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Review: Superba Food + Bread serves new-generation comfort food

Review: Superba Food + Bread serves new-generation comfort food
The rotisserie chicken, made with scone stuffing, sour cherry and sage. (Cheryl A. Guerrero / Los Angeles Times)

Your opinion of Superba Food + Bread is probably going to depend on what you think of avocado toast, especially avocado toast that happens to cost $8. If you pay attention to Internet food buzz, you may be aware that avocado toast, which lies at the exact intersection of vegan passion and the artisanal toast craze, is this year's gustatory equivalent of what music geeks refer to as the Song of the Summer, the lightweight earworm you can't escape no matter how hard you try.

Terabytes of avocado toast photos pass back and forth on Instagram every day. It is hard to find a Bay Area cafe without it. Gwyneth Paltrow makes hers with a pinch of Maldon salt and a smear of Vegenaise. As with kale salad, Dorito-shell tacos, sea urchin pasta and Iggy Azalea's "Fancy" featuring Charli XCX, you are supposed to be so over it by now.

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On the other hand, avocado toast is tasty, especially if you make it with dead-ripe California avocados and zap it with a bit of chile heat. It flatters a drop of great olive oil. Fashion aside, there is no compelling reason not to eat a slab of it, especially if it is inflected with a sprinkling of spicy radish sprouts, as it is at Superba Food + Bread. It will probably be the healthiest thing you eat all day.

If you like avocado toast, you will also be OK with the oversized Fleetwood Mac mural on a wall of the airy converted auto-body shop, with the fact that Eagles albums on the sound system sometimes play all the way through and with things served on planks instead of plates. You will be dissuaded neither by the presence of the grain bowl on the lunch menu — actually, it's not bad, especially if you like collard greens — nor by the hero with cauliflower parm. Live and let live, right?

Superba Food + Bread is a project from Paul Hibler, founder of the Pitfire pizza chain and the entrepreneur behind the neo-Vietnamese restaurant East Borough and the nearby Superba Snack Bar. For this restaurant, he assembled the cafe equivalent of DC Comics' Super Friends, with ex-Handsome czar Tyler Wells overseeing the coffee program, former Michael Mina sidekick Lincoln Carson on pastry, John Eng from Le Pain Quotidien doing the breads and Littlefork's Jason Travi behind the stove. It is the kind of crew a fancy hotel consultant would try to put together if she had all the money in the world to spend.

On sunny weekday mornings, the walls are rolled up, the coffee bar churns out endless lattes and Gibraltars, and the tables are crowded with late-model Apple products — on a recent visit, I counted 17 MacBooks, 14 iPhones and precisely one non-Cupertino intruder. At noon, one of the rear dining areas will fill so completely with willowy blond women that you assume it had to be planned that way. The laptops return again in the late afternoon but are gone by dinner, when the walls roll down, the long bakery counter transitions into a wine bar and old-school Venice, or at least that portion of old-school Venice that has a regular table at Piccolo, begins to emerge.

At lunch there is kaya toast, spread with a thick, sweet jam that tastes closer to coconut cake than to anything that might be called kaya in Singapore or Malaysia, and toast slathered with a porky version of the Italian head cheese called testa; toast with smoked trout and egg salad and toast with burrata, and the Middle Eastern pepper-walnut spread called muhammara. The roast chicken is served with a sweet-savory stuffing made from scones and a bit of sage. The strong chicken soup comes with a faux-matzo ball made with bread — the menu describes it as Rabbi's Day Off. A black rice salad with pineapple and cashew tastes like the best possible thing you might score from a Whole Foods deli case. The BLT on wheat bread is enhanced with salmon belly, which might strike you as perfect or too dense and health-foody, and I could be persuaded either way myself.

At dinner you can start with a creamy, oozy Harbison cheese from Jasper Hill in Vermont, wrapped in a strip of spruce bark. There are a few slices of bread involved, and some vegetables for dipping, but you are basically eating an unadorned wheel of cheese. Tempura-fried cauliflower comes with a purée of raisins and capers presumably inspired by a similar dish from New York chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten — the purée is identified as "j.g. sauce" — and the stretchy, chewy "loaded" mashed potatoes strongly resemble the cheesy French potato dish aligot.

If you were expecting Travi to reprise the sunny French cooking from his days at Fraîche, you're probably in the wrong restaurant. Superba Food + Bread is a simple place of seared char with snap peas and rotisserie-cooked lamb with sharp vadouvan curry; vaguely exoticized porchetta with North African spices and seared padron peppers with peanuts; and weekly specials that include pillow-soft lamb-neck "osso buco" on Tuesdays and crisp fried chicken on Sundays. It's the new generation of comfort food. I wouldn't swear to it, but I suspect there are some customers who basically live here.

Will dessert be a Superba Candy Bar, Carson's gooey concoction of chocolate and caramel? Probably so, unless you're one of those virtuous people who might prefer a crusty olive oil genoise or a dish of frozen Greek yogurt with berries. I promise not to judge.

Follow me on Twitter @thejgold

Superba Food + Bread

Another project from the entrepreneur behind Superba Snack Bar, with an impressive crew of specialists who inform the menu. Don't be surprised if you end up ordering the avocado toast.

LOCATION

1900 S. Lincoln Blvd., Venice, (310) 907-5075, superbafoodandbread.com

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PRICES

Dinner small plates, $8-$18; toasts, $8-$9; large plates, $21-$28; vegetables, $8-$9

DETAILS

Open 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Mondays to Saturdays, 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sundays. Credit cards accepted. Beer and wine. Bakery. Lot and street parking.

RECOMMENDED DISHES

Testa toast, black rice salad, loaded mashed potatoes, rotisserie leg of lamb with vadouvan, Superba Candy Bar.

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