Culinary masterminds Adam Fleischman (creator of Umami Burger, 800 Degrees and Cold Cocked Coffee) and Jeffrey Merrihue (founder of XtremeFoodies.com) have done it again but this time, they are going Italian, Roman-style. Last week they opened Heroic Deli and Heroic Wine Bar in Santa Monica.
The wine bar and the deli are connected, which makes it easy to pop in for a bite with friends at the wine bar or grab a spot to study with a glass of wine in the deli. When you walk into Heroic Deli, you will notice it has not the typical deli perfumes of aged meats and cheeses but rather a soft, inviting ambiance and smells of newly opened red wine.
The OMG sandwich, which was intended to take on the Bay Cities' Godmother sub, has a completely different texture, making it stand out from your typical Italian deli sandwich. When you bite into the OMG, there’s a nice crisp crunch to accompany the Italian meats, as well as giardiniera to add some kick.
The Marinetti, a delicious fresh buffalo mozzarella sandwich with avocado, sun-dried tomatoes, pesto and aged balsamic vinegar, is a winner. The avocado makes it a little messy, but the flavors together make the sandwich 100 percent worth the extra napkins. Merrihue says the trick to the crispness of the bread is that they bake it at 80 percent to start, and then bake the remaining 20 percent when it’s ready to be served. It’s important to mention that all of Heroic's produce is locally sourced from California, with all other ingredients, such as the special meats and cheeses, imported from Italy.
Now let’s talk about Heroic Wine Bar. First off, the wine is not only delicious and top-rated (think 90+ points) but also competitively priced, with all whites being $40 per bottle and all reds $50 per bottle. If you’re feeling fancy, the team does have a reserve list with bottles all rated 95+ points; those are a flat $150 per bottle. Wines are mostly from Italy and California.
The chef behind the menus in both the deli and wine bar is Barbara Pollastrini, whose skills are rooted in Roman gastronomy but combined with a California approach. She calls her style “new Italian cuisine” and it shows in her ability to marry simple ingredients flown in from Italy, like burrata and olive oil, with fresh uni from Santa Barbara.
To kick off the meal, start with the Soupfle, a unique tomato soup with burrata and fresh basil, heavy on the tomatoes. It doesn’t really qualify as a soup but rather a baked souffle, and it's bursting with ripe tomatoes so consider it your veggie or fruit for the evening.
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Then move on to the lamb ragu rigatoni. The rigatoni is cooked al dente with a nice chew, among finely chopped carrots and lamb, with light olive oil. This dish is not a big saucy pasta but the simple ingredients really bring out the flavor of the lamb and the rigatoni. Next, get some protein in your meal with the Porkcini dish, which consists of garlic cream, tons of rosemary and sauteed porcini mushrooms. Last but certainly not least, finish with the panna cotta. This dish comes beautifully displayed in a 1920s-style cocktail glass with an Amarena cherry and crumbled biscotti. The bitterness of the cherries cuts through the heavy cream, making it a well-rounded way to end the meal.
“Every dish is simple, because each ingredient speaks for itself. I want people to really feel each ingredient for what it is,” Pollastrini says.
Heroic Wine Bar/Heroic Deli, 516 Santa Monica Blvd., Santa Monica; (310) 490-0202, heroicdeli.com.