Thursday, February 18, 2010

Cube Cafe and Marketplace

During a recent night out of eating and drinking, my friend and I were able to cross off two items from our must-try list, those being the truffle burger at Cube Cafe and artisinal cocktails from celebrated mixologist Matt Biancaniello at the Hollywood Roosevelt Library Bar. Our plan was simple: grab some friends and meet at Cube in West Hollywood for dinner, then take the short drive up La Brea avenue to the Hollywood Roosevelt hotel to satisfy our thirst.

With the plan in motion, I pull up to Cube Cafe on a chilly Wednesday night for a 7:30pm reservation. It's not a large place by any means with just a dozen or so tables and a wrap-around bar. Gourmet packaged foods such as pastas and olive oils fill the shelves along the north wall and are available for purchase.

Selection of imported pastas, olive oils, spices and other goodies make up the marketplace portion of Cube.

Table setting.

Dinner menu.

Cube has a fantastic wine list but I stuck to beer for my dinner, Birra Moretti in this case.

My two dining companions--Linda and Stephanie--arrive and after salivating over the menu for few moments, we decide to start things off with ordering the maple braised bacon with celery root puree and cipollini onions:

The super-thick bacon is delicious, smokey, and gushing with maple and pork fat flavors. The bacon's richness is tamed by the creamy celery root puree, and the minuscule cipollini onions add interest and texture. I love the presentation with the bacon sitting tight in the puree, surrounded by a maple and bacon sauce. It's not a large portion but this dish is deceivingly heavy--it's bacon after all!

Next we have the braised baby octopus:

Both my dining companions thought this was a bit burnt, but I didn't mind the charred taste and texture. In fact the preparation made me think this was flame-grilled rather than braised. Nonetheless I enjoyed every bite of the octopus; the taste was similar to calamari but less fishy. Note the presentation with the expansive white plate separated the chef's artistry from the distractions around it; this reminded me of the expansive platings at Rivera.

Our next plate arrives and it's the mac and cheese with crispy shallots and balsamic glaze:

I love a good mac and cheese and Cube's version put a big smile on our faces. I would have never thought to order this, but Stephanie wasted no time in selecting this as her choice of appetizer (and I'm really glad she did!) The interplay with the creamy macaroni and crunchy shallots was nice, in fact the shallot topping was a welcomed departure from the usual bread-crumb topping I've had at so many other places. Linda explains to me that the best mac and cheese happens to be the jalapeno variety served at the nearby Citizen Smith. I believe a trip there is in order.

Now on to the truffle burger on house brioche, blue cheese, charred shallots, crispy potatoes, chipotle ketchup. This very burger is the main reason why we wanted to try Cube. Having seen pictures of this burger in other blogs, I was expected greatness, something that just might dethrone my current champion of burgers, the Father's Office burger. Instead what I got was something that was merely average.

Starting with the done-ness, it's overcooked. I asked for medium rare and mine was served almost medium-well, which made for a dry burger with a slightly crumbly texture. And although I do like toasted buns (who doesn't?), these buns were clearly charred to a point where all I could taste was the char. With a properly cooked patty and a bun that isn't blackened, this would have been much better. Father's Office need not worry about its burger being dethroned anytime soon. All of us enjoyed the skinny fries, however, as they were nicely cooked and served with a side of smokey, chipotle ketchup.

It's time for desserts and first up is the cobbler duo with Tahitian vanilla gelato, strawberry rhubarb, frutti di bosco:

I loved the contrast in flavors with the tartness of the rhubarb cobbler and the sweetness of the frutti di bosco. Both were equally good, but a bit messy to eat given the minuscule ramekins in which they were served. Trying to scoop some of the gelato with each bite of the cobbler proved to be more work than it should have been. The gelato was delicious with a prominent vanilla flavor, but for some reason it melted rather quickly.

Our second dessert is a ricotta cheesecake with fresh strawberries:

From the picture you might be thinking this was served in a paper cup, but that's just the texture of the cheesecake. It's much lighter in taste and texture than your typical cheesecake. I completely devoured this and would order it again in a heartbeat.

The service at Cube was good with our waiter checking on us from time to time without being invasive. Our dishes arrived with ample time to enjoy the previous dish; I never felt rushed to finish a plate. Also, complimentary bottled water is provided and is served from a large jug--a nice touch. Overall this was a fine dinner and I will definitely keep this place in mind if I'm ever in this area.

After dinner we carpooled up along La Brea avenue to the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel. Street parking on this Wednesday night was ample and I was able to find a spot just steps from the hotel's lobby entrance, right on Hollywood boulevard. Ah the benefit of partying on a school night :). Built in 1927, this 300-room hotel is is filled with historic significance; the first Academy Awards presentation took place here, and Marilyn Monroe was a resident during the early part of her career. A bar attached the lobby goes by the name Library Bar and was our final destination for the night.

Serving our drinks was non other than famed mixologist Matt Biancaniello, who was the topic of a recent LA Times article. I can't recall the names of our drinks and in fact Daniel K.'s drink had no name because Matt custom made the drink for Daniel K.'s taste. And with that, I'll leave you with pictures of our Library Bar outing.

Library Bar.

Drink menu

Matt in action. Note the emu egg on the right.

I think this was Linda's drink; I can't recall what it was, but it tasted good.

Daniel K.'s drink, which Matt custom made for him.

I've read that Library Bar gets extremely crowded on Friday and Saturday nights, with wait times of up to 30-minutes just to get the opportunity to order a cocktail. When we went, there were maybe 10 people in the bar, though it became more lively and interesting as the night went on. If it weren't for the drive, I could see myself coming here often to try more of Matt's creations.

Cube Cafe and Marketplace
615 N La Brea Ave
Los Angeles CA 90036

Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel

7000 Hollywood Blvd.
Hollywood CA, 90028

Friday, February 5, 2010

DineLA Dinner at FIG

The DineLA deals have received some flack lately with keen-eyed diners noticing no-so-special deals and suspicious menu swapping aimed to match the discounted prices. With over 200 participating restaurants and hundreds of menus to look through, finding the best deals can be hit and miss, but after a little investigative research I was able to narrow my picks down to a select few, and FIG was at the top. FIG's DineLA menus bestowed an impressive selection of appetizers and mains and there appeared to be no cheap substitutions; all DineLA menu items appeared to be clear and present on the regular menus. In fact, depending on the dishes chosen, a savings of over $10 could be had, and this is at a highly-regarded restaurant located in the ritzy Fairmont Hotel in downtown Santa Monica.

Last Wednesday I met up with my wife and some friends for a 6:30pm reservation. As I mentioned, the restaurant is situated in the 4.5-star Fairmont Hotel; upon arrival guests are treated to a massive tree in the valet circle:

Straight from Avatar's Pandora.

The restaurant was packed with plenty of well-dressed Angelinos filling the seductive bar and spacious dining room. It's a dimly lit and beautifully decorated scene; a two-sided fireplace sits off to the side, and back tables overlook the hotel's pool area, which was nicely lit up at night. FIG's scene exudes romance and class. We're led to a table by the fireplace and begin looking through the menus.

Individually wrapped personal-size baguettes are brought to us along with a jar of tasty arugula spread:

Warm and crusty on the outside, the baguette was especially good with a soft, chewy interior. Paired with a healthy dollop of the arugula spread and a little coarse salt, the doughy bread becomes appetizer-like; it's a great start to our dinner.

FIG has a full bar with a decent wine and beer selection to go with a dozen or so specialty cocktails. I decide to try the mojito and it arrives in short order, served in a heavy, thick-rimmed glass:

While the taste is refreshing and sweet with bright flavors of lime, the drink is sorely lacking in rum and it was deceivingly large in size. I managed maybe six to eight slurps before seeing the bottom. I later ordered a Dewar's Scotch on the rocks, but the bartender added so much ice that my drink became diluted long before I could finish it. Drink fail :(.

An amuse-bouche is brought to us but the server didn't fully explain the preparation. I managed a bite of blood orange and some red onions, and found this to be utterly forgettable.

Minutes later our first-course dishes arrive, and I went with a plate of blistered romaine with white anchovy, served warm on a warm plate and sprinkled with Parmigiano-Reggiano:

I was debating between this and a warm quinoa salad with butternut squash, but I was very pleased with my fanciful plate of charred Romaine. A lone anchovy sits atop and adds a nice savoriness to the romaine, which were drizzled with a light olive-oil and lemon dressing.

Entree selections include mushroom risotto, pasta-less lasagna (what?!), vegetable curry, squid Basquaise, braised lamb, pancetta meatloaf, and one of FIG's signature dishes, steak frites. The Yelpers and bloggers have all touted the steak frites with much praise and so for me it was the obvious entree choice. FIG's version boasts a California prime, 32-day aged hunk of bovine goodness in form of bavette--or flap--steak. It's topped with blue-cheese butter and is paired with shoe-string fries and a half-piece of roasted garlic, skin on.

Magical. Awe-inspiring. And just damn good. I've had many a steak frites and this one ranks among the elite. Beefy, savory, nicely-marbled and cooked to a textbook medium-rare, my steak was velvety soft and required practically nil effort with knife-slicing motions. And one might expect the frites in a steak frites to be a mere afterthought of so-so French fries, but FIG's deep-fried shoe-strings had a nice crispy exterior and pillowy-soft interior, and were seasoned with a day's harvest of aromatic parsley. I've sampled Thomas Keller's version at his much ballyhooed Bouchon establishment in Beverly Hills, and I've thoroughly convinced myself that FIG's version comes out on top. I would have easily plunked down the full DineLA dinner price of $34 for this dreamy meat and potatoes plate, and looking at the regular dinner menu, this steak frites retails for $27 on its own so this is indeed a fantastic deal. It was so good that I'm going to show you another picture:

For desserts, diners have a choice between fig bars with Greek yogurt ice cream, chocolate pot au creme, and rice pudding with preserved cherry compote. Since I'm at a restaurant named FIG, I thought it'd be appropriate to go with the house-made fig bars.

Fig Newtons these are not, but of course you are paying a premium for FIG's handcrafted fruit bars. A little less chewy and a little less sweet is about how I'd describe this dessert when comparing with the packaged variety, and to be truthful I was expecting more in terms of texture and fresh-fruit flavor that one would uncover in a house-made dessert of this type. Each bite was less memorable than the prior, and with great desserts, it should be the other way around. Luckily my palate experience relief with the Greek yogurt ice cream, which had almost rice ice-cream consistency and taste, which is to say it had a very crisp texture augmented with a bright, fresh flavor. In fact eating this brought back vivid memories of the rice ice cream I savored at LudoBites Royal/T.

Fonda scoops her chocolate pot au creme and is rather stealth in doing so, which is to say she was enjoying it.

After a few big scoops, we swap dessert plates and I begin my attack on the pot of chocolate. It's creamy, rich, and visually pleasing, especially with the bright berries scattered on the surface. The chocolate creme is a little more dense than chocolate mousse and about as sweet as a Ghirardelli bar of semi-sweet chocolate. Let's just say her dessert far surpassed my fig bar selection.

Our friends ordered the rice pudding and they both love it. I'll be sure to order this next time.

Base price of this DineLA meal was $34, and with my two (fail) drinks and tax and tip, the total came out to $60. If you were to compare this DineLA deal with the regular dinner menu prices, my food total would have been $13 (romaine) + $27 (steak frites) + $8 (fig bars) for a summation of $48. If my six semesters of college math serves me right, I saved $14 with the DineLA $34 deal. Not bad! Service was very good with our plates being cleared appropriately and our waters getting the occasional top-off. We never felt hurried or "discounted" in any way, and the prompt valet parking was gratis with our restaurant validation. Despite the two weak drinks and the lackluster fig bars, I am definitely set on coming back to FIG to try other dishes and desserts, knowing to steer clear of their mixed drinks.

101 Wilshire Blvd.
Santa Monica CA