LA JOLLA LIGHT 23 FEBRUARY 2011
LA JOLLA Passersby might have noticed the large inflatable frog delivering a silent Valentine’s Day greeting in front of Barbarella Restaurant on Avenida de la Playa. Or perhaps they spied the dozens of fuzzy hearts and other love-espousing paraphernalia spread throughout the indoor patio. The holiday flair is just one of many ways that owner and executive chef Barbara Beltaire keeps things playful at her Italian bistro.
Caught within this month’s decorations are two Barbarella mainstays that should not be overlooked. The first is a graceful vase behind the bar, holding roses this time of year, and the second is the pizza oven in the corner, covered in decorated tiles.
Both pieces are by Niki de Saint Phalle, the world-famous French artist whose Sun God sculpture adorns a hill at nearby UCSD. De Saint Phalle lived in La Jolla from 1994 until she passed away in 2002 and was also Beltaire’s unofficial godmother. The vase, the oven and the graphics she designed for the fledgling restaurant reflect the support that de Saint Phalle gave her friend.
“She was a big influence in my life, and I think that her art reminds me of her playfulness. So she brought out the playfulness in me, too.”
Another way Beltaire keeps things playful is with a special “yappy hour” menu, coinciding with happy hour, which offers visiting canines items such as organic eggs, prime beef and even ice cream. If one of her neighborhood dogs is passing by, she might offer up a biscuit personally.
Barbara is decidedly hands-on, so you might see her in as many places throughout the restaurant as the dangling heart-shaped Valentine’s adornments. Along with her staff, Barbarella achieves a dining experience with personality.
That experience might include a beautiful roasted fish, or if you are less ambitious, the seared salmon or the pizza max, which is topped with smoked salmon and crème fraiche. The burgers are also well executed, if unexpected on an Italian menu.
“Believe it or not they do have a hamburger in Italy,” Beltaire insisted.
If you aren’t the type to enjoy the decorations, maybe you’d come just for the food, or the patio well-stocked with both heaters and stacks of blankets. You’d think twice about Halloween, which has become a major investment for Beltaire. But quieter seasons are certainly nothing to be afraid of — the friendly staff, warmth and cozy atmosphere are available year-round.
Will Parson, La Jolla Light
Barbarella Restaurant and Bar
Address: 2171 Avenida De La Playa, La Jolla Shores
The Vibe: Warm, cozy, playful
Signature Dish: Roasted Whole Fish
Open Since: 2000
Hours: 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday; 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday; 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday
Phone: (858) 454-7373
Image 1: Niki de Saint Phalle decorated the pizza oven at Barbarella Restaurant and Bar.
Image 2: Specialty of the house Roasted Whole Fish. (Photos: Will Parson)