Short-lived wine and cocktail bar the Hideout was Alejandro Marchesini’s first foray into the LA restaurant scene, but the project closed after less than a month due to permit issues with its Hollywood space. Now Marchesini is back with a new Argentine wine bar tucked into the former Zinqué location in Venice called Varro, having partnered again with Bill Chait. It’s been a busy month for the longtime Los Angeles restaurateur Chait, who also opened Caboco in the Arts District last week with chefs Rodrigo Oliveira and Victor Vasconcellos. Open since September 3, Varro sports a tight menu of mostly seasonal vegetables, grilled meats, and wines by the glass.
Varro certainly seems to fit well into Venice already, sporting laid-back vibes for the chill Westside community. Zinqué’s now-former original location — the company has since expanded to Downtown, West Hollywood, Newport Beach, and beyond — at the busy corner of Venice and Abbot Kinney Boulevards morphed quickly into Varro, boasting chic light wood panels, a patio lined with wicker chairs, and an eclectic modern dining room dotted with artwork by celebrated artist and Venice local Charles Arnoldi. Overall, it feels clean and cheerful, the kind of place one could pop in once or twice a week.
At the moment, Marchesini and Chait aren’t saying which “big name chef” from Argentina they’ve tapped to consult on the menu, saying immigration issues during the pandemic have made it more difficult for foreign workers to enter the U.S. Overall, the plan with the restaurant is to focus on Argentine cooking techniques while relying on organic vegetables and a casual California approach to dining. Until then, the holdover menu has some simple but very tasty-looking dishes and a mentality of “making up the food part as we go along,” says Chait. Think sugar snap peas with cashew cream and farofa; baked carrots with miso and preserved lemon; grilled scallops with humita (Argentine corn pudding); aji panca, a Peruvian red chile pepper; and fire-roasted eggplant with romesco and zataar. Proteins include Peads and Barnetts grilled pork leg with dukah, pickled lemon, and citrus jus, grilled skirt steak with roasted onions and chimichurri, or a grilled beef tongue with celery, mustard, and carrot escabeche.
Marchesini’s experience from Portland and the Willamette Valley wine region means bottles and glasses are as much of the focus as the food. Similar to Tesse in West Hollywood and its next-door shop Boutellier (another Chait place, by the way), Varro will have a bottle shop next door to Varro with about 300 wines where customers can pick something and open it at the table. Varro’s current glass list includes a 2020 Sancerre from Lucien Reymond, an orange wine by Garcia Georgieva in Spain, and a 2019 Malbec Riccitelli playing host for Argentina. Marchesini says he’s made a lot of friends up in Oregon that will keg great wine and ship it to LA to serve on tap for a more environmentally sustainable method, as well.
Eventually, Varro will have all-day service with breakfast and lunch options, giving the restaurant “some Tartine influence,” as Chait says (another place he’s affiliated with). If all of this seems a little by-the-numbers, perhaps it is. Venice gets an easy-going wine-friendly restaurant that replaces the old Zinqué with reasonably priced bites and a creative wine list. Seating for up to 100 inside and outside makes it a quick pre- or post-beach hangout for the neighborhood, most of whom come from within 10 blocks of the restaurant, according to Chait. If only other neighborhoods could be so lucky as Venice.