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.