Story and photos by Mark Sterling-Ogle, Jan. 29, 2015.
Cuff is a partnership between longtime neighborhood restaurateur David Chang, owner of Zang’s Asian Bistro, and Tom Harvey, who left upscale Eddie V’s and the swanky Scottsdale zip code to head west.
Having met at a Christmas party one year prior, the two decided to forge ahead with a new concept and refined the space that was once home to Zang’s, right in the heart of historic downtown Glendale.
Opened since last fall, Cuff offers ample parking behind restaurant. From there you can enter through the new patio, home to Cuff’s very own herb garden, which boasts a wide variety of savories for the kitchen, as well as the bar.
We arrived after 8 p.m., an hour before closing time, and were greeted by a flannel-clad waitress who happily showed us to a table toward the back. She apologized for the lack of silverware on the table; apparently they had a busy dinner rush and said she would be right out with some place settings.
The wait gave us some time to soak up the atmosphere. Chang worked tirelessly to refurbish the interior, and pulled up flooring to discover the beautiful hardwood he repurposed to build the handsome bar and restored the original coffered tin ceiling.
The soft green walls and large orb lighting gave the place a vintage vibe, while the large sliding doors that conceal the service station and storage area added an updated twist. The problem with that is, the staff utilizes the area so frequently that the doors are left open, revealing stacked boxes of sugar and sweeteners, as well as the holiday décor, which had been stashed on high shelves.
We perused the paper menus that were on clipboards – one for the specialty cocktails, one for the other adult beverages and a third for the rather brief menu and the daily special. Since closing time was approaching, we ordered everything at once and assured our server that it would be fine if our selections were brought out as each item was ready.
The first dish to hit the table was the spicy sweet crispy calamari with sambal aioli. Sambal is a spicy Southeast Asian condiment made, in its simplest form, from chili peppers and salt. At Cuff, it’s blended into an aioli; the result is a perfect accompanying sauce for the flash fried squid. It was dropped off so quickly that I didn’t have a chance to remind our server of the promised silverware, but fingers were good enough for this appetizer.
The classic Caesar salad flew out next. Thankfully it came with a fork and a large spoon. This selection came dotted with roasted garlic croutons and topped with Grana Pandano, which has a much grainier texture than the traditional Parmesan cheese. My husband and I both enjoyed the salad and the tangy dressing – him with the fork and me with the spoon.
The next item to arrive was my shrimp and grits, at which time I was able to alert our server to the fact that I would appreciate the aforementioned flatware to enjoy the dish, and enjoy I did. The rich and chunky tomato “gravy” was punctuated with chunks flavorful andouille sausage, accented by a perfectly poached egg that oozed over the plump and flawlessly cooked shrimp. I found the grits to be very creamy, which only added to the sensation of the silken yolk, and I finished the plate with gusto.
My husband, always on the lookout for a perfect burger, ordered “the burger." There was some confusion when the server asked how he would like it cooked and he answered “medium.” She informed him that he should order it medium-rare, as the cook has a tendency to overcook the burgers. My steakhouse background made me groan at this. Medium is medium – with a hot pink center. Hardy would be well advised to get everyone on the same page when it comes to cooking temperatures. The burger arrived with a hot-pink center as desired, however the accompanying bun didn’t fare so well on the grill and was black with over toasting. The lonely single strip of bacon didn’t help the situation.
The pork belly tacos were outstanding and the wide strips of rich meat had been rendered just enough, leaving the perfect amount of fat for an opulent mouth feel. A slight glaze of citrus hoisin added another layer of luxurious deliciousness; charred scallions and fresh sesame pico provided a distinct freshness to balance the decadence.
Our second visit, this time for lunch, was much more enjoyable from a service point of view and we were able to try a few more items from the limited menu.
Burrata, fresh mozzarella with a creamy center, is a treat anywhere found, and Cuff kisses their plate with basil pesto and a balsamic glaze. Although not made in house, it was delicious and fresh.
Toasted Flatbread was loaded with sopressatta, roasted peppers and fontina and basil, but over toasted (again) and we left two pieces with burnt edges untouched on the plate.
I opted for the fried shrimp po’boy and was very happy with the professionally fried shrimp and even more impressed with the value for the five juicy crustaceans at that price. The remoulade was just enough to accent the sandwich without overwhelming it.
The west side has been starving for new restaurants that aren’t chains or ethnic based. I think with a little fine tuning Chang and Harvey will set the bar with the opening of Cuff.
5819 W. Glendale Ave., Glendale
Hours: Mon-Sat, 11 a.m.-9 p.m.