Flying Pig Cafe (Los Angeles, CA)

Flying Pig Cafe
141 S Central Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90013
Dining date: 7/28/11

Flying Pig Truck is probably one of the more popular food trucks in LA and one of the few to successfully make the leap to a physical storefront thus far (it seems to be the next step for food trucks nowadays). I’ve had a chance to try the truck once for their signature pork belly buns, and I thought they were just okay. It wasn’t enough of an impression to make a special trip out to their restaurant. However, when it opened up right where I live, I knew it was only a matter of time until I found myself here.

House special crab cakes

I thought these were pretty solid, especially at $7 for a pair. I’m not sure it was real crab, but it had good flavor while the cakes were light and crispy. I would’ve preferred them to be served a little warmer, though.

Uni Pasta 6oz of fresh uni, spaghetti

The uni pasta, on the other hand, was rather one-dimensional. I thought the uni and pasta were incongruent as there wasn’t a noticeable sauce holding everything together. The ratio of pasta:uni was too high, so I would’ve appreciated less pasta (more uni was probably too much to ask for).

Ahi LA marinated short ribs, rice, mango slaw

I thought the flavor of the grilled short ribs was pretty good, though there wasn’t a lot of it. The mango salsa was solid, adding some sweetness and acidity. However, much of the dish was the brown rice and broccolini, which I found to be fairly plain.

Oxtail marinated oxtail with FP sauce

I thought this dish fell flat. Disappointingly, the oxtail didn’t have a ton to offer – I wanted some rich, beefy flavors that weren’t present here. Similar to the short rib, I thought the vegetables and starch could’ve been incorporated better.

Flying Pig Cafe was a bit of a disappointment. Admittedly, I didn’t have very high expectations, but those weren’t met either. The crab cakes started fairly strong, but I felt the rest of the dishes were conceptually disjointed and lacking in finesse.

Wagyu Steak

Dining date: 8/27/11

plates steak2

A good steak. I can’t think of any other food that is so delicious, yet so simple to cook. In terms of ingredients, salt, pepper and a good piece of meat are all you need. That’s pretty much all I used here.

I stumbled upon a steak that immediately caught my eye – a Snake River Farms wagyu (commonly known as Kobe) New York. Technically it’s not 100% wagyu, rather a cross-breed between Japanese wagyu cattle and American Black Angus (“American wagyu“). As far as I know, 100% wagyu beef from Japan is no longer available in the U.S. and will not be for a long time. A foot-and-mouth disease outbreak in 2010 killed much of the stock and exports are currently banned.

For me, American wagyu is probably my favorite for a steak. Pure wagyu is incredibly fatty – because of this (and the cost), it’s best enjoyed in smaller quantities. American wagyu, since it’s cross-bred, finds a happy medium between the wagyu and Black Angus, resulting in a steak that is very well-marbled and not too fatty in large portions.

Beautiful.

raw steak

I cook just about all of my steaks in a cast iron pan, searing and finishing in the oven. I get the pan as hot as I can…smoking hot (literally), sear for a couple of minutes on each side, then use a meat thermometer in the oven. Because of the quality of the meat, I was shooting for somewhere in the high range of rare, low range of medium-rare. I think I got just that at around 125 degrees.

cooked steak

sliced steak

plated steak1

Served on top of a bed of garlic-sauteed spinach. Execution-wise, I thought it was spot on. I achieved a nice crusty sear, and finishing in the oven helped me get the uniformly pink meat. As expected, it was extremely tender, juicy and flavorful. Was it the best steak I’ve ever cooked? Hard to say. It’s definitely between this one and the dry-aged, bone-in ribeye from McCall’s that I made last year. I thought that one had a beefier flavor (no doubt aided by the dry aging process), but I can’t really compare a ribeye and New York strip side-by side. I would just conclude that this was a delicious steak, and I was pretty proud of it.

LudoBites 7.0 (Los Angeles, CA) (2)

LudoBites 007
Gram & Papa’s

227 E 9th St
Los Angeles, CA 90015
Dining date: 8/10/11

An invitation for another trip of LudoBites was one I couldn’t resist. While the menu was largely the same since opening night, I couldn’t say no to the opportunity to revisit some of the favorite dishes from my first experience. Also, since Ludo is continually changing up the menu, there were a couple of completely new items: Jamaican chicken and the smoked vanilla bean bacon creme brulee.

Onion Tart, Bottarga

I liked this tart a little better this time, perhaps because it came out of the kitchen a little warmer, a little crispier.

Dorade Ceviche, Cucumber Water, Purslane, Cucumber Flower

I’m still not really a fan of this dish, even with the second time around. I thought it was a little less acidic and tart than last time, but I still wanted the fish to stand out a little more.

Fried Jamaican Chicken Wings

Mmm these were tasty wings. I thought they could’ve been a little bit crispier, but the chicken had a wonderful depth of flavor…without being overwhelmingly spicy.

Salt Cod Panna Cotta, Whipped Fingerling Potato, Smoked Tapioca

I liked that the flavors here were clean and distinct – the salt cod, the potato and the smokiness of the tapioca. Yet the play on textures was a welcome one too – the panna cotta combined with tapioca made for some creamy, chewy bites.

Pig’s Head Compressed with Cheddar, Barbeque Gelée

Hah. Inspired by the term “head cheese.” I get it. Though it could’ve also been inspired by a s’more. Rich, smooth meat from the head is combined with cheddar, layered with crispy crackers. A really interesting dish, and delicious.

Egg, Sea Urchin, Caviar, Champagne Beurre Blanc

This dish sounds really luxurious…and it is. Last time I had a hard time placing the sea urchin, but I was searching for it this time and totally got the flavor. Love it. Really comforting, with the creaminess of the egg and beurre blanc standing up to the saltiness of the caviar.

Tomato Soup, Carrots, Squid, Chorizo Oil

The tomato soup was creamy with a subtle sweetness. The carrots provided the texture, while the squid and chorizo brought a little more of a meaty flavor.

Plancha Tandoori Octopus, Yogurt, Cauliflower, Grapefruit

Just as good as last time, the octopus is just so tender. Loved the pairing of the smokiness from the grill with the citrus of the grapefruit.

Foie Gras “French Dim Sum,” Crispy Kimchi, Sake-Black Truffle Cream

I think this was the same dish as opening night, with the buzz words “French Dim Sum” instead of “ravioli.” Whatever you call it, it was delicious. I found the pasta to be perfectly cooked and filled with rich, luscious foie gras. I didn’t get too much of the kimchi, but I wasn’t complaining; I just wanted more.

Duck, Cherry, Spicy Saucisse, Beets, Radish

The duck was tender and moist, complemented by the tart cherries. Beets and radish added some crunchy texture.

Roasted Beef, Horseradish Cream, Green Beans, Dried Mole

This was Ludo’s take on a classic roast beef dinner. All of the flavors were here – the roast beef, horseradish and a side of green beans. However, the dried mole made things a little bit more interesting, adding another (unexpected) flavor profile. Loved the presentation too!

Epoisse Cheese Risotto, Hazelnut, Egg Yolk, Herb Salad

This was one of my favorite dishes from last time, and it still is. So good. It was rich, it was creamy, it was cheesy – I really appreciated the fresh herbs, adding bright flavors that stood up to the richness of the rice.

Peach Melba Vacherin, Lavender

The peach was tasty, smothered in a light cream. I liked the overarching lavender flavor, setting this dish apart.

Smoked Vanilla Bacon Creme Brulee, Red Berry Salad

This was a new dessert on the menu and definitely an interesting one. The creme brulee tasted, well, like smoky, porky bacon..yet in a rich custard. It was pretty weird for the first couple bites. Okay, it was really weird to me the whole time.  Accompanying  the custard was a refreshing, fruity (I think it was melon..maybe cantaloupe?) soup, instrumental in toning down the rich bacon flavor of the creme brulee.

I liked this meal slightly better than my first. While the menu was largely the same, I found many of the dishes to be a little more refined this time around. I’m not sure if I’ll get a chance to, but I’d love to return later in the pop-up’s run to see what else Ludo comes up with.

Previous LudoBites posts:
LudoBites 4.0 (2) | LudoBites 5.0 (2) | LudoBites 6.0 (2) (3) | LudoBites 7.0 | LudoBites America

Seafood Risotto

Dining date: 8/21/11

risotto2

Risotto is one of my favorite dishes; there’s something very comforting about it. Creamy and rich, it’s shockingly simple with the most basic recipes only involving a few ingredients. I think it’s pretty easy to make an edible risotto, but making a great one is tough. Temperature too low? Then the rice ends up mushy. Temperature too high? Then the exterior of the rice cooks before the interior. The timing needs to be right too – the rice should be served al dente.

Over the last week and a half, I’ve been playing around with making various risotto dishes, varying the ingredients (mushrooms, truffle oil, seafood) and heat control. I’ve experimented with two types of rice. Arborio seems to be the most popular from all the recipes I’ve been reading, but lately I’ve been using carnaroli. Not coincidentally, it’s the rice that Thomas Keller uses, and the rice used in the best risotto I’ve ever had (see: white truffle risotto at The French Laundry).

carnaroli

The basics of a risotto sound simple enough: sweat onions in fat, add rice and coat in fat, add wine, periodically add stock until rice is cooked (stirring often), and finish with butter and/or cheese.

risotto1

My latest one is a seafood risotto with saffron as the main spice. I stumbled upon some good looking sea scallops this weekend, so I decided to incorporate them too. The rest of the seafood was shrimp and bay scallops. Peas would add color and ensure I’m still eating my vegetables.

I added the shrimp to the risotto a couple of minutes before the rice was finished and let it cook in the heat of the risotto. I added peas, bay scallops and butter off the heat, stirring to incorporate.

scallops

risotto3

 The risotto was pretty good. I thought the flavors were on point and I was pretty proud of the sear I achieved on the scallops (keeping the interior translucent). They were cooked perfectly. The rice was al dente, but the risotto wasn’t as creamy as I wanted. The risotto I made days earlier was creamier and richer (see below). I think I didn’t stir enough. Oh well, live and learn. Still, I was pretty happy with the dish; I’m amazed I haven’t overcooked any seafood yet. I hope to be experimenting with lobster and truffles sometime in the near future.

risotto4

 

Animal (Los Angeles, CA)

Animal
435 N Fairfax Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90048
Dining date: 8/7/11

After having dinner at Night+Market, our party of 5 somewhat spontaneously dropped by Animal for “second dinner.” I’d been once before, and I remember leaving really full with dishes like an oxtail poutine, barbecue pork sandwich and foie gras loco moco sitting heavy in my stomach. Not surprisingly, I would leave Animal full as hell again.

Even at 10pm on a Sunday, the place was packed. I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s just always like that, but it didn’t help that they were filming some TV show in the dining room.

I’m not sure what Bourdain ate with chef/owners Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo, but I’d guess it involved some pig ears, loco moco, poutine, or the bacon chocolate crunch bar. Guess I’ll have to wait and see.

We ordered up 11 dishes in total.

soft egg, texas caviar, benton’s bacon, buttermilk yogurt

I liked the interplay of the creamy beans and rich egg with the fresh crunch of the scallions and juicy acidic tomatoes. Flavors came together pretty well too.

hamachi tostada, herbs, fish sauce vinaigrette, peanut

This was a solid dish as well, with the hamachi complemented well by a mild acidity and heat, while the tostada added a welcome crunch.

chicken liver toast

The liver was very smooth with its characteristic minerality definitely present. Not really too memorable, but solid.

grilled quail, plum char-siu, apple, nectarine, yogurt

I love quail and I loved this dish. The meat was moist and tender, and I found the sweet plum sauce to be a great accompaniment. The refreshing cool fruit worked well too, countering the richness of the quail and sauce.

heirloom melon, lime, mint, elderberry saba

Cool and refreshing…not the type of dish Animal is known for, but a nice change of pace from the heft of the other plates.

crispy pig’s head, pickled vegetable aioli

The head came out in a sort of croquette form – tender, almost mushy on the interior with a very light, crispy breadcrumb exterior. An aioli was a predictable pairing.

barbeque pork belly sandwiches, slaw

Man we were so full by now; these rich pork belly sandwiches would be a bit harder to finish. But they were so good. Rich, tender and full of flavor, the pork was topped with a sweet barbecue sauce and coleslaw. The buttered bun was very good too, being soft and yielding enough so as not to squish the tender pork with each bite.

balsamic pork ribs, tomato & cucumber panzanella

The ribs were tender, easily coming off the bone. Lacquered in a rich sweet sauce, these were good but not as unique as our other dishes.

foie gras loco moco, quail egg, spam, hamburger

This was one of my favorite dishes from my previous trip; it still is. A stack of hamburger, spam, foie gras and fried egg is hard to beat. Extremely rich (and filling!), its a blend of some of the most satisfying savory ingredients.

poutine, oxtail gravy, cheddar

Another favorite, and another heavy dish we couldn’t fully appreciate in our full state. Still, the rich oxtail smothered in delicious gravy was easily scooped up by crispy french fries, creating bites that were beefy, cheesy, crispy and salty.

sticky toffee pudding, mascarpone, orange

Less like a pudding and more like a soft cake, I thought the toffee flavor was somewhat subdued. I appreciated the orange zest though, brightening this dessert up.

I thought this was a pretty good meal. I probably didn’t enjoy the last few dishes as much as I could have, but I still found most everything to be executed well and full of flavor. Animal did a good job of presenting dishes that were both comfortable and creative, walking the fine line there. I found that my favorite dishes were the meaty ones (I guess it’s called Animal for a reason) including the pig’s head, pork sandwiches, loco moco and poutine.

Night + Market (West Hollywood, CA)

Night + Market
Talesai
9041 W Sunset Blvd
West Hollywood, CA 90069
Dining date: 8/7/11

Night + Market is a sort of annex to Talesai, which is a more upscale Thai restaurant on the Sunset Strip. Talesai has been open for decades, but Night + Market is a new concept (opened late last year) by Kris Yenbamroong, whose parents originally opened Talesai. Yenbamroong now runs both kitchens, with Night + Market being his venue to serve dishes inspired by the street food of Thailand.

We put our stomachs in the hands of the chef and allowed him to create a tasting menu for us.

chiengrai herb sausage w/ noom salsa, cucumber

isaan sour sausage grilled fermented pork sausage w/ bird eye chile, cabbage

These felt a little bit lean to me, with a predictably meaty flavor accented by some herbs. Not as ‘sour’ as I expected, which I didn’t mind.

fried pig tail

Wow, these were great. Much less gelatinous than the ones I had at The Spice Table a couple nights prior, with a perfectly crispy outside and rich, flavorful meat. Slightly sweet, really savory. There wasn’t a ton of meat on these bones, but it was delicious. I could eat a plate of these, easy.

pork toro grilled fatty hog collar with ‘jaew’ northeastern chile dip

As advertised, these were pretty fatty though slightly chewy.  The porky flavor was definitely present, but I found this to be a bit overly fatty for myself.

moo sadoong ‘startled pig’ slices of pork w/ mint, lemongrass, fish sauce, lime, bird eye chile

Chunks of pork were tossed in herbs, garlic, and a rich brown sauce. Not bad, though not particularly memorable for me.

kar moo parlow whole braised pork hock skin on slow cooked with dark soy, five spice, garlic

Oh yeah. Love a big piece of meat, served on the bone. The meat was tender while the skin kept a crispy exterior. Soy and garlic flavors in the braise were definitely prominent, complementing the pork quite nicely.

whole fish (branzino) sam rod deep fried topped with ‘three-flavor’ sauce-garlic, palm sugar, chile

As much as I love a big piece of meat served bone-in, I also love a whole fish. Here, a whole branzino was fried and topped with a sweet-spicy chile sauce. Pretty tasty – the flesh was moist, and I thought the sweetness really worked well with the fried fish.

gang ho ‘dry’ pork stew fatty delicious belly and shoulder cuts, slowly simmered with palm sugar, pickled garlic and ginger, tossed with glass noodles

I found this dish to be a little disappointing, finding the flavors rather muddled and hard to distinguish. I wanted some brighter flavors in this dish.

pu pad pong karee curried crab jumbo lump crab, curry powder & onions

Next we had large chunks of crab simmered in curry. Loved the jumbo lumps of crab, but I thought the curry was slightly one-note and didn’t have the depth of flavor I typically look for in curries.

kao kluk gapi shrimp paste-seasoned rice w/ candied pork, shredded egg omelette, red onion, green mango, cilantro, bird eye chile

A number of components here, but I thought they came together. The pork was sweet, salty and crispy, while the mango added a fresh sweetness, countering the heat from the chile. The small dried shrimp added a nice textural element.

pad kee mao drunken noodles with short ribs flat noodles, chile, basil, garlic

Loved this dish. It was a rather simple drunken noodle dish, but it’s one of my favorite in Thai cuisine. The sauce was aromatic (from the thai basil) with a touch of heat…just really delicious. The short rib was done well, leaving it tender and tasty in its own right. I’ve been inspired to try to make something like this at home.

ice cream sandwich coconut ice cream, sweet sticky rice, condensed & evaporated milk, toasted mung beans on a sweet roll

I was eagerly awaiting this dessert, having heard much about it. First of all, the coconut ice cream was very good – sweet, rich and full of flavor. Instead of a cookie, the sandwich was actually supported by a sweet bread roll, lightly toasted, and topped with mung beans, milk and sweet sticky rice. Something very different for me, and a great way to end the meal.

I really enjoyed the meal at Night + Market. Sure, there were some dishes I didn’t care for, but I remember this meal for the ones I really adored (pig tails, pock hock, drunken noodles, ice cream sandwich). The prices were very reasonable too, especially given the restaurant is located on the Sunset Strip. It’s a little bit further than I’d like from me, but if I were in the area, I wouldn’t hesitate in coming back.

I can’t remember whose bright idea it was, but we progressed from this dinner to another 11 courses at Animal.