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Cube: Cornucopia Squared

The perfect equation: Pavlova with passion fruit

Anne FishbeinThe perfect equation: Pavlova with passion fruit

View more photos in Anne Fishbein's "Cornucopia Squared at Cube" photo gallery.

Somebody at Cube is good at shopping. I thought I’d get that out of the way. Somebody at Cube is very good at shopping — and not just the usual stuff, the Santa Monica Farmers Market tomatoes and green beans and peaches this restaurant seems to have, but puzzone di moena cheese from Trentino, aged to an optimal stink; salty pastured-pork fennel sausages from the Bay Area’s Fatted Calf; and lobster mushrooms that actually have the texture and scarlet-rimmed countenance of poached lobster claws. Have you recently been presented with a rock of Himalayan salt, a tin of imported elder flowers or a jar of apple butter from the Kiwanis Club of Vienna, Ohio? Cube was almost certainly involved. The weekly menus, posted online each Thursday, read like a cross between food porn and haiku.

Down the block from Pink’s, in the heart of La Brea’s notorious meter-violation district, Cube is one of the most idiosyncratic restaurants in L.A., a wine bar welded onto a small pasta factory; an import business that happens to sell prosciutto sandwiches and the occasional plate of chicken, as well as black garlic from Korea and Tasmanian mountain peppercorns. Unless you have reserved, your chances of landing a prime-time seat at the bar, one of the few inside tables or a spot outside under the awning are slim.

Is Cube a cheese bar? Perhaps. When you sit down, you will receive a hunk of slate bearing a sliver of cheese, its provenance carefully written in chalk below. It would be possible to make a meal of these slivers, 6-year-old Parmesan and goat cheddar from Wisconsin; runny Muenster from Alsace; and caciocavallo from Lazio, served with chestnut honey and lubricated with glasses of cold, fizzy Lambrusco. Is Cube a pasta joint? From a certain perspective, it may be. You can even get a steak, although it is small and strongly flavored, as hanger steaks tend to be, which is to say it won’t please the folks who hang out at Dan Tana’s.

If you’d rather shop than eat, Cube has the highest “you-can-get-that-here?’’ factor of any gourmet shop in L.A., with shelf after shelf of products difficult to find outside their area of origin. There may be another source for Profumo del Chianti, the herbed, powder-fine sea salt prepared in the back room of the famous Tuscan butcher Dario Cecchini, but I have never seen it outside his shop in Panzano. You will find an entire line of exquisite Austrian drinking vinegars from Gegenbauer; raw milk cheeses from Switzerland; and first-rate mullet roe; dried beans from chefs’ touchstone Rancho Gordo; and fennel pollen both Tuscan and domestic; argan oil; coffee beans from the revered Pantheon-adjacent coffee bar Sant’ Eustachio; bitter corbezzolo honey from Tuscany; and colatura, the fish sauce the ancient Romans knew as garum.

One of my favorite Italian food cities is Visso, a small mountain town just north of the Umbrian border in the Marches, known for a spreadable salami called Ciauscolo and the funky hard sausage sibillini. Visso’s cured meats are hard to find in neighboring Norcia, just 30 kilometers away, and while the Visso brand imported by Cube is by no means among the best, it is a miracle to even find Ciauscolo in Los Angeles. You may be able to locate salumi from cult American favorites Fatted Calf, Armandino Batali, Biellese, Boccalone and Creminelli elsewhere in town but probably not in one place, and not available sliced and served all at once on a plate. If you’re a food obsessive, a half-hour at Cube can be equal to a week spent ordering online.

But as is often the case even in Italy, where the fonduta with lardo may be the best you have ever tasted but the piadina tastes like something from Stouffer’s, the people in charge of the kitchen at Cube are better curators than they are cooks. Imported buffalo mozzarella served with Parma prosciutto is good, but wan tomato soup, not so much; seasonal “crunch’’ salads of pole beans with hazelnuts are delicious, but the gray pork Milanese at lunch is less so.

As the mathematics-inspired name of the restaurant might lead you to assume, the dishes on the menu at Cube can be predicted by a simple formula: I > P, where I is an expression of the absolute quality of the main ingredients of a dish, and P represents the complexity of preparation. So a salad of heirloom tomatoes moistened with real balsamic, laminated with peak-season peaches, and served with a scoop of the superb locally made Mimmo burrata is inspired, but the red cow Parmesan risotto is mushy and flavorless; the soft, fragrant Langhirano prosciutto with pears poached in the concentrated grape juice called saba is wonderful, but the pan-fried cotechino sausage topped with a fried quail egg is just weird. You do want the arrangement of raw New Zealand snapper with fresh passion fruit and purple basil; but the overcooked veal chop with figs, stewed onions and goopy polenta is best avoided.

Does Cube serve doctored frozen pizza? I wouldn’t swear to it in a court of law, but the pizzas from the in-store freezer case, fairly high-quality pies made to the shop’s specifications by a factory in Visso, do seem to be carried back to the kitchen on a pretty regular basis, and the light, bready, underbaked consistency of the crusts does not quite rule out the possibility.

In small Italian towns, plunked down in central piazzas, there are lots of places like Cube: wine bars with great selections of cheese and charcuterie, where customers tend to linger for hours, picking through the well-curated list of snacks while studiously avoiding anything resembling a meal. If your next dinner at Cube consists of house-cured duck prosciutto, burrata with caramelized figs, and a fall salad with fennel, apples and thickly cut bacon, you will be as happy as a clam.

Cube: 615 N. La Brea Ave., L.A. (323) 939-1148, cubemarketplace.com. Mon.-Sat., 11 a.m.-10:30 p.m. Beer and wine. Street parking. AE, MC, V. First courses, $8-$16, main courses, $15-$29.

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Cube Marketplace & Cafe
miles

615 N. La Brea Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90036

323-939-1148

www.cubemarketplace.com