For bar consultant Vincenzo Marianella (Copa d’Oro) and Love & Salt co-owner Guy Gabriele, it’s all about Chef Michael Fiorelli’s (mar’sel) Italian-inspired fare. When building their cocktail and wine programs for the new Manhattan Beach restaurant which takes over the previous Cafe Pierre space, both agreed their liquid offerings would only serve to complement the food. “I want the guests to come here to enjoy Michael’s food, which is phenomenal. I want them when they taste the cocktails they say, ‘That’s a good margarita, that’s a good house cocktail. But let’s go to the food. That’s why we’re here,’” said Marianella.
The cocktails and wine are not only food-friendly, however, but approachable, in line with the chill attitude of the beach city community. They want this to be your neighborhood eatery, your default position; not a once-in-a-blue-moon special occasion spot. You drop in and find the wine and cocktails comfortingly familiar, the prices moderate ($13 cocktails and wine by the glass averaging $12), and there’s nothing too geeky. “It’s like a classic restaurant in Italy,” said Marianella. “You come here for good food. You want to be comfortable here. When you walk through the door you have a very good feeling.”
Although Marianella strongly believes that “the cocktails are the garnish of the experience” here are six reasons why Love & Salt’s drink program shouldn’t be relegated only to the periphery.
1) No wine over $100. In an effort to make an approachable wine list, Gabriele focused only on wines that were less than $100 a bottle. “I wanted to prove that you can have a wine list under $100 that is as good as anything over $100.” The most expensive bottle on the list is the $99 2006 Jonata Red Blend from Santa Ynez.
2) The wine menu features not only Italian varietals but their Californian counterparts. Since the restaurant cuisine is Italian but locally inspired, Gabriele decided to make that the focus of his wine menu. But looking for the local equivalent of Italian grapes proved a challenge “because there are a lot of them out there but 60 percent are not of quality,” said Gabriele. After a lot of research, however, he was able to find amazing examples like a Cortese from Mendocino that tastes like the Gavi di Gavi, a Santa Clara Fiano that bears an uncanny resemblance to the original Fiano, and even a Napa Valley Grignolino, a grape that is very difficult to make into wine due to its high content of seeds.
3) No obscure, over-your-head spirits here. Marianella understands, sometimes you just want a drink without having to Google an ingredient listed on the menu. “You go to a certain place there are some obscure spirits, brands and liqueurs. It’s difficult even for me to choose,” he said. “Sometimes it’s just too much, I want something else, I want something easy.”
4) Love & Salt has its own wine: a Dolcetto-Refosco blend created with local Palmina winemaker Steve Clifton. “We knew what flavor we were looking for. Because it is our label I wanted a very user-friendly wine. Not too heavy. But very food-friendly of course,” said Gabriele. Unsurprisingly, he adds that this wine will go “with most of the menu.”
5) No cocktail trends. Marianella isn’t a big proponent of barrel-aged cocktails (which “have been done”) or draft cocktails. “Would you put your food in the microwave? So why do I have to have someone just push a button and the drink comes out?” he asks. For him it’s about the bartender making the drink in front of the guest.
6) There are verticals of Opus One as well as other rarities but you won’t see those til early next year. “I want to wait because I don’t want us to be perceived as the local restaurant that has crazy wines,” said Gabriele. They plan to present a book where they write out all the special wines available, marking how many they have in inventory. The guest who buys the last bottle gets the page to mark the occasion.
Love & Salt opens tomorrow. Its hours are Sunday through Wednesday from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m., and Thursday through Saturday from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m.