Monday, August 24, 2009

Images: Dinner at Cube

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Michael and I enjoyed a lovely dinner tonight at Cube Cafe & Marketplace on La Brea. This is a place I've been wanting to visit for a while; the owner, Alex Palermo, had generously shared several recipes with me for my LA Cooking Examiner column earlier this year, including pasta with black truffle sauce and a classic spaghetti with olive oil, garlic and hot peppers. Jessie Litow, Cube's lovely public relations master, invited us in for a thank-you dinner on the house - for which we say a big THANK YOU, Jessie, because we had a marvelous time, and dinner was just delicious.

Here's the thing I love about cozy places like Cube: It feels like a place where the owner really loves food and loves to cook. The walls are covered not with arty photos or elegant paintings - they're lined with shelf after shelf of unusual, high-end, hard-to-find condiments and ingredients. Jars and jars and bottles and bottles and packages and packages of grains, oils, mustards, preserved vegetables, honeys, chocolates and more. So you're sitting there eating terrific food, and you're surrounded by terrific-looking food, and you're bathing in flavors and textures on the table, and possibilities and food fantasies on the walls - it doesn't get better than that. (Someday I'm going to interview Rachel, the women who buys all the gourmet foodstuffs for Cube, because I think she has my dream job, and I want to figure out how she got it.)

For the picture above of some of their salumi, I opened the door to one of the big refrigerators and stuck my camera inside - good thing it was early and there weren't any other customers there, because if there had been, I'm sure they would have thought me quite strange. Here are a few of the other things I looked at tonight at Cube:

The shelves in one corner of the restaurant hold dozens of types of oils and vinegars.

In another corner, different spices sit in silver tins. This is one of the only places in L.A. where I've seen grains of paradise, a pepper-like spice with a citrus-like presence.

Spanish saffron, left, and a selection of infused salts, some of which were on sale - I bought some of the truffle salt, which I use all the time, and some saffron salt, which I've never tried before.

These nut creams were too expensive for me, but maybe someday I'll splurge on the pistachio.

In the grain corner, I found farro, a kind of wheat often used in salads; "beans from purgatory" (not sure I want to know the origin of that name); cicerchie, an ancient kind of chickpea that looks a little like teeth; and black rice.

On the sweet side, I spotted tea rose petal preserves from Armenia, and frozen wild strawberries from Italy.

As for what we ate, I am embarrassed to admit that it was all so delicious and beautiful that - um - I forgot to photograph most of it. By the time I realized I hadn't gotten a photo, the food was gone. Let's chalk that one up to the marvelous glass of Prosecco, and next time I'll be more diligent. Here are the few things I did manage to snap before they were gone:

Hamachi crudo with Flavor Grenade pluot

Black truffle and wild mushroom pizza with a fried egg on top - Cube sells a frozen version of this (not your standard frozen pizza, these are made in Italy, all local, natural, etc.) and they kindly sent one home with me - so I'll report back.

My husband's beautiful cheese plate, with giant corn nuts, hazelnuts soaked in honey, dried cherries, and pistachios as garnishes. I love the way they serve their cheeses - on a slab of slate, with the names of the cheeses written in chalk.

Cube also has a wonderful private dining room, just off the kitchen (it used to be a walk-in, and the big metal door's still there), where they do a six- or eight-course prix fixe tasting menu for up to 12 people. Now doesn't that sound like a great way to spend an evening?

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Recipes, pie revelations, and vintage tableware

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I haven't written here for a few weeks, but never fear, I've been busy. I've been cooking and baking like crazy, both to feed the various people in my life (kids, husband, mother, friends, coworkers) and to keep myself entertained.

Many of the recipes I've already posted on my LA Cooking Examiner page: peach blackberry cobbler; fresh pasta with teardrop tomatoes, fried zucchini and walnut pesto from the lovely Ado restaurant in Venice; cheese biscuits with yogurt; tomato bread pudding with chives and nutty Comte cheese; and savory tomato cobbler with herbs, cheese and the extremely exotic fennel pollen I got as a sample from Golden Gourmet Pollen. My mother was here visiting, and the tomato cobbler she loved. I also made her favorite chocolates, 72 percent bark studded with chopped Marcona almonds and dried cherries. She loves coming to southern California.

I also did a few round-up articles: I gathered the best zucchini recipes and tomato recipes from's food writers, and I wrote a short piece on how to throw together a spontaneous dinner party when a dozen people unexpectedly turn up at your house for dinner and you haven't been to the market. This happens to me all the time, although I recognize that I may be unusual in this department. Still, you never know.

And this morning I made pie. As you know (or maybe not), I'm a failure when it comes to rolled-out dough. It's too wet, it's too dry, it sticks, it's too floury - I can't get it right. So I was bowled over this week by a press-in tart crust I found in Amanda Hesser's Cooking for Mr. Latte (one of my favorites in the culinary memoir genre, and if you don't have it, I would suggest you click the link above and buy it right this very second. Seriously).

This crust goes with her mother's peach tart, but in addition to the original recipe, I've now used it for blueberry-almond pie, banana coconut pie, and a savory tart of beet greens and cheese. It's an absolutely snap: You mix flour, salt and sugar (I left this out for the savory variation) in the baking pan or pie plate with a fork. You whisk together oil and a little milk. You mix into the flour. It becomes dough. You press said dough into the pan. You fill and bake. And the dough is tender, short, flaky and tasty. It's a revelation. See the banana coconut pie, for example:

You'd never know that crust required no rolling, would you? It looks perfect. A touch rustic around the edge, but that's the way I like it. I'm sticking with it.

So - lots of cooking and baking. And, until yesterday, a very limited selection of dishes on which to photograph all this lovely food. I'd been feeling itchy for some new tableware for a while, kept thinking I'd make an Ikea run one of these weekends for a few fab plates and bowls with hip designs. But Michael and I really prefer buying vintage. Except for our everyday white dishes, all our tableware, I believe, is older stuff we've found in antique stores or on eBay. Including our set of Rosenthal bone china, which we bought ourselves as a pre-wedding present.

The kids are visiting their grandma and cousins in New York, so Michael and I spent our grownup weekend in Pomona, sifting through antique stores for photogenic dishes. He was a champion, as always: patient, calm, only reminding me once that when we got all this stuff home we'd need to find a place to put it. His tolerance of, and even enthusiasm for, days like this: only one of the many reasons I love him so.

Here's an aerial snapshot of the loot:

The take includes the set of Santa Anita pottery in the lower left, pink and brown with a swirl pattern; the green glass cocktail tray that matches my existing set of Fire King Charm green dishes; a host of light blue glass serving pieces with square bottoms; a green ribbed salad bowl with six small matching bowls; and a full service for eight of Nikko china with an interesting bamboo-like rim, not extremely old but very stylish. When you entertain as frequently as we do, extra dishes are a must.

Now I just have to find a place to put it all.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Images: Dinner at Ado in Venice, California

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Chef Antonio Mure in the tiny kitchen at Ado

I'm working on an article for my LA Cooking Examiner column that will feature a recipe from Antonio Mure, the chef and co-owner of Ado in Venice, so I went there tonight with fellow food writer Gerry Furth-Sides to take some pictures. I thought I might get to taste the dish for the article, a lovely tagliatelle with zucchini, teardrop tomatoes and walnut pesto. But I wasn't expecting chef Antonio to send over an entire dinner! If you're reading this, chef, thank you. It was delicious.

So what happens when two food writers sit down at a lovely restaurant together? They share their food, and they take pictures. Here's what we had:

I started with an escarole salad with fresh figs, toasted almonds and a balsamic vinaigrette. Chef Antonio peeled the figs because he says they look better that way, which I found interesting. The balsamic vinegar and the sweetness of the figs tamed the bitterness of the greens quite a bit - they were still sturdy and had a little bite.

Gerry got a lovely buffalo carpaccio with a wild mushroom salad - very tender. I'm not experienced in the ways of carpaccio, so I probably would have mistaken it for beef, but it was definitely buffalo.

We shared the two pasta dishes. The first, fresh homemade tagliatelle with fried zucchini, red and yellow pear tomatoes, roasted garlic, and walnut pesto, is the one for which I'll post the recipe in a day or two. I thought it was particularly interesting that chef Antonio deep-fried the zucchini moons in olive oil before adding them to the saute pan with the roasted garlic and tomatoes. Frying them first made them almost chewy, instead of the watery texture you get when you saute zucchini from raw. The walnut pesto was a simple paste of raw walnuts, olive oil, Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, and - oh darn - what was the last thing? Maybe a little cream? I'll have to call over there and check. [Update: cream, infused with dry mustard powder, rosemary and sage, plus garlic.]

The second pasta was extremely unusual: beet tagliatelle with a Taleggio cream and quail ragu. Let's begin with the pasta. Chef Antonio roasts the beets, purees them, and then dries the puree over low heat for hours to remove most of the moisture, so that he can add as little flour as possible to make the pasta dough. The Taleggio, a lovely aromatic Italian cheese, is carmelized in cream to lend an additional boost of flavor. And quail ragu - well, all I can say is, pity the poor sous-chef who has to spend hours deboning quail (which has an awful lot of bones) for this rich meat sauce. Worth it, but truly, hours and hours.

Oh, and chef Antonio finished both pasta dishes off with a special Sicilian olive oil. The squeeze bottle wasn't labeled, and I saw several around the kitchen, so I asked him how he knew which one was the Sicilian. "It's the smallest bottle," he said, "because it's so much more expensive than all the other stuff." Makes sense.

I'm not much of a dessert person, and less still of an ice-cream-frozen-dessert person, but the semifreddo with shaved chocolate and crushed torrone (an Italian almond nougat candy often made for Christmas) was outstanding.

The other dessert, a vanilla custard-like cream crusted with pistachios, was also quite good. I was very intrigued by the texture: It was thicker than a pudding, more dense than a flan, almost like a ricotta cheesecake filling, but it didn't taste cheesy.

And only after I got home and looked at all my pictures did I discover the big SMUDGE on the lower left quadrant of my lens. Disappointing, even though I'm far from a photographic perfectionist. But the pictures still tell the story.