At Bestia, red gives way to white

Los Angeles Times - - FOOD & DINING - By Pa­trick Comiskey food@la­times.com

On a re­cent early Tues­day evening at Bestia, the Los An­ge­les restau­rant that opened in late 2012 in the Arts Dis­trict, the rush was al­ready un­der­way and Ryan Ib­sen, 43, the restau­rant’s af­fa­ble, thought­ful wine direc­tor, was al­ready busy pop­ping corks.

Imag­ine keep­ing wine in stock for this mad dash of a restau­rant fea­tur­ing Ori Me­nashe’s spec­tac­u­larly cre­ative menu for which the term used most of­ten to de­scribe it, “rus­tic Ital­ian,” seems wholly in­ad­e­quate. Imag­ine keep­ing the wine flow­ing ahead of 500 cov­ers a night, a roil­ing ag­glom­er­a­tion of the loud, the hip, the be­spoke, the food­ies, the al­most fa­mous, and Gus­tavo Du­damel, in a class by him­self, who takes ad­van­tage of Bestia’s latenight, post-per­for­mance hours.

Imag­ine pour­ing wine for Du­damel. It is a good rea­son to go deep in Span­ish wines, which Du­damel loves and which Ib­sen has cov­ered, though a guest this charis­matic and per­sua­sive might serve as fur­ther mo­ti­va­tion. Ib­sen keeps wines off menu, in re­serve, on backup, to fill holes, ac­com­mo­date sea­sonal ex­i­gen­cies, and broaden the range of his guests’ ex­pe­ri­ence. The list changes ev­ery day. Partly it’s be­cause this is a pro­gram sub­ject to ex­treme de­ple­tion, so you have to have a backup plan. But partly, too, it comes out of a tra­di­tion of edgi­ness es­tab­lished long be­fore Ib­sen took over in 2015.

There re­mains a dis­tinct whiff of ag­it­prop in Bestia’s wine pro­gram, which sug­gests that Ib­sen is draw­ing from the le­gacy, or per­haps the resid­ual en­ergy, of Maxwell Leer, the restau­rant’s an­tic found­ing wine direc­tor. Leer’s se­lec­tions, and of­ten his ser­vice, were as much about dis­rup­tion as they were about ac­com­mo­da­tion.

Ib­sen’s ap­proach has been to ad­here closely to the tenor and fla­vors of Me­nashe’s menu, which is Ital­ian-in­spired, more high-toned, more acid-driven. Ib­sen likes to say that Me­nashe “bright­ens the cor­ners” of all of his dishes, but that edgi­ness, both lit­eral and fig­u­ra­tive, leads you away from many tra­di­tional Ital­ian reds — to­ward mostly white wines. In fact, Ib­sen guesses that he and his staff rec­om­mend white and pink wines over red wines at about 95% of the ta­bles he serves, even with the veal tartare and the rib-eye.

This is a pro­gram, then, that comes off as not a lit­tle eclec­tic. Con­ven­tional va­ri­eties, your Pinot Noirs, Chardon­nays and Caber­net Sau­vi­gnons are scarce; even wines you’d ex­pect on an Ital­ian list, like Tus­can reds, Pied­mont reds, Ital­ian clas­sics, are em­bed­ded among Ross­eses, Schiop­pet­ti­nos and Cilie­gi­o­los, Ti­moras­sos, Kern­ers, and Gras­parossas, not to men­tion Meren­zaos (from Spain), Li­atikos (from Greece) and Blaufränkisches (from Aus­tria). Ib­sen is there to trans­late of course, as are his lieu­tenants, Brett Wat­son and Jake Malm­berg.

Like a lot of wine and restau­rant pro­fes­sion­als, Ryan Ib­sen got into the wine busi­ness by way of the arts, work­ing in res­tau­rants as he pur­sued stud­ies in film and mu­sic. In Seat­tle he worked at two res­tau­rants with superb wine pro­grams, Mon­soon and Le Pichet, where it dawned on him that wine could be an­other of his cre­ative out­lets. “It was a re­lat­able ex­ten­sion of how I spent my youth,” he says, “dig­ging deep for records no one had ever heard and then rec­om­mend­ing them en­thu­si­as­ti­cally to who­ever had an open mind.”

He moved to New York, work­ing in both re­tail and restau­rant set­tings, but by the time he de­cided to leave in 2015 he’d be­gun to feel trapped by the Brook­lyniza­tion of the wine scene there and its ten­dency to chase trends un­til they be­came clichés — where nat­u­ral wines in par­tic­u­lar had be­come so fetishized they seemed like notches on a belt rather than some­thing to be en­joyed for their own sake. At Bestia some of th­ese notches are in place, but it’s hardly the only thing he of­fers.

“I like to think we have some­thing for ev­ery­one who’s will­ing to look un­der the rock of com­mer­cial­ism. We want to make it eye-open­ing with­out ever be­ing in­ap­proach­able.”

Din­ers in Los An­ge­les have been more than will­ing to come along for the ride. “They’re par­tic­u­larly amenable to ad­ven­ture,” says Ib­sen. “Noth­ing’s off the ta­ble. You can move in any di­rec­tion you want and peo­ple will come along.”

Pa­trick T. Fal­lon For The Times

WINE DIREC­TOR Ryan Ib­sen says he ap­pre­ci­ates the ad­ven­tur­ous spirit of Los An­ge­les’ din­ers.

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