August 14, 2012
Restaurant Review: Superba Snack Bar
Say you want to go home and eat, but you don’t want to go home. You want to eat the kind of food you’d make yourself, if you had the day to buy it, think it over, cook it, invite some friends over and eat it. Careful food, but not daunting. Doable.
As our ingredients improve and our skills sharpen, and as dining out becomes more casual, there is bound to be a kind of chowtime Singularity, when eating at the great new restaurant feels just like eating at home. There’s a whole new style of restaurants that seem to aim just that high—a better class of home cooking. Or, in the case of the Superba Snack Bar, a way better class.
Last night we ate at Superba, which just opened on Rose Ave. in Venice. I took one look at the menu and told my son, “This is the kind of food we’d cook at home.”
“Yeah,” he said, “if you made chicken liver mousse. With balsamic cherries”
I don’t. But the point is I could, and if I did I would use great local chicken, and serve it in a careful mound like a scoop of mocha gelato, with a drizzle of thick, dark balsamic soaked cherries.
Anyway, we didn’t order the mousse, but we did work through most of the menu. It’s carefully curated, divided up by Cold Cuts—homemade charcuterie—“Snacks,” and two larger categories, “From Our Backyards” and “From Our Hands.”
The produce, said our waiter, mostly comes from a single local farm, Eclectic Acres near San Bernardino, that the owners “have a relationship with.”
The animating philosophy is local, sustainable, delicious, community—buzzwords, sure, but when done right, you end up with a neighborhood restaurant that attracts people from miles away.
Superba strikes that balance because it combines the homegrown, deply rooted owner with a chef who has cooked far and wide. Paul Hibler started Pitfire Artisan Pizza – a thoughtful sustainable ersion of a small chain restaurant—and he lives in the hood (like, two blocks from me). “You’re the guy with the artichokes,” he says when he sees me.
Yes, and he’s the guy with the great friggin’ restaurant.
Chef Jason Neroni cooked at Mario Batali’s Lupo, in Manhattan and at El Bulli, neither of which even remotely qualify as a snack bar.
So, neither does the Superba Snack Bar, despite the name The atmosphere is casual, Venice, young—Rose Ave. is Abbot Kinney 15 years ago. But food (and prices) don’t exactly evoke a couple of taquitos and a Coke.
I’ll post photos shortly, but for now the English language will have to suffice. Pan con tomato, olive oil & sea salt ($ 8 ) was better than any we’d had last summer in Spain—two pieces of toasted French bread rubbed with cookd-down tomato pulp and doused with good olive oil.
Fried duck egg, papas bravas, truffle vinaigrette & tuna prosciutto ($14 ) had the Spanish paprika smoke, crisp potatoes and vaporous sheets of tuna prosciutto, which reminded me the ocean was around here somewhere. I really liked the Cauliflower t-bone, basil puree, orange/olive pistou ($14 )— a thick crosswise slice of roasted cauliflower, piled with sweet-tart and earthy flavors. Gather restaurant in Berkeley has something called vegan charcuterie—this would have fit right in.
The centerfold dish was something called Charred watermelon, burrata, candied olives & pickled garlic vinaigrette ($15 ). It sounds fussy: it wasn’t. And Negroni’s candied olives may be the new adult M & M’s.
Superba specializes in housemade (“from Our Hands”) pasta. They were, like I said, like homemade, but superb.
Okay, you cannot do this food at home. Because you didn’t train at El Bulli and Lupo. But you recognize the food—the local good stuff, the simple-seeming preparations—it’s familiar but better than familiar.
Hibler told me his next endeavor is a bakery on Lincoln Blvd. that will deliver fresh bread to the neighborhood on bikes, and offer one or two dishes a day for eating in. He’s forging it out of one of the street’s endless supply of used car lots. His restaurants are good at that—making us feel at home, even when we already live here.
You know what would be fun? Following what I eat on Twitter @foodaism.