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Cheap Eats

Cube ~ Hollywood

8:51 AM PDT on August 11, 2006

CUBE

615 N. La Brea @ Melrose ~ 323-939-1148 ~ Hollywood

A new temple to fresh European and Northern American delicacy awoke last night on LaBrea, just shy of Melrose. With an unfortunate name, but excellent prices, Cube is a proudly stocked abbondanza of coddled treasures for foodies with tight purse strings. It will be possible to stop by this cheese and wine bar, charcuterie, charming restaurant, and Italian market with $10 and leave a little bit more full and a little bit more buzzed, while expanding your gourmand mind.

Cube is a rustic corner store whose shelves are stacked with the giant wheels of herb cheese, handcrafted pastas, extra virgin oils, and fresh gourmet food products of owner Alexander Palermo. Intimately cozy, darkly lit, and composed of handsome dark woods, it looks like the kind of space that would be perfect for a secret romance, if it weren't smack in one of the most traveled sections of town. Eye-contact over a glass of Lambrusco while sitting at the low-slung bar by candlelight is still an enchanted time, even with John Q. Designer blabbing over your shoulder, but we feel it's the company we're trading glances with that makes the mood or not in the first place.

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Semi-hard isn't necessarily a term you want to hear at a romantic rendevouz. Nonetheless, Cube clearly has an obsession with soft, raw ewe's, semi-soft, goat's, semi-hard, blue, cow's, bloomy rinded, hard, infused, sheep's, and organic cheeses (no water buffalo's milk cheese, Alex?). He plans to offer up to forty different varieties of artisinal cheese delicacies from all over the world daily, whether it be a traditional sheep's milk tuala from Italy; Farmer's 5-year gouda from Netherlands; Spanish Penamellera, which combines sheep's, goat's, and cow's milk; or a wasabi-infused goat's milk from those bee-atches in Massachusetts...

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Selecting the soft nuggets of curdled milk is like browsing the hash selection of some smoky Amsterdam coffee shop. It's cheaper even, with most cheese “rocks” available for $3 and $4, never going above an occasional $6 choice. A beautiful display finds rounds and funky wedges perfectly showcased in a bar-central glass case, with a mere chalk scrawl naming names. It's a beautiful, refined sight that temporarily transports you to a remote European village where real food really matters.

For foodies, it's a wet dream where one can spend an evening sampling the differences between a soft raw cow's milk Taleggio from Italy or a semi-hard raw cow's milk Myrtlewood from Georgia. We had a ball stuffing our faces with cheese that burst in the mouth with flavors subtle, innovative, and powerful.

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The wasabi was great, made from real wasabi root, I believe, as it was not harsh like the horse-radish you get with bad, and often good, sushi. The mellow orange-tinted, green bespeckled Spanish viegadarte was the last thing we wanted to put in our mouths, but it was gooey, balanced, and flavorful. A jalapeno-infused Shasta Greenfield went like free unleaded.

It's not just about cheese and wine at Cube. There is a similar commitment to the charcuterie, with mountains of thinner-than-paper meats and thicker circles of cured salamis laid out beside wee plates of kalamata olives, oven-dried figs with Barolo, honeycomb squares, and Marcona almonds, with or without chocolate.

The meats are super fresh, super delectable, and make us want to kick Boar's Head to the curb. We drowned in piles of lean, luscious white prosciutto, speck, jamon Serrano, and newer flavors like mole salami and strongly balanced oregano salami. The bresaola, palametto, and lamb prosciutto were thin but a tiny bit tough, like the most tender option for jerky enthusiasts on the market, their country flavors soaring above any unnecessary garnishment. Grilled Tuscan ham was light, a little juicy and cold, totally rocking.

The meats are so thinly sliced, so delicate and lean that the wispy sheets seem like eating nothing, while filling you up. Similarly priced at around $3 or $4 for most plates, the charcuterie is a great deal for such rarely found high standards of edibles. And of course, like most things, they go great with a glass of wine.

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As if this wasn't enough, chowhounds have the option of a beautiful, creative menu chock with quality and flavor. Frequent trips to the farmer's market yield the chef vivid inspiration. We gorged on extremely tender, juicy Barbacoa chicken lumps on pikes; perfect thin crust Gorgonzola pizza with brightly hued semi-circles of baked fig with walnut, as tasty as it is striking; more vicious stakes stuck through the hearts of cut fresh peach, Buffalo mozzarella, and Heirloom tomato, drizzled with aged Balsamic and Primo olive oil; very salty half-pipes of succulent Fra'Mani sausage enveloping balsamic-infused roasted peppers and pine nuts; cloud light burrata; and sweet melon wrapped in Prosciutto Langhirano, among other treats. All the food was imaginative without coming off like it was visionary or really a big deal in any way.

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Palermo made his bones selling high quality fresh pastas and pre-made pizzas, so both figure prominently on his menu and the non-intrusive shelves that surround diners. We didn't have a chance to try more than what’s mentioned, which was a lot, but still our taste buds perk up at the thought of such possibilities as roasted garlic pesto gnocchi; four cheese Mac n' cheese; caught-in-the-wild salmon chimchurri; tofu ravioli with bell pepper sauce; and a whole half of that Barbacoa chicken. Paninis, sausages, salads, and sides...where is all this food coming from? We imagine the menu is set to change up according to the season's offerings.

It's all very good, the quality obvious in every bite. The servers seem pretty cool too, spending a lot of time flirting with each other and guests, though sometimes while neglecting our hooch glasses.

Alexander Palermo's commitment to finding the best bites the western world has to offer is apparent in every inch of his food selections and one gets the sense he would rather be giving food away than selling it, so proud is he of nature's bounty and culinary tradition. With an ideal location that delivers on food and ambiance, we can easily see Cube exploding, una festa of the trendy, lip-locked, and gourmet.

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