LudoBites 6.0 – 11/11/10

LudoBites 6.0 at Max
13355 Ventura Blvd
Sherman Oaks, CA 91423

I was excited to make a return trip to LudoBites after luckily snatching up a cancellation on OpenTable. Ludo changes up the menu pretty frequently, so it was exciting to be able to try some of the new dishes as well as some of the favorites from opening night (the chicken being one!).

Warm Baguette, Baratte Smoked Butter, Sardine-Laughing Cow Cheese

I always really enjoy the baguette at LudoBites, and it was wonderful again here.

Hamachi, Vietnamese Style

This was one of my favorite dishes from before; tender slices of hamachi are paired with crispy lotus root, fried shallots and a little bit of acidity.

Escargots, Brussel Sprouts, Red Mole, Corn Ice Cream, Marinated Tofu

This was a new dish for me; actually, I think it debuted on this night. The escargot was very tender and covered with a nice, richly flavored mole. The sweet corn ice cream was phenomenal. However, I don’t think all of the components really melded too well together, though I enjoyed each on its own.

Marinated Mackerel, Leche del Tigre, Baby Leeks, Verdolagas Leaves

The mackerel was even better than I had remembered it last time. The ponzu marinade added some depth of flavor and a little acidity. The skin was topped with sugar and bruleed. Loved the interplay of the moist fish and crispy skin.

Salmon “a l’huile,” Somen Noodles, Carrots, Red Wine Vinaigrette, Grilled Salmon Roe

This dish was similar to one served in the latter days of LudoBites 5.0. The shaved carrots and turnips added a nice textural component to the tender salmon. I don’t think the somen noodles added too much though.

Scallop, Celery Root Remoulade, Red Port, Walnuts, Dried Fruits

The scallops were beautifully seared with a nice crust; the interior was moist and tender. The walnuts and celery root added the textural component. Very nice.

Hot Boudin Noir Pudding “Parmentier,” Apples, Mustard Tapioca

I really liked the presentation of this dish. The boudin noir pudding was topped with apples, duck fat mashed potatoes, and purple potato chips. I love meat and potatoes, so the boudin noir combined with mashed potatoes was great, with the apples and chips adding some sweetness and texture, respectively. The mustard “boba” added a little bit of heat to the dish as well.

Oriental Mussels Veloute, Heirloom Tomato, Small Fries

This dish has evolved a bit since opening night – for the better. The veloute had pureed mussels in it, adding a rich mussel flavor. We tried both mixing the fries in the soup as well as keeping them separate. I preferred to keep them separate so that I could get the crispiness of the fries in each bite.

Poached-Roasted Foie Gras, Acacia Honey, Autumn Fruits, Rose Flowers

Another nice presentation. The rich foie gras was complemented well with the sweetness of the mangoes and honey. The foie gras was cooked perfectly.

John Dory, Potato, Herbs, Broccolini Flowers, Green Jalapenos Nage

The fish was cooked well, and I enjoyed the greens and the crisped potatoes for texture. The herbaceous broth was very strong and fairly bitter – taking small sips was key.

Half Chicken, Poached Egg, Chanterelles, Chorizo

This was one of my favorite dishes from before, and it still is. The chicken, cooked sous vide and then crisped, is so moist and tender. The chorizo is not very apparent, but I don’t think that bothered anyone. Complementing the chicken were tender and earthy chanterelles and a runny poached egg. Wonderful!

Marinated Korean Steak, Crispy Kimchi, Bone Marrow, Shiso

I missed the Nebraska ribeye served earlier, but this steak was definitely more dynamic and flavorful. The crispy kimchi was tasty, and added some heat and texture. The bone marrow added some extra richness to the dish, though I didn’t think it was necessary for the dish to be successful.

Warm Carrot Cake, Coconut, Thai Curry, Mango Sorbet, Kaffir Lime Oil

I’m not really a fan of carrot cake, but this version is a little different from a ‘typical’ carrot cake. Served warm and moist, the cake had a good carrot flavor. The kaffir lime oil, mango sorbet, and thai curry cream was really interesting, bringing strong east Asian flavors together.

Crème Fraiche Panna Cotta, Caramel, Caviar

This was a new dessert for me. I’ve never had caviar in a dessert before, so this was a very new experience. The panna cotta had a nice vanilla flavor, and was smooth and rich. The richness of the panna cotta and caramel were complemented by the briny and salty caviar. Really interesting, and definitely a memorable dessert.

I enjoyed this meal a little bit more than my previous 6.0 meal – the “new dish” highlights for me this time were the boudin noir and panna cotta. Those aren’t alone in the dishes I’ll remember LudoBites 6.0 for – the hamachi, mackerel, and chicken are just some of the others.

 

Test Kitchen: Alain Giraud – 11/4/10

Test Kitchen: Alain Giraud
9575 West Pico Boulevard
Los Angeles 90035

Alain Giraud has been around the LA dining scene for a while, most notably cooking at Citrus in the early ’90s and being the opening chef of Bastide in 2002; both of these were critically acclaimed. He left Bastide just as I had moved to LA, so I didn’t have a chance to sample his food then. His latest venture, Anisette Brasserie, closed just two months ago…before I could try it. However, his stint at Test Kitchen (to test out dishes for new concept, Maison Giraud) was the perfect opportunity for me to try some of his cooking.

Bread service (baked in-house) consisted of a baguette and brioche selection.

The baguette was solid, but I especially enjoyed the brioche for its light and fluffy interior. There was a slightly cheesy flavor as well, reminiscent of a gougere…or a cheez-it.

L’AMUSE BOUCHE

The amuse bouche was this salmon accompanied with apples, dill and a fennel cream. I thought the flavor of the salmon was very mild, but enjoyed the crisp sweetness of the apples.

L’OEUF Duo of Farm Eggs “Town & Country”

Next was a duo of egg preparations. Left we had “town,” which was a rich egg custard topped with porcini mushroom powder. I enjoyed the subtle porcini flavor, but wanted something more. The “country” provided that extra flavor as egg with bacon and chives – delish!

LES LEGUMES Farmers Market Vegetables Soup, Basil & Almond Pistou

Fresh farmers market vegetables were brought together to make this soup. The vegetables were tender, and each was distinguishable on its own. The pistou, very close to a pesto, added basil, almond and garlic flavors to the soup. This would be really nice on a cold day – ironically, it was probably around 95 degrees in LA on this day.

LA COQUILLE SAINT JACQUES Sautéed Scallops, Pistachios and Meyer Lemon Emulsion

I really enjoyed this dish. The scallops had a great crusty sear with a moist interior. The accompanying leeks added a nice sweetness, and the butter-based sauce added a creaminess that brought everything together.

LE VEAU Roasted Veal Loin, Mushrooms, Black Truffle Sauce


This veal was very tender, though not too flavorful on its own. The black truffle sauce elevated this dish, adding a richness and depth of flavor. The mushrooms (bluefoot, nameko, and one other) were really earthy and had an interesting taste to them.

LA FRAISE California Strawberries, Malt Ice Cream, Vanilla Cream

Lastly we had this dessert with strawberries topped with ice cream and a vanilla cream. The combination of the sweet strawberries and vanilla cream (kind of similar to a Cool Whip) was very nice, and the sliced almonds added some bite.

LES MIGNARDISES

We were presented with a plate of mignardises which included almond cookies, chocolate madeleines, and cassis jellies. My favorite of these was probably the madeleine, with its soft texture and good chocolate flavor.

As expected, Chef Giraud presented us with a very good meal. This was easily one of my favorite meals at Test Kitchen, and it’s easy to see why Giraud has been a part of the LA dining scene for so long.

Previous Test Kitchen posts:
Jordan Kahn (Red Medicine)
Walter Manzke
Adam Horton (Saddle Peak Lodge)
Marcel Vigneron
Ricardo Zarate

SugarFish Downtown – 11/6/10

SUGARFISH Downtown
600 W 7th Street
Los Angeles, CA 90017

I’d been hearing a lot about SugarFish’s latest location in downtown with everyone raving about fresh, delicious fish at reasonable prices. Given that I live and work in downtown, it was only a matter of time until I paid a visit. SugarFish is a more casual and streamlined version of the upscale Sushi Nozawa in Studio City, notoriously home to the “sushi nazi.”

I’ve been to a SugarFish location before; I visited the Marina Del Rey location soon after it opened a couple years back. I left unimpressed. I thought the fish was pretty good, but I was restrained by three “Trust Me” fixed menus that included tuna cut rolls and cucumber cut rolls (something I often perceive as a ‘filler’) and no way to order extra food a la carte. I remember leaving hungry after eating the fixed menu, and not being able to order more food (outside of another fixed menu).

I’m told all of those issues have long since been remediated, and it showed at the downtown location. The fixed menus, which frequently change, features an attractive lineup of nigiri and hand or cut rolls – no more cucumber rolls (though, it is available a la carte). If a custom menu is preferable, all of the sushi is offered a la carte as well.

We started with one of the fixed menus, “The Nozawa.”

Organic Edamame

We started with a plate of edamame served at room temperature and lightly salted.

Tuna Sashimi (Big Eye)

This was the first fish course, featuring some vibrant colors. The fish was tender and delicious, and the green onions added some nice flavor and texture.

Albacore Sushi

This was my first bite of sushi, and it was actually my best. The fish melted in my mouth as it was so tender. The house ponzo added just a little more depth of flavor to this already-delicious bite.

Salmon Sushi

I enjoyed the sesame topping, as it added a little nuttiness to this sushi. The salmon was good.

Snapper Sushi

This snapper featured a chili ponzu. Another tender piece of fish was heightened by a little bit of heat from the chili ponzu.

Yellowtail Sushi

The yellowtail had a mild flavor, but was silky smooth. Teeth not necessary.

Halibut Sushi

This halibut was topped with yuzu rind, which imparted some nice citrus. Fish is almost always better with citrus tones, and this was a clear example of that.

Toro Hand Roll


We next got into the hand rolls. We were instructed to eat these as soon as impossible to avoid the seaweed from getting soggy. The components that struck me first were the crisp seaweed wrapper and warm rice. Very nice. The toro was good as well.

Crab Hand Roll

Next was this hand roll featuring blue crab. The cool, sweet crab was surrounded by warm rice and seaweed, making these some tasty bites.

Sweet Shrimp

The daily special on this day was sweet shrimp…happens to be one of my favorite! I loved the fresh shrimp for its sweetness and delicate mouthfeel.

This concluded our fixed menu, but we ordered a couple of things off the a la carte menu.

Large Scallop

The waitress strongly recommended these, and they didn’t disappoint. A yuzu ponzu topped these scallops, which were tender and flavorful. I found the rice to be too loosely packed on these pieces, however, as the rice broke apart just as I picked it up. Definitely a no-no.

Uni

Lastly, we tried this Catalina Island uni. I always see Santa Barbara uni, so it was interesting to see Nozawa prefers this variety. Something about the kelp that the uni eat in the area, apparently. Cool and refreshing, this was a very strong display of uni…not fishy at all. I can’t say I could choose this over Santa Barbara uni – they’re both excellent.

This was a good amount of food; I was actually content after the fixed menu finished. I have to say I was pretty impressed by this meal, even the service was notably strong. My dining companion would attest to the fact that I kept talking about this meal throughout the night…after we left the restaurant. Part of it may be due to the less-than-steller experience I had last time a while back (lowering expectations), but the fish was fresh and had good, clean flavors. At relatively reasonable prices (the Nozawa is the most expensive fixed meal at $38), I expect Sugarfish Downtown to become quite popular. And soon.

Moreton Fig – 11/8/10

Moreton Fig
Ronald Tutor Campus Center at USC
3607 Trousdale Parkway
Los Angeles, CA 90089

When I first heard that Bradley Ogden’s restaurant group, Lark Creek, would be opening up a restaurant on the USC campus, I did a double-take. It seemed a little random that Lark Creek, based in the SF Bay Area, would make its first foray into Los Angeles within a college campus. Alas, it was true, and I eagerly awaited its opening.

Nevermind that this opening reinforces the reputation that USC students are rich, spoiled kids (it’s not true!), I was glad to see a legitimate fine dining option come to USC. When I was in undergrad a few years back, campus dining was limited to a variety of fast-food options and only one sit-down restaurant (Upstairs Commons). When we wanted a “nice” meal, we often found ourselves going to the nearest CPK in downtown…which got very tiring. Since then, the entire USC Campus Center has been remodeled and the dining options have been upgraded big time. In my mind, Moreton Fig is the highlight.

Tonight was the first night of dinner service, though the restaurant has been open a little while for lunch. We started with an assortment of breads.

Monterey calamari with squid ink linguine, jalapeno pesto, extra virgin olive oil


We started very strong with this dish. The pasta had a good al dente texture, but the squid was the star. Tender and flavorful, these were exceptional. A little bit of heat heightened the dish as well.

Yankee Pier New England clam chowder with dill drop biscuits


This chowder was rich, but not overly thick – a nice consistency. I really enjoyed the flavor and the chewy bites of clams dispersed throughout.

BBQ chicken tamale, cilantro cream sauce


This was an interesting interpretation of a tamale. A corn “pancake” was topped with barbecue chicken and a sort of guacamole. The barbecue sauce was not overly rich or overwhelming, though I would have appreciated a little more corn flavor out of the tamale/pancake.

Ahi tuna “crudo” with black olive, fennel pollen, orange powder, chili


This dish didn’t really work for me. I thought the black olives overpowered the thin slices of tuna..and everything else really.

Seared Pacific sturgeon, beluga lentils, cippolini onions, salsa verde


The sturgeon had an almost spongy texture and was very moist. Good flavor. The beluga lentils (get it?) were a welcome touch, adding some body and more depth of flavor.

Roasted steelhead salmon, sauteed rapini, shallots, meyer lemon


I thought the salmon was a little undercooked for my tastes, but it was very moist. The rapini was a good accompaniment. Flavors were definitely there.

Pan roasted duck breast, onion soubise, cavalo nero, Medjool dates, verjus


I really liked the presentation of this half-duck with its crispy skin on top. I thought the duck was a little undercooked for me though, yielding meat that was a little chewy. However, it was still a tasty dish – it just took a little more chewing.

Lark Creek classic Yankee Pot Roast with young turnips, red chard and grated horseradish


Next was this pot roast. Very tender and with good flavor, though not unlike a typical pot roast.

We ordered a couple of sides to eat with our entrees.

Big duck fat fries

 

These fat fries remind me of the fries my grandmother used to make. These were confited in duck fat then flash fried. They were fluffy and tender on the inside, but I thought they could’ve been a tad bit crispier on the outside. Still very good.

Roasted brussel sprouts

Simple brussel sprouts roasted and brushed with butter. Tasty.

Lark Creek butterscotch pudding, creme chantilly, pecan wedding cookie


Onto dessert! The butterscotch pudding was really nice – not overly sweet nor rich, with a good butterscotch flavor. I liked the chantilly creme, as it added a pleasant lightness and sweetness.

Valrhona chocolate cake, pistachio gelato, pistachio dust


This chocolate cake was very much like a chocolate muffin. I wanted this to be a little more moist, and not so crumbly. The pistachio ice cream was good though.

My impression of Moreton Fig is of a restaurant that serves upscale food within a comfort zone. Perhaps not as dynamic or imaginative as other Lark Creek/Bradley Ogden restaurants, but I understand that it also needs to serve a college student clientele. The food is solid and well thought-out, and definitely fits a niche among the dining options on campus. This has to be some of the best food ever offered at USC, and I expect Moreton Fig to soon attract diners from around the city.

Cecconi’s – 11/2/10

Cecconi’s
8764 Melrose Ave
West Hollywood, CA 90069

Cecconi’s opened in LA early last year and quickly became a trendy spot where celebrity sightings were common. The restaurant has clearly remained very popular – even on a Monday night, the restaurant was packed. And who can blame them? The restaurant is beautiful and features a large outdoor patio, where I thought the best seats in the house were on a warm night.

However, let’s not forget about the food – the restaurant is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner (and brunch on the weekends), something that’s becoming a bit of a rarity for a nicer restaurant. Most of the food reviews I’ve read have been very positive, though not stellar.

I was invited to Cecconi’s to try a menu showcasing their daily specials. Each day of the week, the restaurant is featuring a special dish, and I had the unique opportunity of trying them in one meal.

Black Truffle Pizzette

A truffle aroma filled the air as this appetizer came out, and we immediately knew what it was. Shaved black truffles topped this crisp, thin-crusted pizzette. The best pizzettes are very simply made – here we only had a few components, and each of them excelled. The crust was light and crispy, with just the right amount of cheese. The truffles, of course, made it all the more interesting and delicious.

Focaccia

This was a freshly-made focaccia served warm. It had a light, crispy exterior with a warm, fluffy interior.

Tuna Tartare

A tuna tartare was whipped up tableside as the next appetizer. This was a pretty typical tuna tartare, and I enjoyed the arugula for its crisp pepperiness.

Stone Crab

Everyone was excited as large stone crab claws came out next. The shells were mostly broken for ease of eating, though some pieces were challenging as it was pretty dark outside on the patio. The work was well worth it though, yielding sweet succulent crab meat. I’m always a fan of fresh crab, straight out of the shell!

Lasagna, Cannelloni, Maine Lobster Ravioli, Chicken Tortellini

We were next served a quartet of pasta dishes. I had expectations for all of these since, well, I love pasta. The lasagna (top left) was very good, rich and meaty. The cannelloni (top right) was delicious as well, with a hint of citrus and topped with black truffles. The Maine lobster ravioli (bottom left) was another success, with its al dente pasta and sweet lobster filling.

The last pasta, served separately, was chicken tortellini served in a chicken broth (bottom right). The pasta had a good al dente texture, and this kind of resembled an Italian chicken noodle soup, if you will. The light broth had a clean and deep chicken flavor. Nice.

Wood Roast Sonoma Valley Lamb & Wood Roast Porchetta

A duo of meats was served next. The roasted leg was tender and flavorful, and I really enjoyed the accompanying artichokes. I’m relatively new to porchetta, but I really enjoy crispy pork skin and roasted pork meat. This was a prime example of both of those – especially the skin, which was so crispy. Kind of like candy.

Dover Sole

The last entree was this beautiful filleted Dover sole. A butter-caper sauce topped the firm white fish. I thought the richness of the butter, and the slight saltiness of the capers heightened the flavors of the fish, which is characteristically mild in flavor.

Selection of Desserts

Here we had a baked ricotta cheesecake, raspberry panna cotta, chocolate fondant cake, chocolate mousse, mango sorbet and a fruit tart. My favorites were the chocolates – the fondant was warm and moist with a deep chocolate flavor, and I enjoyed the light mousse paired with a little whipped cream.

Apple Crisp, Almond Ice Cream

Lastly, we were served yet another dessert. This was probably my favorite as I love warm crisps/cakes served with cold ice cream. The apples were sweet, and the crumble on top added the textural element. Stealing the show for me was this really delicious almond ice cream. I really liked it, and it paired very well here.

Cecconi’s lived up to my expectations serving up comfortable Italian classics, done well. I didn’t come across anything that really stretched the food imagination, but I don’t think that’s the point. Sometimes you want something familiar…something that you know you like…and Cecconi’s satisfies that need.

Note: This was a sponsored dinner.

Leg of Lamb – 10/31/10

I’m not sure what inspired me to roast a small piece of a leg of lamb. Somewhere in my mind I’d been wanting to do something with lamb…whether it be with the chops, shank or leg. The deal was sealed when I saw the perfect-sized piece of roast at my local Bristol Farms.

I got a boneless piece of roast which I liked because I could stuff it with various herbs before tying the roast together. I used fresh rosemary, thyme, garlic and…of course…salt and pepper. My method of cooking this would be simple – sear then finish in the oven low and slow – around 200 degrees. Conveniently, I was working on a pork confit at the same time in the oven at 200 degrees. I often like to roast things at a pretty low temperature, taking a page out of Cook’s Illustrated and Ad Hoc at Home. Roasting at a higher temperature tends to overcook and dry out the exterior of a roast before the whole thing is cooked through. With a lower temperature, I would be able to maximize the amount of perfectly-cooked medium meat.

lamb1

lamb2

I was aiming for a medium temperature on the meat. I took it out when my thermometer read 133 degrees and let it rest, though I felt the meat ended up being closer to medium-rare. Still good though.

lamb3

I completed my plate with some garlic sauteed spinach, and a mint-based salsa verde on top. I just tossed in fresh parsley, mint, garlic, anchovies, and capers into my food processor while continually adding olive oil. I forgot to buy a lemon (dammit!), so I was missing some of the acidity I was looking for.

In all though, I was pretty happy with my lamb!