Taste of the Nation 2011 (Los Angeles, CA)

Taste of the Nation Los Angeles 2011
Media Park
9070 Venice Blvd.
Culver City, CA 90232
Dining date: 6/12/11

Taste of the Nation is a series of nationwide culinary benefits, with 100% of proceeds being used by the charity Share Our Strength to help end childhood hunger. In LA, the annual event is essentially a large food/drink festival featuring an impressive lineup of restaurants, bars, wineries and even a coffee roaster (Intelligentsia). In all-you-can-eat/drink fashion (really, the only way to do it), participants hop from table to table, tasting a sample of all that LA has to offer.

This was my first time attending the event. I’ve heard for a little while now that this is one of the premier food festivals in the city each year, so it was about time I checked it out. Having now been to one, I’d have to agree.

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A-Frame furikake kettle corn crunked up with Benton’s bacon, dried pineapple and fresh shiso

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I’ve had this at prior festivals. It’s an addicting, flavorful popcorn, though not particularly memorable at this festival.

Campanile olive oil fried egg on a grilled bread with black olive tapenade and tomato concasse

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I thought this was pretty good; the crusty bread was pretty tasty with the fried egg and tomatoes. Would be great for breakfast, especially.

City Tavern grilled pimento cheese, sweet and spicy meatballs, stonefruit and burrata

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I didn’t think there was anything too memorable here.

Comme Ca merguez sausage terrine

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Craft liberty farm duck fritter & cherry mostarda; carnaroli rice pudding, apricots & pistachios

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The fritters were pretty crispy; served hot, there was a subtle duck flavor which was complemented well by the slightly sweet cherry mostarda.

Culina grilled lamb chops

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Farmshop house-made pastrami with green tomato ketchup, pickled spring vegetables & rye brioche; seasonal meringues

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FIG torta de lengua with breakfast radish and escabeche

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I thought the lengua was really tasty, and there was just a little bit of heat here to spice things up.

Hatfield’s Spanish octopus salad

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I really liked the octopus – it was sliced thin but prepared in a way that it was both crispy and tender.

Ink. wagyu beef tongue cold cuts, deli inspiration

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We were able to try one of the dishes from the VIP section – Voltaggio’s cold cut made out of beef tongue. Really tender and flavorful, I could see a pretty tasty sandwich being made with this.

Joe’s/Bar Pinxto Peruvian lantern scallops and sweet shrimp, white corn panna cotta, marcona almonds, smoked strawberry gastrique and Paella with chorizo, mussels, and chicken

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I thought the presentation here was impressive with the large paella pan. The scallops and shrimp, prepared sous vide, were both very good. The paella was quite good as well.

LA Market lamb lollipops with hibiscus glaze on fava bean puree

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I found the lamb to be just okay. It wasn’t cooked too evenly, nor was it overly moist of flavorful.

La Seine coconut jalapeno, albacore, salmon, yellowtail, aioli

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This dish was one of the more unique ones of the afternoon. A coconut-crusted jalapeno was fried and topped with fish and an aioli. I thought it was quite tasty.

Le Saint Amour charcuterie

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Lexington Social House fried chicken, cornbread, braised kale

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One of the best dishes in my opinion. The chicken was exceedingly moist (and it was white meat) with a really crispy, delicate crust. So delicious. Oh, and the cornbread was good too.

Loteria! Grill pollo en mole topped with toasted sesame seeds, onion, and fresh Mexican cheese; conchita pibil pork slowly roasted in banana leaf topped with citrus, pickled red onion and chile habanero; papas con rajas, potato with roasted poblano peppers

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Loteria always puts out some tasty tacos, and these were no exception. The lengua tacos I found especially good.

Lucques/AOC/Tavern fattoush salad

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Not my thing, really.

Lukshon/Father’s Office chicken pops, beer

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Loved the fact that FO brought out some taps of their own. Lukshon’s chicken pops were better than when I had them at Lukshon; slightly spicy with a nice, savory glaze.

Michael’s heirloom tomato gazpacho with tomato confit and burrata cheese

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Mozza porcini rubbed barbecued Creekstone Farms short ribs with salsa verde

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I thought these were just okay. The short ribs weren’t really memorable in any way.

Patina lobster and fresh almond gazpacho

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I thought the almond gazpacho was interesting, delicate and somewhat subtle. It reminded me of Asian almond jello, which is something I really liked growing up.

Picca/Mo-Chica chicken anticucho

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Picca is supposed to open very soon now, so this was one of the more anticipated stops. The chicken skewers were very good, showing off a really nice smoky grill flavor and moist, tender meat.

Playa/Rivera tamale chipotle

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Public Kitchen & Bar porchetta sandwich, arugula, marinated piquillo peppers, parmesan, rustic country bread; Crème fraiche and buttermilk panna cotta, strawberry-rhubarb soup

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Hard to go wrong with a porchetta sandwich. This one was very good, with the moist pork at the forefront. The panna cotta was good as well; slightly tangy and very creamy, the fruit was an appropriate complement.

Red O stuffed chile with chorizo, dates and sherry almond sauce; grilled Mazatlan blue shrimp with fresh jicama ‘chips’

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Short Order sloppy bolognese slider

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This was my first time trying anything from the yet-to-open Short Order. I’ll be honest, the sloppy joe-looking slider didn’t initially pique my interest. But most importantly, it was delicious. The bread was very soft, and the bolognese and pesto really came together well in each bite. Kind of like an Italian sloppy joe.

Simon LA scarlet scallops and yellow beets napoleon, green garlic goat cheese

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LQ&SK boudin noir and mustard tapioca banh mi sandwich

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I didn’t get a chance to try the LQ pop-up at Starry Kitchen. I guess I missed out, as the banh mi was very good. Balancing French and Asian flavors well, the blood sausage really fit in the banh mi.

STREET kaya toast, toasted bread spread thick with coconut jam, served with soft fried egg drizzled in dark soy and white pepper

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I think they were out of eggs by the time I came by. Still, the coconut jam/soy combo was a tasty one.

Tres by Jose Andres olive sphere, grilled octopus taco

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The olive spheres were a nice treat. I liked the flavors of the octopus taco, though it wasn’t as memorable as some of the other preparations.

Whist meatballs with pork, veal, prosciutto and pancetta; grilled octopus with smoked potatoes

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WP24 chow feung roll with braised beef short rib

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This is one of my favorite dishes at a dim sum house. Here at WP24, it’s made a little bit differently…a sort of haute version. There was a little bit of texture left in the noodle, and the beef was flavorful, especially with a little chile.

Fonuts fonuts

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Madame Chocolat 60% dark chocolate chip cookies, 43% milk chocolate covered cheerios, s’mores

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Scoops (Westside) makgeoli toffee, miso cheesecake, hefe apricot, salty chocolate, brown bread cognac, maple bacon bites, cherry bourbon ice cream

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Scoops served up a number of interesting flavors. I tried a few of these and probably liked the makgeoli (sake) toffee best. Guest scooper (and booth neighbor) Jacques Torres even dropped in!

Sprinkles assorted cupcakes

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I was also able to try much of the impressive lineup of drinks. My focus was largely on the beer and cocktails, purely because that’s what I was feeling this afternoon.

I thought there was very good beer representation with Bruery Ommegang/The Golden State, The Bruery/Steingarten LA, Eagle Rock Brewery/Verdugo Bar, and Stone Brewery. I particularly liked the Manifesto (Eagle Rock witbier) and Trade Winds (Bruery Tripel). As for the cocktails…

1886 at The Raymond

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Sotto ft. Julian Cox

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The Spare Room

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I was also able to try Basement Tavern and La Descarga.

Missed out on Intelligentsia…but that’s something I can get anytime.

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I thought this was a wonderful event. The park venue is a nice one, and the event was well-run. If anything, I just wish the event was longer. The lineup of restaurants and bars in LA is really top-notch, and given that the American Wine & Food Festival is said to be ending, I could easily see this being the top food festival of its kind in LA. I will be marking this event on my calendar for years to come.

I found the irony of the sheer excess of this event (put on to alleviate hunger issues in America) to be really interesting. Having said that, I understand that events such as these tend to drive in publicity and people ($)…thus leading to more funds for this important cause in the end.

Braised Lamb Shanks

Dining date: 6/5/11

I was recently inspired to braise some lamb shanks on a recent trip to my local Whole Foods. They had a spread of some pretty nice looking lamb shanks, and at $6.99/lb, I thought they were reasonably priced. I’d be able to braise a whole bunch and even bring some for lunch to work during the week.

I followed a recipe from my trusty America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook:

Ingredients

6 lamb shanks, 3/4 to 1 pound each, trimmed
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 onions, chopped coarse
2 carrots, peeled chopped coarse
2 ribs celery, chopped coarse
2 tablespoons tomato paste
4 garlic cloves, peeled
2 teaspoons minced fresh thyme
2 teaspoons minced fresh rosemary
3 cups low-sodium chicken broth
2 cups dry red wine

Instructions

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Pat shanks dry and season with salt and pepper. Heat oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat until just smoking. Brown half of the shanks, reducing the heat if the fat begins to smoke, about 10 minutes. Transfer the shanks to a large plate and set aside. Repeat with the remaining shanks.

Pour off all but 2 tablespoons of the fat left in the pot and return to medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the onions, carrots, celery, garlic, tomato paste, herbs and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Cook until vegetables soften, about 5 minutes. Stir in the broth and wine, scraping up any browned bits. Add the shanks. Bring to a simmer, cover, and cook in the oven for 1 1/2 hours.

Uncover and continue braising until shanks are browned and the meat is falling off the bone, 45 to 60 minutes, flipping the shanks over halfway through the cooking time.

Remove pot from oven and let shanks rest in the sauce for 15 minutes. Transfer the shanks to individual plates and portion the vegetables around each shank. Spoon off any fat from the cooking liquid, then season with salt and pepper to taste. Spoon some of the cooking liquid over each shank before serving.

I followed this recipe pretty closely, using a Côtes du Rhône as the wine of choice.

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I was pretty happy with how the lamb turned out. It was really tender; truly fall-off-the-bone. I found the meat to be rather gamey though, and I’m not sure if that was a result of my cooking skills (or lack thereof) or the lamb itself. I’d definitely make this again though. It was relatively easy to make, comforting and pretty damn tasty.

2011 Grande Marque Champagne Tasting (Santa Monica, CA)

2011 Grande Marque Champagne Tasting
Presented by Wally’s Wine
Le Merigot Hotel
1740 Ocean Ave
Santa Monica, CA
Dining date: 6/5/11

My friend Lilly has been going to this annual event ever since she turned 21 with her mother (who has an even longer streak running). She’s been raving about it for a couple of years but I never quite pulled the trigger. It sounded attractive enough, with a ton of high end champagnes (and food) available on an all-you-can-drink basis. This afternoon, a coworker of mine had to cancel last minute due to illness; I ended up taking his ticket.

Presented by Wally’s Wine, the festival’s focus is on sparkling wines, particularly champagnes. A variety is featured, including some of the biggest names in the industry (Krug, Dom Perignon, Louis Roederer Cristal to name a few). To pair with the wines, a suite of local restaurants were on board to serve up plates of their food.

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At the registration area I was greeted by the first champagne – Moet & Chandon Ice Imperial. I was instantly reminded how commercial the champagne business has become; marketing can make or break a bottle. I must admit, this was a sleek looking white bottle.

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One of the champagnes I had to try was Louis Roederer Cristal; I’ve never had it before. The Roederer house presented a number of wines, but I stuck to the Cristal.

Louis Roederer (Cristal)

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Billecart-Salmon

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Petrossian crostini, creme fraiche, caviar

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There isn’t a more classic pairing for champagne than caviar. Enter Petrossian with their crostini topped with creme fraiche and caviar. A popular choice, and I could see why.

Charles Heidsieck and Piper Heidsieck

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In addition to their non-vintage wine, a 1995 Blanc des Millenaires Brut was available.

Iron Horse

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Laurent Perrier

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Viceroy

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Viceroy presented a red smoked trout roe with potato foam. I enjoyed the saltiness of the roe with the creamy, foamy potato flavors here. Really quite delicate, it went well with the wines.

Melisse Monterey abalone, fennel, abalone gelee, tomato mousse

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Here was Melisse’s abalone, wonderfully complemented by fennel and some acidity from a tomato mousse.

Krug

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As far as I know, Krug was serving only its non-vintage champagne. Sister company Ruinart shared the table.

Cafe Del Rey oysters

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Cafe Del Rey was shucking oysters all afternoon. I found them to be just okay.

Veuve Clicquot

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Veuve Clicquot served up its classic brut, as well as the 1998 Le Grande Dame.

Dom Perignon

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Served here was the 2002 vintage.

Moet & Chandon

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Angelini Osteria filet mignon tartare, crostini

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I see Angelini at a lot of food festivals and have always enjoyed what they’ve offered. No exception here, the steak was very tender, while the crostini added all of the texture needed.

Drago lobster pasta

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Celestino Drago himself was serving up these filled pasta. Unfortunately, I found these to be rather rubbery without a lot of flavor.

Bazaar and Tres by Jose Andres hawaiian ono, jose’s taco, poached pear

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Three dishes were served here. First, the ono. This was very good – tender and moist with a lot of flavor. I’ve had Jose’s taco a number of times now, and its combination of jamon Iberico and caviar never fails to disappoint. Lastly, the poached pear dessert had a very strong floral flavor, but it worked in this setting.

Henriot

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Brentwood/Capo crostini, quail egg, asparagus, black truffle

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One of the best bites of the evening. Strong flavors came from the quail egg and black truffle (eggs and truffles – can’t beat it!), while the asparagus and crostini added the textural component.

Taittinger and Domaine Carneros

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Taittinger and Domaine Carneros presented 5 wines, including the 2000 Comtes Blanc de Blanc and 2004 Comtes Rose.

Cezanne at Le Merigot

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Host restaurant Cezanne served up turkey, duck and beef sliders. These seemed to be popular, but I found them to be just okay.

Culina day boat scallops, wild mushroom ragu, lemon thyme, extra virgin olive oil

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My favorite dish. The scallop was huge and was grilled very nicely. Mushrooms added some earthiness, while a little bit of lemon thyme was a bright, vibrant accompaniment.

Perrier-Jouet

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Schramsberg

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Angel

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Armand de Brignac

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These were the most expensive wines I tried tonight – the “Ace of Spades” brut and rose.

I had a lot of fun at this event. As advertised, there were a number of exclusive wines to try, and I was given the ability to sample a lot of them without having to pay a high price tag. I would say that it does get harder and harder to taste nuances in the champagnes after you’ve sampled a bunch, but it’s still a really good opportunity.

The food was solid. There were a couple of really good dishes (Culina’s scallop with mushroom ragu and Capo/Brentwood’s crostini with quail egg and truffles), but it wasn’t quite as memorable as the wines. At $150 a ticket, I’d say the event presented pretty good value, especially if you’re a wine snob.

LudoBites America (Redondo Beach, CA)

LudoBites America
Casa Pulido
228 Avenue I
Redondo Beach, CA 90277
Dining date: 6/1/11

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There’s not much more to say about the sensation that is LudoBites. In their latest venture, the Lefebvres have been traveling across the country, doing one-night pop-ups in various cities as part of their upcoming TV show on the Sundance Channel, LudoBites America. The show has taken them full-circle, with the final episode being filmed where it all started – in LA.

The meal really seemed to pop up out of nowhere. I had to do a double-take when I saw a post on Tuesday morning on the LA Times blog, announcing this one-night event. One of the core themes of LudoBites America is to merge Ludo’s style with the local cuisine – it’s fitting that the cuisine here would be “French Mex.”

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Given the overwhelming demand, I estimated the odds of getting a reservation to be extremely remote. However, Diana managed to get one, supposedly on her 44th calling attempt. The reservation was set – joining us were Kevin, Ryan, Kristen and Sam. Needless to say, I was very excited.

This was probably the longest I’ve waited for a table past the reservation time (about 80 minutes), but the food came out at a pretty good pace once we sat down.

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“Salsa-Rita” salsa tomato water, lime, cilantro, REAL reposado tequila, sugar chile rim

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We started with Ludo’s own custom-made cocktail. True to the theme, this tasted just like a salsa but in cocktail form. A little bit of heat reminded me a bit of a Bloody Mary; many of us had tortilla chips come to mind when drinking this. A tortilla chip straw would’ve been fun, though likely not practical.

Brocamole & Chips

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This dish was interesting, really just like an avocado guacamole but with broccoli. I’d have to say it was a little bit weird to start, but quickly grew on me.

Ceviche, Cucumber Water, Purslane

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There was a pickled flavor to this ceviche, maybe from some type of vinegar? Celery and red onion provided a little freshness, while I thought the fish was “cooked” well.

Chilled Red Tomato Soup, Carrot, Smoked Fish

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This was one of my favorite dishes of the night. It was balanced really well between the sweet tomatoes, crunchy carrots and tender, smoky fish. At first I thought there was bacon in this, but it was really just the fish, which had a really prominent smoky flavor. Best play on a gazpacho I’ve ever had.

Monterey Squid, Chorizo, Banana, Honey Clementine

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The squid was not as prominent in this dish; rather I found the clementines and pine nuts to be the strongest flavors. Still, the squid was nice and tender, and I thought the mild sweetness from the banana and honey was a welcome addition.

Among the drinks we had was a mezcal with a worm in it (on purpose, of course). I didn’t try it, though.

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Crispy Octopus, Smokey Chipotle, Piquillo Pepper Polenta

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I found the octopus to be pretty tender, though I was missing whatever the crispy texture was. The gentle heat was balanced well by the creaminess and subtle sweetness of the piquillo polenta.

Brandade Tacos, Dandelion, Creamy Extra Virgin Olive Oil

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Delicious. Here Ludo integrated a French brandade with a taco. The filling was a creamy salt cod mixture with potato, which I found to be very satisfying in taco form. The crispy taco shell was a key component too, as well as the peppery arugula.

Foie Gras Quesadilla, Crispy Cabbage, Juniper Berry Oil

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Another hit, this was one of the more anticipated menu items for me. Ludo seems to have a particular mastery over both foie gras and chicken, so I’m always excited for any dishes that feature these ingredients. I thought this was executed rather well, resulting in a tasty quesadilla with a rich, buttery foie gras filling. I also liked the cabbage, which added a little more texture and was a welcome accompaniment to the rich foie gras.

Roasted-Poached Beef in Lard, Squid Ink Risotto, Lemon Confit, Dried Mole

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Diners raved about this dish while we waited in the dining room, and I could see why. The meat was really tender (pretty sure it was a tenderloin), with the bulk of the flavor coming from a crispy dried mole, accented by the citrus notes of a lemon confit. Cooked perfectly.

Guacamole Sorbet, Catalan Cream, Fruit Salsa, Tequila

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I’ve had Ludo’s guacamole sorbet before (LudoBites 5.0) and to be honest, still not a fan. I just can’t get over avocado in ice cream form, but the fruits were good, especially with a hint of tequila flavor. Very subtle, but I could taste it.

Ancho Chili Pepper Chocolate Brownie, Caramel Leche, Red Beets & Rhubarb

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The brownie had an extra dimension here, with the mild heat from the chili pepper mixing things up. The whipped cream and caramel both worked well with the brownie, with just a little more sweetness coming from the beet/rhubarb mixture.

As the LudoBites fan base continues to grow, it’s clearly getting harder and harder to be able to experience these meals; as such, I feel exceedingly lucky to have been able to enjoy it. Ludo continues to work with familiar ingredients in new ways, continually experimenting and testing flavor profiles. Sometimes it doesn’t work, but most of the time it does. Tonight I especially enjoyed the tomato soup, brandade taco (genius!) and foie gras quesadilla. It was just a quick glimpse into another LudoBites, but I already look forward to LudoBites 7.0 coming in August.

Our gracious hosts.

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