LudoBites – 9/2/10

LudoBites 5.0 at Gram & Papa’s
227 E 9th St
Los Angeles, CA 90015

This would be my final visit to LudoBites 5.0, on its second-to-last night. Ludo likes to keep the menu constantly changing, so the menu has changed fairly significantly since my first visit on opening night. However, a lot of our favorites were still on the menu (including the wagyu beef over somen noodles and the potato mousseline). As a result, this would end up being my best LudoBites experience. Given the constant buzz and the fact that I’ve been here four times since May, I’m even surprised that I keep enjoying it more and more.

Similar to opening night, super-food writer Jonathan Gold was present – and was one of the last tables to leave. Ex-NFL star Warren Sapp dined as well; seemingly random, but I know that he is friends with the Lefebvres.

Warm Baguette, Seaweed Buckwheat Butter

The naan served earlier in 5.0 had gotten semi-mixed reviews, and here Ludo decided to bring back the baguette.  It’s a really good baguette, served warm and salted, complemented by a nice seaweed buckwheat butter.

Hot Miso Soup, Cherry Tomato, Uni Black Panini

This soup-and-sandwich pairing reminded me of a recent Hatchi meal with a “burger” and miso soup. The panini is a metamorphosis of the foie gras croque monsier – the uni is much more subtle, though I could still pick out the briny flavor in each bite. The miso soup was a strong variation; the tomatoes weren’t even necessary to make this soup good, but provided a really vibrant flavor.

King Salmon “a l’huile” Juniper Berries, Rainbow Carrot, Orange Ice, Pistachio

This was a totally new dish, and it was excellent. Slices of raw salmon were complemented well by acidity and coolness of the orange ice, and the pistachio and crunchy carrots provided some great texture.

Heirloom Tomato Salad, Mozzarella Ice Cream, Basil Crumble

Some really sweet and ripe tomatoes were presented here in an interesting version of a caprese salad. The mozzarella was in the form of an ice cream, and the basil in a crunchy crumble. I loved how Ludo brought these three ingredients together in different textural elements. All of the flavors were distinctive and excellent on their own, though the tomatoes were the star for me.

Raw Wagyu Beef, Somen Noodle, Peanut Vinaigrette, Watermelon

This was one of my favorites from opening night – our table ended up ordering four orders of this. The beef is tender and flavorful, and the watermelon adds some brightness to this dish. The peanuts added a nice crunch to the dish as well – stir this all up and you have a fantastic bite.

Poached Egg, Potato Mousseline, Chorizo Condiment

This was another favorite from last trip…and another that we ordered four dishes of. The mousseline was so smooth and went really well with the rich, runny egg yolk. The flowers here added some flavor as well, giving this dish a floral essence.

Sauteed Chanterelles, Peach, Black Garlic, Breadcrumbes & Parsley

This was another new dish for us. The chanterelles were quite tender, and the peaches added a nice sweetness and brightness to the dish.

Grilled Octopus, Oregano, Burnt Red Bell Pepper Polenta, Pineapple Aioli, Piment D’Espellette Gelee

The octopus was perfectly cooked, yielding very tender tentacles. The pineapple aioli added just the right amount of sweetness and acid, while the chili gelee added just a touch of heat.

Santa Barbara Prawn, Cinnamon Beurre Blanc, Beignet, Shrimp Powdered Sugar

The shrimp were nicely cooked and the cinnamon beurre blanc – sounds kind of weird, I know – does really work. The beignet, however, wasn’t as light as others I’ve had, and didn’t add too much to the dish.

Hot Foie Gras Dynamite, Raw Tuna, Lychee, Crackers

Love the colors on this dish. The foie gras was covered with Ludo’s “Dynamite” sauce. The heat was tempered by the lychee, as well as the cool tuna. I could’ve used a bigger piece of the foie gras though, as it didn’t stand out as much amongst the other ingredients.

John Dory, Saffron Risotto, Chanterelles Mousse Emulsion

John Dory is a firmer white fish, and here it was cooked perfectly. The saffron risotto was excellent as well, providing a sort of “seafood risotto.” The chanterelle foam adds a nice flavor to this as well. I loved this dish.

Confit Pork Belly, Raw Choucroute Thai Style, Mustard Ice Cream

This dish was similar to one we had on opening night. The pork belly was very tender and flavorful, and the Thai coleslaw added a refreshing contrast to the richness of the pork, with its slight acidity. The mustard ice cream added a little heat – not something I’d eat on a cone, but I thought it worked well in this application!

Roasted Sonoma Saddle of Lamb, Goat Cheese, Candied Black Olive, Artichoke Salad, Mint Pesto

The lamb was cooked well here, though it was a bit chewy – really not as tender as I expected. The goat cheese, with a marshmallow consistency, was not overwhelming but provided a good depth of flavor. I thought the artichoke salad was oversalted.

Marinated Steak (“Korean Style”), Pickled Vegetables, Grilled Baby Corn, Crispy Bacon

I think skirt steak was used here, and it was marinated and grilled “Korean style.” It was a really flavorful piece of meat, and the acidity from the pickled vegetables complemented the steak well.

Cheese Plate Saint-Nectaire (Cow) with Pear Kimchi Chutney; Epoisse (Cow) with Whole Grain Mustard, Honeycomb; Roncal (Sheep) with Apricots-Lavender Jam

As an intermezzo, we had the cheese plate. I’m not a big cheese person, and was saving room for dessert, so I passed on this. The rest of our party seemed to enjoy it though.

Chocolate Cake, Spicy Olive Oil

Onto the dessert! This was a new dish for me. The chocolate cake was not entirely special, but the spicy olive oil here really kicked things up.

“Sundae” Pistachio Ice Cream, Bing Cherries, Hot Chocolate Sauce, Salted Pistachio

Layers of pistachio ice cream, hot chocolate sauce, and bing cherries topped with whipped cream – how can you go wrong? You can’t. This dish seemed relatively simple for Ludo’s standards, and was excellent. I’m not really sure what it was, but the flavors were incredible together, and the salted pistachio bits on top added a very nice crunch to each bite.

Caramel Souffle, Grapefruit Gelee, Fleur De Sel Ice Cream

We had been looking forward to this all night. Ludo makes a terrific souffle. It was so light and airy, with a good caramel flavor. It was served piping hot, and when combined with the cold, salty ice cream, became a really delicious combination.

Service was excellent, something that I don’t always see at “pop-up” restaurants. In all, this was probably my favorite LudoBites experience of all of the five times I’ve been able to experience it. Ludo is able to wield creative and interesting flavor combinations together that, most importantly, work. I’m a little sad to see LudoBites 5.0 come to an end, but I’m already looking forward to 6.0 later this year.

Tartine, Pizzeria Delfina, Bi-Rite – 8/29/10

Tartine Bakery
600 Guerrero St
San Francisco, CA 94110

Pizzeria Delfina
3611 18th St
San Francisco, CA 94110

Bi-Rite Creamery
3692 18th St
San Francisco, CA 94110

It’s hard for me to think of another city block that has such a diverse selection of good food than this San Francisco block of 18th Street, between Guerrero and Dolores. On one corner you have Tartine Bakery, one of the best bakeries in the city. A few doors down is Pizzeria Delfina, home to some of the best pizza in the city, and its sister restaurant, Delfina, which is notable for rustic, upscale Italian food. Just a few storefronts down is Bi-Rite Market, a neighborhood market home to fresh, organic produce from its own farms. And across the street from that is Bi-Rite Creamery, a nationally recognized ice cream shop, which happens to be my favorite. I’ve always said you could make a helluva day having breakfast at Tartine, grabbing lunch at Pizzeria Delfina, having dinner at Delfina, and enjoying dessert at Bi-Rite – without leaving the block.

I tested this hypothesis in a nutshell by turning this into a three-stop lunch.

Tartine Bakery

Tartine always seems to be packed, with a line reaching far out the door. I’ve heard people rave about all sorts of pastries at Tartine, from the bread pudding to the croissants to the cakes, but I come for one thing – the morning bun.

I like to describe this pastry as some sort of half-cinnamon roll, half-croissant hybrid. It can be one of the hardest things to get at Tartine, typically selling out long before noon (maybe what’s why they call it a morning bun?). Just my luck, I was able to get one around noon on this Sunday.

Best when fresh out of the oven (what isn’t), it’s flaky on the outside, with a really buttery, moist interior. Caramelized orange rind is dispersed throughout, giving the pastry a little bit of candied chew and fresh orange flavor. Remarkable.

Pizzeria Delfina

Maybe ten feet down is Pizzeria Delfina, where we had the bulk of our lunch. Created by Craig and Anne Stoll of Delfina, this place was set out to be a more casual restaurant serving pizzas and various Italian specialties.

Crazy Melon watermelon, feta cheese, olive oil, chili flake

I thought this was a pretty interesting dish and perfect for the summer. The watermelon was tasty and juicy, though I thought there were too many chili flakes. There was nothing to temper the heat, and it overwhelmed the more mild flavors of the melon.

Oxtails alla Pizzaiolo braised in red wine, crispy potatoes

The oxtail was quite tender and braised well, though I wouldn’t say it was particularly memorable. However, the potatoes were – half french fry, half potato chip, with a nice crispy exterior and just a little bit of a fluffy interior. Excellent.

Margherita Pizza tomato, fior di latte mozzarella, basil

The Margherita is something almost every pizzeria has, making it easy to compare one pizza at a number of places. At Pizzeria Delfina, it’s reliably good with a fantastic, chewy crust. The flavors of the tomato, mozzarella, and basil are individually distinctive, yet work well together.

Bi-Rite Creamery

I’ve been to Bi-Rite numerous times, and I have to say it’s probably my favorite ice cream shop. They have a number of creative, interesting flavors (though not quite as unusual as Humphry Slocombe) such as honey lavender, ginger, roasted banana, and balsamic strawberry. In addition, they have some “comfortable” favorites like vanilla, chocolate, mint chip and cookies & cream.

I opted for my go-to: honey lavender. It’s hard to describe. It’s not overwhelmingly sweet, nor overwhelmingly of’ll just have to try it yourself. I had commented that Ludo’s honey lavender butter of LudoBites 4.0 was eerily similar in flavor, so if you’ve had that, you’re on the right track.

If you’re in San Francisco, I definitely recommend checking out some of the places on this block. There’s something for everyone, and I think you’ll be able to find something (or many things) to enjoy!

Morimoto Napa – 8/28/10

Morimoto Napa
610 Main St
Napa, CA 94559

Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto’s first venture on the west coast is in the small town of Napa in the heart of wine country. Given the slower, leisurely pace of this small town, I was expecting a rather quaint restaurant. I was mistaken. The restaurant is bustling – the lounge, bar and dining room were packed to the brim with customers, with staff carving dizzying paths through these three areas and the kitchen.

Before I look like an idiot, these images were taken at the end of the night.

Morimoto Napa is not a traditional Japanese sushi house….kind of like how Morimoto not a typical Japanese chef. This place is trendy – the decor and crowd instantly reminded me of something like Geisha House, Koi or Katsuya in LA. Considering Morimoto’s background of being head chef at the famed Nobu in New York, I could see the parallels in decor.

The menu features a wide array of hot and cold appetizers, salads, entrees, and (of course) an extensive sushi menu. We opted to order a variety of dishes instead of the omakase, in order to sample a variety of hot and cold dishes.

Toro Tartare wasabi, nori paste, sour cream

This was presented in a grand fashion, in a large bowl of ice. This has to be one of Morimoto’s most famed dishes – chopped up toro with a selection of accompaniments to help yourself to.  From left to right, these were: nori paste, wasabi, creme fraiche, chives, avocado and rice crackers. It’s a fun and playful dish, and each of the accompaniments were quite good. However, my favorites were the nori and (surprisingly) the avocado – the rice crackers were perfect to add a bit of texture.

Morimoto Sashimi seared toro, salmon, eel, tuna, hamachi, five sauces

Layers of smoked salmon, hamachi, eel, chu-toro, eel and oyster mushrooms were combined to make these sashimi bites. Accompanying them were a number of sauces including arugula oil, yuzu vinaigrette, eel sauce, and red and yellow pepper sauces. I’m often not a big fan of maki rolls that combine a variety of fishes, as you can’t distinctly taste any one fish. This dish followed those same traits, however it was pretty tasty.

Tuna Pizza anchovy aioli, olives, jalapeno

A pretty unique dish here with tuna as a featured ingredient in this raw “pizza.” The flavors were pretty good here; the jalapeno, while prevalent, wasn’t overly spicy.

Ramen morimoto chicken noodle soup

Did I mention we were sitting outside with the temperature in the low 50s? A bowl of ramen soup was in order. This ramen was really more like a Vietnamese pho ga, with its hearty chicken broth, shredded chicken, and rice noodle (not a common type of noodle for ramen, as far as I know. Having said that, it was a deeply satisfying and comforting bowl of chicken noodle soup.

Rock Shrimp Tempura spicy kochujan sauce, wasabi aioli

I remember this dish from my trips to Nobu, but this variation is a little different. Plump and juicy pieces of perfectly-fried shrimp were served in two sauces. Both sauces were good with just the right amount of heat – I preferred the more complex flavor of the kochujan over the wasabi.

Whole Roasted Lobster “Epice” garam masala, lemon creme fraiche

This whole roasted lobster was an impressive thing on a plate. However, I found the tail meat to be rather mealy, though the claws were succulent and delicious. I thought the garam masala was rather one-note; the lemon creme fraiche was good in tempering the mild heat of the curry, while adding some acidity to the dish.

Braised Black Cod ginger-soy reduction

Most fusion Japanese restaurants seem to have some sort of variation of this dish on their menu. This cod really reminded me of Roy’s (Yamaguchi) version…which is a good thing. The fish was moist and flavorful with a really melt-in-mouth texture.

Crispy Whole Fish spicy tofu sauce, papaya sauce

I love the presentation of a whole fish, especially when deep fried. The fish was very moist with a rather mild flavor. The spicy tofu sauce was rather overpowering, though, for such a light fish.

Sea Urchin Carbonara smoked bacon, udon noodle, crispy shallot

This was definitely a ‘fusion’ dish – here, Morimoto is putting a Japanese spin on the classic Italian pasta. Interestingly, the udon noodles weren’t very thick (thinner than a linguine), and closely resembled those in the ramen. The creamy carbonara sauce was rich and delicious – a solid take on the classic. There was only one small piece of uni included, but it added a nice briny flavor to the rich pasta.

Chef’s Combination Sushi

Full as we were, we couldn’t leave without trying some sushi. We opted for one of the “chef’s combinations” which included spicy tuna, sake, kanpachi, chu-toro, hamachi, maguro, unagi, ebi, mirugai, and aji. What a disappointment. The sushi was rather pedestrian – it didn’t have the glistening sheen of fresh-cut fish, and had almost a dry mouth feel. I was missing the tender, melt-in-mouth feel from most of the pieces.


For dessert, we had doughnut holes with a variety of dipping sauces, including molasses, lavender honey, lavender sugar, soy sugar, powdered green tea and ginger sugar. These bites were warm and fresh out of the fryer, and the sauces brought back some of the playful customization we saw in the first few dishes.

In all, this was a solid meal. Good, but not great. I did not expect to have a mind-blowing experience here; rather, I wanted to try some of the interesting non-traditional dishes Morimoto has to offer. Outside of the surprisingly poor sushi showing, the dishes demonstrated some creativity and strong execution. I can’t say I anticipate being back (there are so many other places I want to try in the Napa Valley), though I do look forward to trying Morimoto’s new venture (his first non-Asian one) in Los Angeles.

Benu – 8/27/10

22 Hawthorne Ln
San Francisco, CA 94105


Just over two weeks ago, Corey Lee opened up Benu, one of San Francisco’s most anticipated restaurants in a while. You see, Corey Lee was chef de cuisine of The French Laundry for four years, before leaving in 2009 to set out on his own. That pedigree alone brings with it a lot of hype and high expectations.  The resulting restaurant is Benu, focusing on Asian-inspired flavors, French technique, and local, seasonal ingredients.



The kitchen has two large windows open to the street, allowing passerbys to peer into the kitchen. As you walk up to the restaurant, you are greeted by a small outdoor patio/waiting area.


Benu offers two menus; an a la carte option, as well as a tasting menu (of around 16 courses) that changes daily. We opted for the latter, as it allowed us a whole range of dishes to try.

The first thing to come out was the ‘bread,’ in this case, a lavash with sesame and nori.


It’s a very thin cracker with Japanese accents from the sesame and nori. Rather addicting, these did a good job of getting your tastebuds going early.

tomato, dashi, summer blossoms

<tomato dashi

thousand-year-old quail egg, ginger, celery

quail egg

These first two dishes came out as a pairing. We were instructed to eat the egg first – the salty and rich flavor was accented by a little hit of ginger for an extra burst of flavor. The dashi broth was cool and cleansing; the tomato and summer blossoms added a ‘summer’ flavor to this dish.

geoduck clam, seaweed, raspberry ponzu


caramelized anchovy gelée, peanuts,lily bulbs, chili, basil

anchovy gelee

The next two courses also came out as a pairing. The geoduck had a fresh and clean flavor, slightly salty of the sea, with a nice ‘chew’ to it. The seaweed, however, was a little overbearing, bringing even more “sea” flavor into the dish. The anchovy gelee was wonderful – not overwhelmingly salty or fishy, and complemented by the textural elements of the peanuts and the lily bulbs.

veal sweetbreads, yuzu, pickles, mitsuba


Next came sweetbreads, which were very delicately fried. The sweetbreads had a meaty, somewhat creamy texture, and the fried batter added a nice crispiness. The yuzu and pickles added some acidity to level out the richness of the dish, which was a definite success.

eel, feuille de brick, avocado, crème fraîche


Here we have eel and avocado wrapped in dough, for a cigar-like pastry. The avocado was not too noticeable, however the creme fraiche did a good job of adding some light sourness and acidity to go with the fried roll. However, one person found an eel bone in their food! Being someone that spent some time in the ER earlier this year for an eel bone-related incident, this was really disappointing to see.

risotto, sea urchin, corn, lovage, black truffle


Risotto with black truffles and…what, sea urchin? Yes, sea urchin. This was my favorite dish of the night. The risotto was simply delicious and rich, and I thought the urchin held its own, adding a clean sea flavor, to go along with the earthiness of the rice and truffles.

monkfish liver torchon, apple relish, turnip, sorrel, mustard, brioche



The monkfish came with a delicious, light and buttery brioche. The torchon was very spreadable, though a little fishy. The apple relish added some fresh flavors and crunch to the dish.

“shark’s fin” soup, dungeness crab, cabbage, Jinhua ham, black truffle custard

shark fin soup

Shark fin would be a pretty controversial ingredient for this type of restaurant in San Francisco. That doesn’t mean you can’t make a dish inspired by it. The soup has a very rich and deep umami flavor..which really did resemble a shark’s fin soup. The custard (at the bottom) was so velvety smooth, adding an earthy truffle essense. Really superb dish.

abalone vol au vent, cabbage, onion, roasted chicken jus


The abalone, which is a nice big piece, was quite chewy, somewhat tough. That was a little disappointing. The flavor was good, though, and the pastry added a crispy and flaky component that meshed well.

pork belly, fermented pepper, cucumber, perilla

pork belly

A beautiful piece of pork belly was presented next. Though it was relatively lean, it was tender, juicy and flavorful – made even better by its crisped skin. The small balls of cucumber and shiso helped add some lighter flavors to balance out the dish.

beef rib cap, crispy maitake mushrooms, lettuce, scallion, garlic


The beef was sliced thin and grilled. It was disappointing, as it was neither juicy nor had the same succulence that meat typically has. In addition, it was served somewhat lukewarm, so the fat in the meat had solidified a bit. The mushrooms were tasty, and the lettuce had a nice, crisp flavor – but the centerpiece of the dish fell flat.

sweet rice sorbet, asian pear, pine needle-infused honey

sweet rice sorbet

Soothing and refreshing, the asian pear and sweet rice flavors were both evident. I really liked the cookie as well, adding some texture. There was an overarching floral flavor from (I think) the pine-needle infused honey, which was almost too strong.

strawberries, vanilla soymilk, buckwheat shortbread, jasmine pearl tea


The strawberries and strawberry sorbet were both good, but the crunchy shortbread and vanilly soymilk foam made the dish for me. The foam was eerily like a vanilla soymilk and went well with the strawberries, and the shortbread added some delicious texture to the dish. However, the jasmine pearl tea gelee on top did not taste like anything, even by itself.

chocolates, coffee, tea


Lastly, chocolates are presented for the table. On this night, we had a lemon creme brulee, toasted sesame chocolate, walnut chocolate, and simple chocolate truffle. Oddly, for a party of 3, we were given 2 of each. My favorite of these was actually the basic truffle (with the gold flake) for its really silky chocolate interior.


Service was exceptional. While most would say that it’s expected at an establishment like this, I agree that it is. But very often, it’s not.

As for the food, it was a very solid meal, but not without some disappointments. So much of one’s satisfaction of a meal is based on expectations going in and, admittedly, mine were very high. Deservedly so, I think, given Corey’s background, and the amount of buzz surrounding the restaurant. Many of the dishes were very successful in my opinion – sweetbreads, risotto, pork belly, and “shark’s fin soup” come to mind. The beef dish was very disappointing, but outside of that, there were no big missteps, save for the eel bone.

The menu is well-crafted, showing a pretty diverse range, and the tasting menu has a really good progression of courses. I will likely be back to try again, not too far into the distant future.

Test Kitchen: Walter Manzke – 8/25/10

Test Kitchen: Walter Manzke
9575 West Pico Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90035

I knew Test Kitchen’s devilish business plan would keep me coming back for more! As a recap, the kitchen opens its doors to various chefs and restaurateurs to allow them to try new dishes and menu concepts…and for us to sample these new creations. I first went to the Test Kitchen on Sunday to try Red Medicine‘s take on modern Vietnamese fare, and here I found myself again; this time, to sample Walter Manzke’s cooking. One of the two most notable “homeless” LA chefs (I would count Voltaggio as the other, Ludo doesn’t want a home), I first tried Manzke’s cuisine at Church & State and enjoyed it. I jumped at the opportunity to sample more of what he has to offer, outside of the French bistro fare Church & State patrons were accustomed to.

I dined with my friend Lilly (who has recently started a craft beer blog, LA Beer Hopping), and also spotted fellow bloggers Kevin of kevinEats, Holly of The Michelin Project and Ryan of Epicuryan. Also, Jason Bernstein of the Golden State also happened to be dining, who I am a big fan of.

Manzke is cooking for four nights only (8/25-8/28) with a menu of 5 dishes, which seem to have a lot of Asian inspiration. In addition, there were a few tapas options as well, and we tried two of them – the calamari and the bread & butter.

Bread & Butter Vermont butter, sea salt, foie gras butter with lavender honey

The bread was freshly baked; crisp on the outside and warm and fluffy on the inside. The foie gras butter was much more interesting than the fresh Vermont butter, with a rather subtle foie gras flavor. The sea salt worked to bring out some of the flavor of the lavender honey as well.

Local Calamari grilled and fried, backyard arugula, black aioli

I really enjoyed this dish and the interplay of crunchy calamari with bites of the tender, grilled calamari. Both preparations were cooked just right; I preferred the grilled calamari with the aioli featuring…squid ink. How fitting!

Hamachi avocado, green apple, yuzu, jalapeno

This was the first course of the regular menu. Small pieces of hamachi were placed on top of equally small pieces of avocado. Both of these had a really melt-in-mouth texture, and the acidity from the green apple and yuzu really brightened up the dish without overpowering the subtle hamachi flavor.

Thai Curry-Carrot Soup Maine lobster, coconut tapioca

The Thai curry and the carrots were both distinctive in this dish – though, they did not clash with each other. Small chunks of lobster were cooked beautifully; the sweetness from the lobster and tapioca helped to temper some of the mild heat of the curry.

Loup de Mer Sungold tomatoes, mole verde sauce

Loup de mer, also commonly called branzino, is probably one of my favorite fishes with its light, flaky and moist flesh. This piece was a little bit firmer, but was still moist and delicate. The skin was crisped nicely, adding some texture. The tomatoes were outstanding – perfectly ripe, juicy and sweet. The mole verde was very mild in flavor, but the fish didn’t need much. This dish really reminded me of summer and light, vibrant flavors.

Beef Tenderloin chanterelle mushrooms, Katsuo Bushi broth

This last savory dish was another good one. The tenderloin was cooked a nice medium-rare and was quite tender, served with a nice poached egg. On its own, it may not have been anything spectacular, but I loved the Katsuo Bushi broth. Like a much richer dashi broth made from bonito flakes, it has a really deep, salty flavor. I never know how to describe what umami tastes like, but this had it..and a lot of it!

There was also a little bit of yuzu kosho to go with the meat – made of yuzu and chili peppers, the Japanese condiment gave just the right amount of heat and bitterness to take the dish even further.

Strawberry “Creme Brulee”

This was Manzke’s take on the classic dessert. Strawberries were topped with a strawberry sorbet, a light cream and caramelized sugar. The result was a much lighter interpretation, but still containing the flavors of a traditional creme brulee. I thought this was a pretty nice way to end the meal, and not leave you with something too heavy.

I was very pleased with the meal. The service and pace of the meal were both much better than my prior visit. I don’t think there were any significant missteps, and Manzke really shined in displaying some new flavors, particularly Asian. I think this is a worthwhile meal to take part in during Manzke’s short stay; but be warned, it may leave you wanting more of his food…with nowhere to get it!

Test Kitchen: Red Medicine – 8/22/10

Test Kitchen: Red Medicine
9575 West Pico Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90035

This past Sunday was the last night in Red Medicine’s run at Test Kitchen, LA’s new “pop-up” restaurant. Drawing upon the success of the now-nationwide famous LudoBites’ pop-up concept, the restaurant is well…a test kitchen. There’s no permanent chef; rather, the space is rented out for short periods of time by chefs (typically of upcoming restaurants) who will showcase dishes of a new concept. And somehow, we’ve all nurtured the desire to be their guinea pigs.

The format is unique and could be wildly successful. As long as the restaurant can continually schedule chefs people want to see, the restaurant will be ever-changing, fresh, and most importantly, will  keep people coming back for more. The debut chef for the restaurant is Jordan Kahn, who will helm the upcoming modern Vietnamese restaurant Red Medicine.

12 dishes were served family style, in “no particular order.” We had an early reservation, and really felt rushed – all 12 courses came out in one hour.

radishes, coco-butter, lime, dried soy

Crunchy and crisp, these were a good starter. I enjoyed the clean flavors.

cured amberjack, lime leaf, french melon, nuoc cham, bird chili, mint

The melon was sliced into pieces, and topped with the fish. Slightly spicy from the chili, though sweet from the cantaloupe, the flavors worked pretty well.

green papaya, crispy taro, rau ram, fried shallots, peanuts

I can’t say I’m an expert in papaya salads, but this was a pretty good rendition for me. Cool and refreshing, with a nice ‘crunch’ in every bite from the papaya, peanuts, and taro. I could eat this all summer.

tomatoes marinated in an infusion of their vines, silky tofu, crunchy tofu, herbs

This dish was one of the most interesting of the night for me…kind of an Asian caprese salad. The tomatoes were ripe, juicy and sweet, and the tofu had a very cheesy consistency and texture. The herbs added some more complexity of flavor to the dish.

brussels sprouts, caramelized shallots, fish sauce, prawn crackers

This was probably my favorite savory dish of the night. The brussels sprouts were addicting – crispy and light, with a mild sweetness from the caramelization. I’d love to buy a bag of these and eat them like potato chips!

saigon tartine- pork belly, pate, coriander, carrot pickle, green chili

These were essentially mini banh-mi. I got a nice crunch from the pickled veggies; initially, I was thinking there should’ve been more meat. However, I think a traditional banh-mi is supposed to be less meat-heavy, and this was more along those lines. I wouldn’t say there was any ‘modern’ spin to this dish, other than it being miniaturized.

caramelized chicken dumplings, lemongrass, scallion, bibb lettuce

These dumplings, more like meatballs, were a bit dense and dry for me. I think white meat was used; I would have preferred a dark meat to lend more fat and juiciness.

baby carrots, fermented black bean, star anise, coconut, tarragon

As the dishes come out in “no particular order,” I don’t think dish order was a big focus. However, as I felt like we were gearing up into the “entrees,” I would’ve preferred this dish earlier in the meal. I like black bean sauce, however I’m not too sure it worked with me on this one. Black beans have a sweetness to them, and so do the carrots; and it just didn’t meld too well for me.

bay scallops, pomelo, young ginger, tamarind syrup, puffed tapioca, charred friseé

The tamarind syrup was all overpowering in this dish. The small bay scallops didn’t hold up very well to the strong sauce. I appreciated the texture from the puffed tapioca, but it didn’t add any flavor notes. I loved the charred frisee however, reminiscent of the brussels sprouts.

beef bavette, bacon X.O., chinese eggplant, chinese celery, lime, palm sugar, sesame

As long as you cook it medium-rare to medium, I find it’s hard to mess up a flank steak. This was no exception with tender chunks of meat and good flavor. I appreciated the eggplant as well. It was mushy, and I like it that way.

peaches, crème de cassis, raspberry, condensed milk, tonic water sorbet, violet

I thought the peaches were delicious in this dish, alone. Outside of the creme, I don’t think the ingredients added too much to the dish. But I loved the sweet, ripe peaches.

coconut bavarois, coffee ice cream, thai basil, peanut croquant, chicory

Jordan Kahn made his name as a pastry chef, and it really showed in this dish. The peanut croquant was really reminiscent of a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup, but crispy. The chicory has a coffee-like flavor; combined with the coconut, peanut and touch of thai basil – the flavors and textures were really good.

In all, there were some hits and some misses but overall, my impression of the food was positive. Where I probably disagreed most was with the portions and the insanely quick pace to the meal. I’ve never had 12 courses in the span of one hour; I felt like I was just trying to keep up for most of the meal, so that they could fill the table for a 7:30 reservation (we sat down at 6). Most of the dishes pictured were for a party of 5 – thus, dishes were good for one or a few bites. At the end of the meal, I felt like I was still waiting for the entree to come. However, I can’t fault that $40 is a pretty good price to try 12 different dishes, but we weren’t allowed to order additional dishes of anything once the meal had run its course.