Lamb shanks with port wine reduction and crispy pan-seared Wisconsin Sheep Dairy mona polenta
Cube is part gourmet shop and part restaurant. In addition to an extensive cheese collection, they also sell all sorts of gourmet honeys, crackers, olive oils, and other delicacies, as well as the full line of Divine Pasta Company products (which you may have seen at Whole Foods). Cube's mission is to actively support artisan-crafted products and the makers themselves, as well as to host regular community-driven events showcasing these products.
On November 9th & 10th, Cube hosted what they hope will be the first of many "Maker Nights" celebrating artisanal cuisine. Four of America's top artisanal cheese makers participated in this event, which featured an 8-course menu showcasing their cheeses.
What should you expect if you attend an event like this at Cube? Expect that most people will be dressed nicely (think work attire). Cube's tables seat four people, so if there are less than four in your party, expect to dine with strangers (which can be either awkward or fun, depending on your mood and who you're seated next to). Expect the meal to last a long time -- since everyone needs to eat the same dish at the same time and finish that dish before the next one arrives, things don't exactly move swiftly (on the other hand, this might be a wrinkle that smooths out as Cube gains more experience in hosting these events). Expect to BYOB, since Cube doesn't have a liquor license (they did serve us plenty of flat and sparkling water though, as well as a prosecco which I suppose someone had "brought" enough of for everyone to try). Parking was a snap--there was plenty of street parking nearby since most of the businesses near Cube are not open at night. Also, the event may have a photographer, which may cause you to conspicuously duck behind menus every 10 minutes throughout the evening if you hate being photographed by strangers.
Here are the makers who attended:
Brent Wasser's Sprout Creek Farm is located in Poughkeepsie, New York. They feed their cows and goats grass and make their cheeses using traditional farmstead methods. They are actually a non-profit organization with a mission to teach both children and adults a greater connectedness to the earth. They accomplish this by using their farm setting to show people how to care for animals and land through hands-on programs.
Bob Stetson's Westfield Farm has been making all-natural goat and cow's milk cheeses since the 1970's. Their award-winning cheeses include a wasabi goat's milk cheese, chocolate goat's milk cheese, several blue cheeses, and plain or herbed goat's milk cheese. I didn't know it going in, but they are one of my favorite cheesemakers! I especially love their wasabi cheese, and I got to thank the cheesemaker for creating it.
Joshua Beck of MouCo Cheese Company produces soft ripened cheeses in Fort Collins, Colorado using pasteurized, antibiotic-free milk from Holstein and Jersey cows. Since the cheeses are only ripened for two weeks, the USDA does not permit MouCo to use raw milk (the minimum ripening time for a raw milk cheese in the US is three weeks). MouCo also employs sustainable agricultural practices and uses recycled packaging.
Wisconsin Sheep Dairy Co-op's Dane Huebner runs the country's largest source of quality sheep milk for cheeses. Cube loves their 100% sheep's milk Dante and 50% sheep's milk Mona.
Flight of fatted calf artisan plate
The meal started with a flight of cheeses, followed by a flight of pate maison, guinea hen pate, and duck pate. I can honestly say that I loved every one of the cheeses, which ranged from hard and dry to runny and soft. Like I've said before, cheese store cheese just tastes better. The pate was interesting because it looked like sausage, but was much lighter and more loosely packed. I had never had pate before, and while it's not something I would order on my own or care to consume in large quantities, it was surprisingly appetizing and I was glad to have the experience to expand my palate.
Velvet tomato soup with chive oil & mini Sprout Creek Farm ouray grilled cheese
The sandwich was nearly weightless and crumbled softly in the mouth, like a handful of freshly fallen snow. I easily mistook the rich punch of chive oil for a very good olive oil, and the soup tasted homemade. The ouray cheese has a firm texture, a mildly sweet flavor, and is meant to showcase the quality of the farm's milk. Unfortunately, there was so little of it in the grilled cheese that I could barely taste it. If the dish hadn't been meant to showcase the cheese, it would have been very successful.
MouCo colorouge, proscuitto langhirano & baby arugula pizza
The marriage of bread and cheese was more successful in the pizza, and perfect wisps of proscuitto and lightly spicy arugula allowed the colorouge to shine. MouCo describes their colorouge as "creamy, nutty and subtly sour," which I'd say is pretty accurate. I believe it is a type of muenster. Raaaar.
Roasted kabocha squash ravioli with brown butter, guanciale, Wisconsin Sheep Dairy dante and farmers' market herbs
Cube's kabocha squash ravioli was the best thing I have eaten in weeks (and this is coming from someone who normally dislikes squash ravioli). The brown butter made it so rich that I had to stop after two pieces! Again, however, the cheese was barely present in this dish. Maybe the restaurant didn't order enough to accomodate the large turnout?
Fatted calf fegatelli with cicerchie, Sprout Creek Farm toussaint & crispy sage
This dish could have been called "Rich Man's Pork and Beans." The cicerchie (a type of bean) reminded me of lentils. The sauce had meaty undertones and salty overtones. I didn't think it made sense to serve such a large piece of fegatelli (pork liver) as an entree when we'd already had several pates as an appetizer (but maybe that's because I'm a closeted vegetarian). Though many of the dishes contained meat, Cube managed to accomodate the vegetarians at the event (telling the restaurant in advance helps). Sprout Creek Farm describes their toussaint cheese as being sharp in taste and having a lasting finish. The cheese had to have been in the sauce, but it wasn't noticeable.
White wine poached D'anjou pears filled with Westfield Farm classic blue and mascarpone mousse, toasted pistachios and fresh cranberry puree
Westfield Farm's classic blue is a smooth goat cheese injected with Roquefort mold. Mixed with mascarpone, its flavor becomes very delicate. The cranberry sauce wasn't as tart as one might expect, but had a sweetness more like raspberry. The cheese seemed out of place because I'm not accustomed to eating unsweetened cheeses in desserts.
Fresh Westfield Farm goat cheese & Valrhona chocolate pudding & raspberries
Two desserts! We got two desserts!
The use of cheese in the velvety pudding was subtle, imparting a slight tang while making the dish weightier and smoother than a typical pudding. This dessert was one of the highlights of the evening.
Overall, what most impressed me about Cube's food was their attention to texture. All food has texture, of course, but very rarely does food have a texture so joyously unexpected as Cube's weightless grilled cheese, delicate pates, and flawless pudding. The sweet corn ravioli at Melisse that bursts the moment it hits your tongue is the only other dish I can think of that compares.
Both nights benefitted Slow Food in Schools, a project designed to help children develop an appreciation for real, wholesome food and an understanding of sustainable food practices. The program provides enjoyable hands-on food experiences for kids while teaching them a healthy and delicious way to eat. Cecily Upton, National Program Coordinator for Slow Food in Schools, attended and spoke about the program. The event raised over $3,000 for this program.
Overall, I enjoyed this event. I always want to learn about the food I eat, and I rarely get the chance to do so while I'm consuming it. The cheese wasn't always as dominant in the dishes as I was expecting given the evening's theme, but I found myself fantasizing about my next visit to Cube even before I left the restaurant -- my next flight of cheese, plate of squash ravioli, and cup of chocolate pudding. While I don't really possess the patience or social skills required for events like Maker Nights, it was a worthwhile experience that I would recommend to others.
615 North La Brea
Los Angeles, CA 90036