Is Baldoria, which just opened in L.A.’s Little Tokyo, a friendly neighborhood restaurant that happens to have really fun, carefully crafted drinks? Is it a cool watering hole that happens to have rarefied bar food?
Baldoria might argue that it’s the former during lunchtime, when it tries to attract downtown crowds with chef Duke Gervais’ creative riffs on pizzas and produce-forward share plates. I might prefer to think of it as the latter, especially after I’ve had some of the loungey Baldoria’s bottled cocktails. But this is chill Los Angeles, so does the distinction even matter?
Anyway, Baldoria, brought to you by former Mozza sommelier David King, is also a place aiming to be a communal hangout. “Share! We’re serious,” the menu declares. “Every menu item at Baldoria is created with the intent for it to be shared. So, please, open a tab and then go make some friends. We’ll take it from there.” If that seems like a bit to digest before you’re buzzed, we can sum things up in five words: Relax, drink, eat, have fun.
You’re going to want some of beverage director Matt Bostick’s bottled cocktails, which succeed at both being complex and significantly lowering your wait time for a drink. Highlights include the Baby’s First Rye (Knob Creek 6-year, Italian cherry, Angostura bitters), Smokey Negroni (Del Maguey mezcal, Aperol, St. Germain, Carpano Antica, orange) and the house-carbonated Sparkling Damiana Margarita (Ocho Plata tequila, Damiana liqueur, lime).
Gervais (formerly of Pizza Antica), armed with a pizza oven that was at 654 degrees when we peeked into the kitchen, has a deft touch with unusual, international combinations. His crust might be Neapolitan-style, but he mines all kinds of other cuisine for his toppings. Gervais really does bring the heat on his Caliente pizza with spicy chorizo arrabbiata, shishito peppers, grilled onions, cilantro and creme fraiche. The Carnivoro with hot Calabrese sausage, pepperoni, smoked bacon, red onion and sweet cherry peppers also pops.
If you want an impromptu bacon tasting menu, there are also braised bacon arancini with tomato conserva risotto, fontina and mozzarella. Those rice balls and Baldoria’s charred BLT wedges, it turn out, are both excellent drinking food.
Gervais also likes blending together sweet and savory elements, so there’s a pizza with organic strawberries, chicken breast and bacon (not for everyone, but really not that weird and also likely to be popular on Instagram). Toast is topped with fresh ricotta, vanilla kumquat compote and mint. Endive is stuffed with blood orange, satsuma, oro blanco, goat cheese and almonds. If you remember Downtown star chef Josef Centeno’s globally influenced, market-driven menu next door at Lazy Ox, you’ll be pleased to know Gervais has a similar worldview.
L.A. is #blessed with transporting destinations like Baldoria where you might come for drinks and then stay for dinner. On a recent night, I had all intentions of going to dinner after trying some of the new cocktails at Pour Vous, the French-themed spot from the Houston Brothers on the edge of Hollywood. But instead I found myself lingering in the alley, at the bar’s under-the-radar crepe stand eating both sweet (passion-fruit) and savory (sausage) creations. Revelers were leaning back in the adjacent trolley car outside at Pour Vous, sharing crepes, making new friends after trying new drinks like the Cruelle Vanille (a rum concoction with a Kit Kat block on top).
Over at The Fiscal Agent in Studio City, new beverage director Chris Amirault (former drinks maestro Julian Cox has departed for Chicago) is ready for the summer with a seasonal menu featuring fabulous tropical drinks like dueling pina coladas (one with vodka and a smoky second option with rum, blended scotch and chartreuse) collectively known as the Suit & Tie. The Tea Pain is a rum-based take on an iced green tea served in an old-school teacup. Of course, the Pimm’s Cup here is called the Ladies Is Pimm’s Too.
Adding to the party-like-a-boss vibe, guests at the bar can order food from the Barrel & Ashes barbecue joint downstairs. Pork rinds, smoked brisket, chili-cheese tater tots and chicken wings—which all happen to be created by dudes who used to work for Thomas Keller—are perfect for sharing with new friends.