One of the more stressful aspects of holiday shopping at area malls is that they're so noisy. Good luck trying to enjoy a relaxing meal in the food court, where there's always a dull roar in the background. You can hardly hear yourself think, let alone have a conversation across the table.

So it was a pleasant surprise the other day to happen upon Ritual, a new coffee and wine bar that just opened at Topanga Westfield. What's nice about this cozy venue — in addition to the friendly staff and the great coffee — is that it's located in an unlikely spot, tucked among upscale retailers in a side area, away from the main drag. It's so far off the beaten path, in fact, that while we were sipping our latte, a Lamborghini slowly drove through the corridor, coming out of a showroom opposite the coffee bar.

“We didn't want to be part of the food court,” Ritual general manager Paul Jones told us last Saturday. “We want to be a destination place, eventually, but I'm not going to be arrogant to assume that we're going to be a destination place at first, because we are in a mall and we're trying to attract walk-by traffic.”

The shop has an ornate look inspired by international influences. Jones says owners Alex Kush and Alex Fishkin designed the décor, which includes lots of red and black tiles, gold pieces of art and intricate patterns everywhere you turn.

In an email, the owners told us, “We definitely wanted to create a casual yet classy, wine-lounge atmosphere with a stunning and innovative, Asian-inspired, colorful interior design.”

The full menu, still in the works, will carry through with that theme, the owners say, with foods “based on the treasures of the Far East and translated into a modern culinary palate of bold and exciting flavors,” combined with French cooking techniques that will complement the wine selections.

When we visited, the wine was for display only, with the required paperwork still being processed. But the bottles are expected to be uncorked any day now, along with the launch of the expanded dining experience.

Barista Nick Perin; Credit: E. Dwass

Barista Nick Perin; Credit: E. Dwass

For now, the coffee takes center stage, with beans from LAMill, considered one of the top artisan roasters. Rumor has it they have a kind of “secret shopper” thing going on with their restaurant clients, checking up on them to make sure their beans are given the respect they deserve.

If our experience is any indication, the beans are being handled just right. Our latte even had a steamed milk “drawing” in it that looked like a mall shopper, created by one of the artistic baristas.

“They do something different for everybody,” Jones says. “They'll do Christmas trees.”

So far, there has been no advertising, but word-of-mouth has been bringing in a steady stream of customers, mall employees as well as shoppers. Jones proudly pointed out the first “regular,” a fellow who has been coming in two times a day since the opening. Jones added that Ritual is happy to host guests who simply want to nurse a coffee while working on laptops.

“You can sit here for hours and we're fine with it,” Jones says. “Actually, at this very table, we had a girl sitting here for four hours. We do not mind. We're just happy to have the business.”

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