Location: 516 Santa Monica Blvd, Santa Monica, CA 90401. (310) 490-0202
Date: August 17 and September 27, 2019
Rating: Pretty awesome, actually
Heroic Deli and Wine Bar is a double concept run by my friend Jeffrey Merrihue (we share an ex-partner in common). By day, it puts the modern spin on the Italian American “hoagie” concept, by night it serves as a wine bar with exceptionally fresh take on modern Roman (the city, not the empire) cuisine.
They took over the old Real Food Daily / Erven space on Santa Monica Blvd.
This is an unusual space, divided into two halves, each of which has a separate loft. The build out is attractive though.
Here’s the main side loft.
They have this gorgeous table in the center. For the 8/17/19 meal my wife and I came during the evening and sampled the wine bar fare. For the 9/27/19 meal a large 9 person family group of ours took the private room updates over this area.
Up the stairs in the back half (there are 4 areas!) is the private room.
The evening menu (in August 2019). There are also happy hour snacks — fairly extensive.
From my cellar: NV Pierre Péters Champagne Blanc de Blancs Brut Cuvée de Réserve. VC 91+. As is customary with this bottling from Rodolphe Péters, the wine is a blend of fifty percent of its base year of 2014 and fifty percent from last year’s blend, which had gone into the family solera of reserve wines that dates back to 1988. The vins clairs here do not entirely go through malo as fifteen percent are non-malo wines, with the range raised in a variety of vessels, including barrels, stainless steel tanks and cement vats and the wine spend two years aging sur latte. The new release is very good indeed, offering up a youthful blend of apple, pear, hazelnut, chalky minerality, incipient pastry cream and spring flowers. On the palate the wine is crisp, focused and full-bodied, with a good core, still pretty brisk acidity, frothy mousse and very good backend mineral drive on the long and nascently complex finish. This is very good today and will be even better with a couple of years in the cellar. (Disgorged March 2017). (Drink between 2017-2030)
Amuse from the chef of Risotto cacio e pepe with truffle. Super creamy.
NONNA’S GNUDI. Ricotta & spinach, sage infused housemade brown butter, fluffy Parmigiano Reggiano. This is basically a ball of soft spinach and cheese, topped with cheese, and soaked in perfect butter sauce. It’s richly cheesy — and buttery — very rich actually. Quite yummy. But you gotta like butter and cheese at its best!
ITALIAN CORN SOUFFLE. Corn, eggs, cream, caramelized onions, roast pepper. This is fine, but not my favorite dish here. Very mild.
Crispy fried artichokes with aioli. These were fabulous. First of all, it appears to be all heart, second it was super crispy and the aioli nice and tangy. Very addictive.
From my cellar: 2013 Giovanni Almondo Roero Arneis Vigne Sparse. AG 88. The 2013 Roero Arneis Vigne Sparse comes across as green and grassy in this vintage, with distinct Sauvignon-like inflections. Lemon peel, grapefruit, lemongrass and flowers are all expressive in the glass, but the overall impression is of an overly vegetal, aggressive wine that is best enjoyed sooner rather than later. The Vigne Sparse is always on the leaner side of Arneis. In 2013, that aspect of its personality is especially prominent. (Drink between 2015-2016)
ARABIATA MEATBALLS. Tangy tomato sauce. Full of flavor.
CRISPY LAMB RIBS. These were salty, meaty, and very tasty.
Spicy Salami Pizza. Pizza is super new here at Heroic, just having been added in September. A bit of heat. Nice. Basically a “fancy” pepperoni. Crust is super thin, almost like a cracker — I happen to like it that way. Nice and cheesy. It doesn’t have that stretchy doughy quality that many pizzas have. Overall, based on this one pizza, it was pretty good, but not blowing away the best pizza places in town.
White Mushroom Pizza. I didn’t get to try this one.
Margarita Pizza. Or this one.
From my cellar: 2003 Valdicava Brunello di Montalcino Riserva Madonna del Piano. AG 93. The 2003 Brunello di Montalcino Riserva Madonna del Piano is a super-ripe, opulent wine that resembles the 1997 in its generous, full-bodied personality. The tannins are surprisingly well-balanced within the context of this challenging vintage. The 2003 should drink well relatively early for this Riserva. All things considered, this is a superb effort. Production was down sharply in 2003. The estate bottled just 13,000 bottles of this wine compared to the typical 23,000 bottles. (Drink between 2013-2023)
TRIOFE AL PESTO. Organic basil, Parmigiano Reggiano, pecorino Romano, pine nuts. This is as good a pesto pasta as I’ve had in America. The Triofe — which is a classic shape for Ligurian pesto dishes — had a great bite to it and lots of surface area to pick up the very strong and oily — in that great Olive Oil way — pesto. Delicious!
BUCATINI ALL’ AMATRICIANA. Slow roasted tomato sauce, house made guanciale. This was my least favorite of the pastas as the guanciale this night was a bit soft and fatty (rather than crispy). It did have that tomato/pork flavor going on big time, but the porcine quality was a touch overwhelming.
RIGATONI AL SUGO DI AGNELLO. Braised Superior Farms lamb shoulder, crispy artichokes, house made n’duja. Mild and meaty but very delicious.
PASTA CARBONARA. Mezzemaniche, house made guanciale, pecorino Romano. Chef Barbara shows off her Roman chops with this scrumptious carbonara. The Mezzemaniche also has a really nice bite, and the pork cheeks the perfect crunch and porcine flavor. Very roman and again maybe the best Carbonara I’ve had in a long time. It maybe could have been a touch creamier — as this is an pork and cheese forward prep, but the guanciale alone is worth the price of admission.
CAVOLFIORE. Whole cauliflower, crispy garbanzos, roasted tomatoes, olives, Sicilian capers, garlic (vegan). I really liked the textural play and particularly the stunning olives.
POLPO CROCCANTE. Crispy octopus with Russet potatoes, garlic and parsley. Really crispy and quite lovely.
MERLUZZO PUTTANESCA. Santa Barbara Black Cod, tomato, capers, garlic and anchovies.
SALTIMBOCCA ALLA ROMANA. California veal, sage, prosciutto di Parma, wine. Like a fancy, slightly porky old-fashioned veal salimbocca. Plus some truffle. Meat was very tender and soft, with that particular texture of pounded veal.
TOURNEDOS ROSSINI. Central Valley Rib cap, chicken liver parfait, King Oyster mushroom, Italian summer truffles. This was rich, but boy was it good! How can you go wrong with those ingredients?
TORTE DE MELE. Deconstructed apple pie with salt caramel. Also quite lovely.
I’ve been meaning to come by and try the night time food for months now and finally managed to do it (twice) — and boy was I impressed. So different from the lunch — which is also good — but this is actually some really serious Italian and in a style that is very unusual for LA. Ingredients are all either top flight Italian or really good fresh local California. It’s an interesting hybrid, but Chef Barbara’s flavors are great and really taste very Italian Italian (as opposed to Italian American) in flavor. As a night time restaurant the physical layout is a little odd (although attractive), and it’s not cheap, but all the dishes I tried were delicious. Particularly the pastas. Woah some of those are good (particularly the pesto, carbonara etc).
Stylistically this is a hybrid of very authentic Roman (the city) food with ingredients either being top-shelf imported Italian or really good local California-sourced. This later, however, is still filtered through the stricter sensibilities of Chef Barbara and so is more Italian style with California ingredients. Places like Bestia or Felix on the other hand are more Italian cooking philosophies with punched up California sensibilities. Quite different, actually.
I would say that because Heroic started as a sandwich shop (which of course it still is during the day) and has such an unusual multi-part space that it’s a sleeper for really good LA Westside dining. So consider it placed on your dining radar.