavated From the Haute Cuisine of the Classique and Nouvelle Styles. Each Dish a Relic From a Bygone Culinary Era.” I was told in advance what the first course would be. They had me at House-Cured Salmon on Buckwheat Blinis with Caviar.
After you sign up, you receive an e-mail divulging the clandestine location. We were told that someone would meet us outside and walk us up. I already loved this before even a morsel of food went into my mouth. Eric greeted us in front of an all-brick building of gothic-style architecture called the Ellison. It’s in Venice, but you feel you’ve either stepped back in time or are somewhere in NYC.
Eric walked us into the apartment and introduced us to his stunning Marilyn Monroe-esque girlfriend. Diana has bleached blonde hair and was wearing a short-short skirt, with legs up to here. Well, legs up to there. I was informed she is a schoolteacher. This is one hot school marm. She told us that Eric not only sends her to school with a gourmet homemade lunch, but then he has dinner waiting for her every single night. My response? I want a time machine so I can go back and meet him first!
My friend Donna and I both expressed a fear that they would wait for everyone’s arrival before serving food, and we would be standing around starving. This did turn out to be partly true, but they kindly passed around an amuse bouche of lamb tartare served on Belgian endive. Hmmm. I’ve never had anything but salmon and steak tartare, but I went for it. The jury is still out; my mouth liked it, but my brain won’t get past uncooked lamb.
I saw some beautiful loaves of bread on the counter. They were made fresh just for our meal. I was salivating. Then I overheard something so touching. Abe, the chef of the evening, who knows that my friend Donna and I love butter, had brought some especially for us. God, shouldn’t I be doing something nice for him in return? The thought passed in a millisecond as I was immediately caught up in the aromas of the delicious meal being prepared. A communal table had been set for the 25 or so of us who had signed up.
I love the passion and enthusiasm of this crew. Each week, Joe, Eric and Abe go to Farmers Markets around Los Angeles to see what is fresh and exciting. They send each other daily notes on wine and food. Joe came up with the idea that since they share the same taste in vino, they ought to develop and produce their own wines in a leaner, crisper style currently absent from the Southern California landscape. Their label, a Sauvignon Blanc called Savage will be released in April 2015. Each wears several hats, but it’s mostly Abraham in the kitchen, with Joe and Eric helping with prep and serving. Before each course, Eric announces the details of what we are about to eat and drink.
Now, with all the guests seated in this ultra-hip, retro beach pad, we were introduced around. I got lucky with the spot I found myself in. Chemistry was instantaneous with the guy sitting across from me. He made a mildly inappropriate joke about the name of the snails we were about to be served. On the menu, they were listed as Fockin’ Snails, which I assumed were some specialty escargot. Then I took his joke and beat it into the ground, repeating “fuckin snails” way too many times in less than five minutes. A twelve-year old boy lives inside of me. Although, he is a boy with a real taste for gourmet food.
The first course was the House-Cured Salmon on Buckwheat Blinis that got me there. I could have scarfed down eight of them, so it was wise they served only two, and I had room for the other courses. A Louis Roederer Champagne was served with the blinis.
Next, they announced a Waldorf Astoria salad, but with a modern-day twist. Torched Little Gems with buttermilk, bleu cheese, Peads & Barnett Lardons, Sweet 100s. Brander Sauvignon Blanc complemented the salad.
I enjoyed the first two courses so much that I ate everything on my plate. Then I became concerned that I wasn’t pacing myself because I don’t eat a lot. Next up was Joe’s handmade linguine, with Fockin’ Snails and herbs. Turns out, they just like to get playful with their menu and Fockin’ Snails was just plain fucking snails.
I was dying at that point because I have loved escargot since I was a child and I adored the combo with the rich, but not overly rich, linguine. A Willamette Valley Pinot Noir was paired with the pasta. I needed no more food, but that’s when the piece de resistance arrived: Poached Filet Mignon served over whipped Weiser Potatoes with Horse Radish Maitre d’ Butter. A Bordeaux blend from Brander Vineyards accompanied the steak.
The final touch to this extraordinary meal was a Crème Brulee for dessert. It tasted exactly like my first and unforgettable taste of it so many years ago. Unbelievable.
The way these three guys effortlessly pull off a perfectly executed, brilliant meal is like watching some kind of kitchen ballet. One starring Nijinsky, Nureyev & Baryshnikov. I wanted to toss roses.
For more information visit their website at BaroloJoe.com.
Fredrica Duke shares how she discovered her love of food while growing up in Los Angeles on her blog Channeling the Food Critic in Me.