Hitting the Brix

An eclectic menu and expansive wine list create a trendy South Bay oasis

If you ask him, General Manager Andy Alexander will tell you: Brix, a trendy spot in Hermosa Beach, is first and foremost a restaurant.

But wine connoisseurs may beg to differ.

Named after the Brix system of measuring the sugar content of grapes and wine, Brix boasts a 300-bottle in-house wine list plus 900 additional bottles at the adjacent Brix Wine shop - where customers can buy wine at retail price and enjoy at the restaurant for a $20 corkage fee.

"Last night we had people drive from the Photos: Robert Casillas San Fernando Valley, Agoura Hills and Pasadena to come down and sample our food and to taste the eclectic wines we have on the list," says Alexander, formerly of Trump National in Palos Verdes and DaVinci's restaurant in Long Beach. "It's a unique journey between wine and food that the likes of the South Bay really hasn't been open to before."

Want a wine from Lebanon? You've got it. Slovakia? No problem. While there are plenty of California and Western European varietals, but it's the "new world" wines that Alexander says attracts the connoisseurs.


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"In some ways, when people come here, it's like a vacation," he says. "It's an oasis."

Brix's chef Carlos Olivera (formerly of the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel) prepares a contemporary American menu that's equally eclectic. Highlights include the kurobuta pork loin chop served with white truffle macaroni and cheese and a sherry thyme jus; braised short ribs with potato puree and roasted garden vegetables; and the Brix surf and turf, featuring diver scallops, braised oxtail and a smoked tomato vinaigrette.

Prices range from $15 to $48 a plate. Fiveand seven-course tasting menus are also available for $60 and $80, respectively.

"Every single night we have people who say, 'Thank you for opening up an establishment like this,'" Alexander says, adding that the wait staff is carefully trained on which wines pair well with the various items on the menu.

It's true. Located in the Hermosa Beach Pavilion, a two-story building it shares with a fitness club and a smattering of retail shops, Brix is a far cry from the rowdy bar and club scene just a few blocks west in downtown Hermosa Beach.

It's a step in the right direction for the area, says Alexander, a 19-year veteran of the South Bay.

"As much as we live in an extremely casual environment, when people walk into a restaurant, they step up a notch - they choose to," he says. "People can walk in here with jeans, but they're not walking in here with flip-flops."

It's this style of what Alexander calls "casual fine dining" that attracts Brix's 30- and 40-something crowd of both upscale beachgoers and curious out-of-towners.

In fact, since its opening a year ago, the 8,000-square-foot eatery has become one of the South Bay's most sought-after finedining (and wine-sipping) destinations - a trend most evident by its bustling Thursday night wine tastings.

In designing the concept of the restaurant, Brix owner Gene Shook's goal was to offer a fine dining experience at a more reasonable price point.

"There are a lot of great chain restaurants where you can get a great meal but the ingredients, the ambiance, the plates, the settings - it's not the same," says Shook, formerly of the Stillwater Bistro in Orange County. He also owns the Hermosa Pavilion building. "Then there are the very high-end, very expensive restaurants where you could easily walk out spending $1,000."

"What I wanted to do," he continues, "was bring a price point closer to the chains with a quality closer to the nice restaurants."

He didn't spare any expense on ambiance. The dimly lit space features stone fireplaces, vaulted wood ceilings, leather seats, brick archways and Venetian plaster walls. To amp up the social element of the restaurant, the Brix bar hosts a happy hour from 4-7 p.m. daily, featuring food and drink specials - as well as ladies night specials on Thursdays and biweekly wine tastings.

Bar manager Blake Donaldson calls the Brix bar a "sophisticated" venue for singles.

"This is certainly not the Hermosa Beach scene, and we don't want that," says Donaldson, an alumni of other South Bay hotspots including Rock 'n Fish, Shade and the former Micci's restaurant in Manhattan Beach. A local bartending celebrity, he also has 39 drink-making videos on Youtube.com and his own Web site (www.thedrinkchef.com).

"What we want is people who enjoy the finer things," he adds. "That's why we have so many amazing wines by the glass."

Tastings offer laid-back approach to wine

Along with its daily happy hours and Thursday ladies' nights, Brix also holds wine tastings every Thursday and Saturday at Brix Wine next door.

Each tasting features a different breed or region of wine. And those interested in attending are notified via e-mail what kind of wine will be tasted on what day.

"It's a lot of fun," Brix Wine manager Chris Hennessey says. "People learn a lot, and they get to enjoy wine."

A 25-year-old Hermosa Beach resident, Hennessey came to Brix from the Wine Merchant in Beverly Hills.

Moving from the "suited- up sommelier" side of the wine business to the more casual jeans-andsneakers ambiance of the South Bay was easy. All he had to do, he says, was "make wine laid back."

"It's about taking the atmosphere and making it comfortable. It's understanding what they want, not what you want them to have," he says.

The bottle selection ranges from popular California, French and Italian blends to more obscure Slovakian, Croatian and Lebanese wines. Prices range from $8 to more than $700.

"You could spend hundreds of dollars or you could spend $20," Hennessey says. "Either way, it just comes down to what you like.

SPOTLIGHT ON...
CHEF CARLOS OLIVERA

AGE: 28
HOMETOWN: Oaxaca, Mexico
LEARNED TO COOK FROM: His mother, who owned a restaurant in Mexico.
FAVORITE FOOD: Tacos.
FAVORITE DRINK: Tejate (a traditional Mexican beverage made from corn, cacao and cinnamon).
FAVORITE HOBBY: Going to the beach.
FAVORITE RESTAURANT: Frida in Beverly Hills.
FAVORITE DISHES AT BRIX: Rib-eye Cap Steak; Surf and Turf.

restaurant Brix@1601
1601 Pacific Coast Highway
Hermosa Beach
310/698-0740
www.brix1601.com
reservations recommended?Yes
dinner with wine for twoAbout $100

 

Brix Surf and Turf with Smoked Tomato Vinaigrette
Serves 4

Smoked Tomato Vinaigrette

1 cup apple wood chips
1 large tomato
¼ cup olive oil
1 tablespoon chopped chives
1 tablespoon chopped shallot
¼ sherry vinegar
Freshly ground salt and pepper, to taste

Soak apple wood chips in water for 5 minutes. Place chips in smoker and allow to smoke. Blanche and peel tomato. Place it in smoker for 2 minutes. Remove from smoker and dice. Puree smoked tomato with remaining ingredients and set vinaigrette aside until ready to use.

Braised Oxtail

1 pound oxtail
Grapeseed oil
1 cup red wine
1 cup port wine
8 cups beef or veal stock
1 cup diced carrots
2 yellow onions
1 star anise
4 bay leaves
1 tablespoon fresh thyme
3 tablespoons tomato paste
4 morel mushrooms
Garnish: Microgreens

Preheat oven to 225° F. Sear oxtail in oil. Add wines and simmer until reduced. Add remaining ingredients and bake for 4 hours. De-bone and let meat rest 5 minutes. Keep sauce warm. Soak mushrooms in warm water for 5 minutes. Remove stems and add to oxtail sauce 2 minutes before serving.

Seared Scallops

4 jumbo diver or sea scallops, cleaned
3 tablespoons grapeseed oil
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
½ teaspoon thyme

Sear scallops in oil. Add butter and thyme and baste until golden brown. Set aside and keep warm.

To serve: Arrange 4 tablespoons braised oxtail on a plate or deep dish and top each with a scallop. Drizzle with vinaigrette and garnish.

The Antioxidant
Serves 1

Acai (pronounced "ah-SIGH-ee") is the national fruit of Brazil-and purportedly one of the healthiest fruits you can eat. In liquor form, it tastes like sweetened vodka.

1½ ounces Veev Acai Spirit
½ ounce pomegranate liqueur
2 ounces pomegranate juice
Superfine sugar (for glass rim)

Mix first three ingredients in cocktail shaker filled with ice. Shake and serve in a chilled, sugar-rimmed martini glass.