Sunday, December 8, 2013

The Prodigal Son of Foodies Returns: Cube & Bodega Wine Bar

Dear reader, I have neglected you. Looking at the date of my last entry, well over a year and a half ago, I can only hang my head in shame as I ask for your forgiveness.

I'm sorry, lo siento, mea culpa. I could tell you how I've been busy with my new child (who coincidentally will be turning 1 year old in one weeks time) or how my record label has consumed my time, or how my consulting business has required the bulk of my attention in 2013, but I would just be making excuses. I eat daily. I have ideas about eating. More times than not I share these experiences with others in some way shape or form. From here on out, the sharing of these food experience will be here.

As we wrap-up 2013, I'm resolving to post at least once a week. It's important. To quote my very first blog entry, "Food is a part of how we seduce, of how we grieve, of how we celebrate and of how we transition from one kind of life and into another." This is important.

So, upwards and onwards. Let's get down to it, shall we?

A tale of two wine bars

I have recently made the move from Beverly Grove to Santa Monica, and in the process of traveling back and forth across this sprawling metropolis, my wife and I have had the chance to do some comparison eating and drinking.

Cube Cafe - 615 N La Brea Ave, Los Angeles, California 90036

Cube Cafe is not new the Los Angeles restaurant scene. When I lived in the neighborhood, it was a go-to staple. Having not been to the restaurant in over a year, I really had no expectation of my experience. I remember it being good, but my experience this go-round was much more than I anticipated.

First, the service was impeccable. From the time we walk in the door, until we paid the check, not once was there an empty glass or a moment where we were in need of anything, despite how busy the restaurant was. Additionally, everyone we encountered, from the food runner to door host, had a deep knowledge of what was being served. I'm guessing that almost every staff member could give detailed information about the menu.

Second, and more importantly, the food was phenomenal!

Executive Chef Jun Tan and Sous Chef James Henry have constructed a menu that includes farmer’s market fresh produce, a cheese and charcuterie menu changes with the seasons and wine selection includes over 400 boutique wines hailing from all 20 regions of Italy. With this attention to detail as the foundation, coupled with the excellent service, this was a stand-out experience.

Our dinner consisted of a beautiful cheese and charcuterie plate, friend chicken with squash and the brussel sprout salad. Every item we had was amazingly fresh and was simultaneously complex and robust in it's flavor composition. It is a unique blend of the expected and unexpected. They have, quite simply, taken what could be considered standard wine bar fare and have added a level of quality and sophistication that is quite unique.

I can't recommend Cube Cafe enough. An excellent dining experience, in an aesthetically pleasing environment, with a staff that pays close attention to detail with food that is outstanding.

In stark contrast, we visited a once a once-favorite, Bodega Wine Bar in Santa Monica, and had a very different experience.

Bodega Wine Bar (Santa Monica) - 814 Broadway Santa Monica, CA

After an evening of watching improv comedy at Second City in Hollywood, we were looking for somewhere near our new place in Santa Monica where we could have late night bite to eat and a glass of wine. Having been to Bodega multiple times in the past, it was the first place to come to mind.

It'd been a few months since I'd been there, and in my past experiences it was very much the standard wine bar. It had a very grown-up, sophisticated, lounge vibe. The lighting was appropriately soft, the music was deliberately downtempo, the service was exceptionally attentive without being too intrusive, and the food was above average. All in all, Bodega was a fantastic spot.

What a difference a few months makes.

The contrast in my experience at Bodega Wine Bar since the last time I had visited were like night and day. The first difference was the overall vibe of the place. Walking into Bodega, the atmosphere felt more like a frat party than an upscale wine bar. The DJ was playing a mix of dance-party anthems played a such volume that you could barely have a conversation. I understand that they have an egalitarian approach to wine and service, however there is a stark difference between "fun" and "juvenile."

We made our way past the boozy throng of 20-somethings, who were taking selfies and doing stand-in-place bump and grind moves with their partners, to the most out-of-the-way location we could find to have a glass of wine and a bite to eat. Instead of the sophisticated wine bar that I remembered, I felt like we had stepped into "da club." Nevertheless, the big draw had been the wine and the menu, so we had a seat and waited for the waiter. And we waited. And waited. And waited...

After over 20 minutes of waiting, I made my way to the bar. The bar tender was exceptionally helpful, putting our food order in and serving us drinks, apologizing for the delay and saying that our waiter would be over shortly. After about 15 more minutes our waiter FINALLY came by our table. Approaching us as if we'd somehow disturbed something more important he was doing, he very off-handedly asked us if there was anything we needed. At this point we had already ordered our drinks and food, but we still needed water, which we requested. He passively acknowledged the request, then disappeared back into the crowd, not returning for another 10-15 minutes. Once he did return, he was empty handed. I asked about the water a second time, this time he barely acknowledged us with a slight head nod. Another 10 minutes passed and still, no water.

Once again I had to make my way through the crowed bar to request water. Once again the bar tender made apologies for the waiter and proceeded to give us our water. When the food arrived, it was much like I had remembered. Above average small plates: bacon-wrapped dates, cheese plate and what I consider personal stand-out, the brie grilled cheese. Unfortunately, the food had arrived prior to our water and in the time it took me to go to the bar,our food had gotten cold. The one thing that was in the "plus" category had very quickly become a side-note to an overall horrible experience at Bodega Wine Bar.

It's disappointing when a once-excpetional restaurant takes a downward spiral. Perhaps Bodega would be better served if they dropped the menu and just became a club. I'm sure that they are making more money late night off of the bar than they are the menu, so why not just cut to the chase? The only rub here is that even clubs need to have an attentive waitstaff.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Beach Cities Doughnuts

This place is amazing!! Great product amazing flavors and killer packaging.
They have great flavored baked doughnuts. Earl grey, sweet potato,honey dipped and many more. Ace was very clean and the owner helped me (great service with super

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Local 1205 Venice

So I needed to energize my system after a long night. Saw Local 1205 and the signage read cold pressed juices. I tried the Dark shadow. It was so delicious even for 9$. Drip coffee sucked but I love the look and the layout. Locally sourced products and furniture imported from Paris,very cool indeed. 1205 Abbot Kinney Blvd.
This "cold pressed juice" rocked my world. Beet,carrot,parsley,and lemon.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Bay Cities Deli

As I push past the crowds of people waiting in line to pay I instantly am filled with excitement to explore the bustling aisles in Bay Cities Deli which has been a tradition in Santa Monica since 1925. They are the home of the Godmother , genoa salami, mortadella, coppacola, ham, prosciutto, and provolone. I tempted my stomach by ordering a large godmother, knowing I was getting the works on it (mayo, mustard, onions, pickles, tomatoes, lettuce, Italian dressing and mild or hot peppers). I would devour half of the sandwich minutes after leaving the deli, but wanted to save the other half to marinate in all of it’s yumminess and let the flavors bleed together in the perfectly crunchy Italian roll. This sandwich is a Santa Monica favorite for a reason. I also ordered the small tri tip. Of the tri-tip sandwiches I have had this one is definitely in my top five. The same amazing bread and some really nice pink ,tender meat sliced oh so thin. The sandwiches are filling, delicious and worth the effort to fight for a tiny parking spot and push through the crowded aisles, but for me the very best part of bay cities are the endless deli options. They can satisfy any deli needs for Italian, Argentine, Greek, French and Middle Eastern delights. If you’re in a hurry make sure to call in a sandwich order since they can take up to an hour on a busy day. If you have the time spend it roaming and exploring all of the ultimate foodie treats. Walk in, discover the rows and rows of canned goods, cheeses and meat. After a hard day there’s nothing better than grabbing bread, cheese, meat deli accoutrements, a bottle of wine and heading home to put my feet up and enjoy every little bite.


Hello friends. My name is Vince Howard. I have been working as a Chef for most of my days and have a strong passion for food and drink. Since I was young I have loved the romance that occurs around food and the gathering of family around the table. I have often said that food is one of the most romantic things that humans do. I am rethinking that old slogan. I believe that the romance is more than just food it’s the whole experience. The path that leads us to the tasty bites and the love that pushes us to find new exiting flavors and techniques. I also think that there are so many gems and well kept secrets just waiting to be discovered. With” Friend or Pho” I will share my findings from farm to table and, nose to tail. I come from the Midwest so I am still amazed every day by the food culture that I see on the west coast. While I’m finding my way around the local haunts, food trucks, farmers markets, and white table cloth eateries I will use my voice to tell the truth about these wonderful discoveries. I hope you will share these discoveries and find many details to share as well. All the timing and the flavors that I feel make the journey sweet and memorable will be included in my posts. If our time and dollars are well spent I feel that success has been achieved. Yours Truly Vince

Monday, August 27, 2012

Vince’s Burger Update Lets talk Hamburgers for a bit. I realize what makes a good burger is for the most part relative to the consumer. Some love the classic back yard burger with the grill flavor. Choose your grill type and method of wood or charcoal. Foodies like the smaller size with artisan cheeses and various uptown garnishes. We can dance that dance. It is my belief that this American icon and favorite of all is as simple as its quality meat and its quality bread. I am prone to make my judgments based on these two items being properly prepped and executed. A tender succulent patty whatever grind you are using, and a proper temperature. This is done through methods of cooking, resting, and patty construction. Then we have our bread, which should never be an after thought. The bun should have classic shape and lend itself to the portability of that sacred patty. How does the bun hold up, how does it absorb toppings, am I making a mess of my clothes while enjoying? These are all topics I use to determine a great hamburger. There are so many different aspects of this I am approaching from a simple perspective since chefs have been hitting this homerun for the masses a long time now. We are going to focus on the elevated hamburger. Food trends often take swings at overturning classics and redefining them with new technique. It is exiting for us to see something we loved growing up grow up with us as the American hamburger has. So where do we go to find this type of hamburger? I will most defiantly take you and your colleagues to The Tripel @ 333 Culver Blvd. Playa del Rey CA, which is the perfect spot for some “burger research” I have made my way through this diverse menu, hamburgers as well as its salads and elevated bar snacks. This little spot does several different patty to bread combos. The tripel burger is a combination of ground pork, duck confit, and angus beef. To get this little gem to a perfect Medium is tricky given the different fat contents of those proteins. They nail it. Resting the burger by half the cooking time, it comes out on its hearty yet soft brioche bun. So the soft bun perfectly cradling the juicy patty and that’s a new twist on the old favorite. The flagship burger on this menu is defiantly the lamb burger. I know everyone’s had a lamb burger but this one takes the cake. This square patty is delicately constructed with out over working the ground lamb.
It is easy to make the finished product tough by doing so. By doing the same resting as before and finishing in the oven this burger really is a work of art. Its served w mazzuna greens, cucumber and taziki . I am a lover of the burgers at Tripel but they have so many great offerings besides burgers. Fresh locally sourced ingredients and a seasonal menu are a must in this market. This pub has the best of both worlds with an exiting beer and wine list. Lots of local brews and kraft beers are found here as well as unique seasonal cocktails. This local haunt is a great casual place to take guests for drinks as well as high-end cuisine. Lots of small details you appreciate like the house made pickles and friendly yet subtle service. This place just feels like home.
My sister who is a retired chef and professional diner comes to town. She says she wants to eat lots of different items and “snack” and catch up. No bar food, pizza or sushi she says. I automatically think cheese boards, pates, charcuterie this type of upgraded picnic if you will. I steer us to a place I come to love Waterloo & City 12517 West Washington Blvd Culver City CA. This exiting food venue is the brainchild of Brendan Collins and partner Carlos Tamazos. These two brilliant restaurateurs have put together a great feeling for your dining out in style. Besides the fact that this place is extremely bustling they put up exquisite and tantalizing food and drink. The atmosphere is relaxed yet serious. Waitrons have impeccable food knowledge and are quick w guidelines and changing menu offerings. Chef Collins is steeped in the art of charcuterie. His pates, cured meats and pickling techniques are flawless. His attention to detail shows in every plate you see going out into the dining room. He uses a very large army in his virtually open kitchen and he is averaging around two hundred covers on a weeknight. Not an easy task. Much of the prep that goes into charcuterie service is done months before and requires years of training to procure. So when you are getting Salmon terrine or pate of pig trotters and sweetbreads you know that a lot of time and technique went into this food. My favorite was the chicken liver mousse while my sister fell deeply for the Rabbit and Pistachio terrine. So you want the Wild boar terrine and the smoked tongue, carrot terrine, who can decide? We are in luck; they offer a few options so everyone is happy. You may choose from Commoner, Prince, or King size selection and mix and match all you want with pickled onions, cornichons and various cured meats. We could stop there but what about dinner? These are the most amazing plate presentations I have seen so far. Beautiful, quant yet not too fussy was the classic Ceasar salad. This retro dish is held to its highest peak as its delivered with anchovy filets, farm to table Romaine and a perfect 60 degree egg all encompassed in a circular crouton. The vinaigrette was smooth and sophisticated; this is by far the most memorable salad Iv had in quite some time. Next we tried the chilled Thai Gazpacho with Peekytoe Crab and Coconut. This was a very well executed melding of flavors to my surprise and I don’t usually order crab. This evening I was glad I did.
The soup was spectacular and the crab so fresh it was breathtaking. So we’ve been sharing so is there a need to press on into this fortress of a menu? Of coarse when I peek into entrĂ©es I am quick to select the Short Rib Ravioli and the Indian Butter Chicken pizza for the table. We share and all find the dishes to far exceed expectation. The pizza had curry spiced chicken and a cucumber ribbon salad in the middle so you could dress each slice w the yogurt and cucumber mixture. The Ravioli was rich and wonderful, complete w a note of truffle in the sauce complementing the spinach and Cipollini onion. I’m so looking forward to my next culinary adventure at WC. I will defiantly have the Fish and Chips in this gastonamique haven of merry gluttony. The cooks in Bowler hats all toiling to ‘London calling’ by the Clash and a passionate chef putting his heart into the “gastopub” food of his Brit heritage. That is the picture in this burgeoning Culver City eatery.